With 6.7 million trademarks out there — sigh — it’s getting hard to find something unique. Here’s what to do instead.
8 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Due to the sheer volume of new businesses and products emerging year after year, finding a snappy name for your company or brand that has not already been snapped up has become difficult.
A recent Harvard Law Review study highlighted the upwards of 6.7 million U.S. trademark applications (registered 1985 to 2016) that had been made over the last three decades and suggested that we might soon be at the point of actually running out of trademark options.
Dealing with thousands of clients, ourselves, we have realized that being the “on demand” generation has changed our consumer expectations. We expect everything to be delivered “the next day,” and content to be available at the click of a button. Unfortunately, however, in the trademarking world, such instantaneity isn’t going to fly. If a name in your industry is already trademarked, it is off the table. End of story.
But this in itself can be seen as a positive challenge: Be more creative.
So, to save disappointment and stress when you’re developing a name, here are four tips that might help you on your journey to find a strong mark that can be registered and will help you reach your business and communication goals:
Choosing an effective trademark means a trademark that’s unique. With upwards of 6.7 million trademarks out there, and only 171,476 words in the English dictionary, you need to start thinking outside the box.
Instead of trying to find a word or two words that sum up your entire brand, product and values, why not focus on capturing one single essential element? Often, this means looking past your product or business model, and at your brand attributes, values and customer experience.
We always recommend that our clients start with an idea, or an image, and then try to create different versions of this idea or image, using various different brand name types. Get your team together, get a white board and some markers — preferably non-permanent ones — and then get to work!
From visual descriptions, to compound phrases, to plays on words, to foreign phrases, the possibilities you brainstorm will get your creative juices flowing, and create some interesting — and terrible — ideas, which in turn will be food for thought for other ideas.
For example, Apple, as a technology brand, aimed to disrupt a market filled with corporate names like IBM, HP and Microsoft. Instead of choosing a name which fit its products, the company Steve Jobs built instead went down the road of concentrating its focus on UX and customer experience.
Apples are organic fruits which all of us have held in our hand, had in our lunchbox, picked from a tree or baked in an apple pie. Apples are linked to everyday lives, and to normal people.
As such, Apple chose a trademark and logo which could fit into people’s daily lives and become part of their routines. Voilà!
Know the danger zones.
With so many trademarks in existence, the chances of being able to use a single recognizable English word are becoming slim. The common danger zones here include:
- Single English words
- Power words — like Force, United, Omni and Icon
- Symbolic words — like Bridge, Spring, Sage, Rocket
But just because you can’t use one stand-alone word doesn’t mean you can’t integrate these words into something more original. Types of names you might use to integrate more common words include:
- Transmutations — like Zappos, Zumba
- This and that — Haute and Bold, Dolce & Gabbana
- Compounds — SnapChat, WordPress
- Phrases — Mechanical Turk, Pliny the Elder
Choosing the right trademark means being creative, but also being realistic. If you know that there is little chance that you’ll be able to use a commonly used power word, think of an interesting way to integrate one you already like into a new form. Or move on to something entirely different.
Start with the end in mind.
If you can’t have the name you wanted — Heritage Capital, for example — take a step back and look at what exactly it is about that combination which you love so much. What about the word “heritage” characterizes your business essence? Is it because your brand is classic and preeminent in your field, or because you are in the business of dealing with families and protecting people’s legacies?
When you start to break this down, you can then pull out a lot of different words and ways to express the same image and feelings. Or you may realize that you liked “Heritage” because of its classic style and the opportunity it offers to align your brand with other desirable ones in your industry. Then you can look to duplicate that brand feel with a different name.
Once you have decided on a central direction and style (classic, fun, pragmatic, powerful, modern, etc), create a one- or two-sentence project statement to keep your naming efforts laser-focused. Here are some examples:
- We need a fresh, modern name that captures one of our key ideas — connectivity, productivity and gratitude.
- We need a descriptive name that captures our value proposition.
- We need a strong name that establishes us as a preeminent solution.
- We want, however, to stand apart from the standard industry names.
- We need an elegant name that sounds like a high-end women’s fashion brand.
A name is very short and has only so much communication power. As such, it is important to highlight your communication goal at an early stage.
For example, consider Squatty Potty, which claims to offer buyers a more helpful squatting position for, um, bathroom visits. Had the company decided from the outset that it was targeting large medical retailers and as such wanted a serious, professional, clinical-sounding name, the branding probably never would have taken off as it did.
Instead, the company decided that it was targeting millennials, and wanted a semi-comical name for a brand tackling the serious, but pretty “out there” issue of colon health.
The founders made the right decision to build a light-hearted brand — and starting with a fun name was a critical first step.
So, go the Squatty Potty route, because it’s important to set boundaries early on in the process, based upon factors such as what your company values are and who your target audience is.
If it’s appropriate, go crazy with silly ideas and see if anything sticks. Knowing the essence of the brand that you’re building before you start the naming process will allow you to explore unique, trademark-able naming options without reverting to throwing letters and words together in hopes of finding a registration-friendly mark..
Realize that you don’t have to explain everything in one name.
Just because you haven’t found a name which immediately makes you think of your product, values and culture all at once doesn’t mean you are failing. As mentioned before, the idea to is sum up one main idea in a unique way, not every single thing your company stands for.
Remember that there are multiple other aspects of your branding which will complement your trademark and help create your overall image. For example:
- Your logo — If you want to make it really clear you are a car brand, use a car.
- Your tagline — “Just do it” is as famous as Nike.
- Your brand and website design — Choose distinctive colors which stick in people’s mind.
- Your marketing copy — There are endless meme-able snappy one-liners.
Your goal is to create a name and trademark (they’re technically different because the trademark protects the name), plus a logo and tagline that all come together to create a truly powerful brand statement. If your name is more abstract, you can fill in the blanks with descriptive taglines and logos.
Your name type and style offer clues about the character of your company, which can be brought together in one clear image through clever design, logos and taglines. The challenge is to find something that is functional, unique … and most importantly won’t result in a cease and desist letter.
Related: How to Name a Business
If you follow a structured process of starting with the end in mind, brainstorming unique name ideas and exploring diverse naming types, there is no reason why you won’t find a strong trademark-able brand name that will resonate with your audience and help you succeed as fast as you’d like.