How to Hire a Quality Naming Agency
Over the years, we’ve heard many entrepreneurs and business owners personify their businesses. To some, it’s an outward expression of themselves and their values. Others will refer to it as “my baby.” When it’s time to find a company name for this entity into which you’ve put so much of your time and effort, so many of your hopes, and no small amount of money—your own and your investors’ alike—you’ll find that there’s no such thing as a book of baby names for businesses, or a Rosetta stone for popular product names.
Jeff Bezos asserts, “A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.” Whether you’re thinking about your business or its next new product, its name is the cornerstone of that brand. Some names have become what’s called a “proprietary eponym,” a name with deep enough brand recognition that it becomes synonymous with a product or service—like Lego, Kleenex, Xerox, or even Seeing Eye Dogs—you’ll need to pay close attention to what it’s called. A naming agency can help you find a name that sticks while avoiding the many business naming pitfalls identified by Forbes and others.
What is a Naming Agency?
A naming agency—sometimes called a naming firm or naming service—specializes in onomastics, the science behind proper names. Some agencies specialize in naming businesses, some on product names, and others combine both specialties under one roof. Likewise, some will focus strictly on naming services, while others will function more as a marketing agency, incorporating a wide range of branding services, content creation, and marketing strategy alongside identifying great names.
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Is Outsourcing a Naming Agency Right for Your Business?
At this point, you may be asking, “What’s the point in hiring an agency? We could name the business ourselves.” Of course, you can, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. Why hire an agency?
Positives and Negatives of Working With an Agency
Let’s address the negatives of working with an agency first. One of these is the need. For a small business, hiring a naming agency can seem superfluous or even frivolous. Another is cost since a qualified name agency—like any other vendor worth their salt—will not come cheap.
However, agencies bring with them a number of positives as well. In contrast to your company’s founders and employees, whose emotional attachment can sometimes cloud judgment, a naming firm is objective. Furthermore, many stakeholders, especially in a new company, are deeply focused on products and services. While this is a good thing, it often comes at the expense of essentials like branding guidelines, which an agency can help you establish and stick to.
However, your brand is more than your name, so naming agencies’ abilities to address other aspects of branding free your team to concentrate on their own core competencies. Getting the new name of a business or its products right the first time also sidesteps the inconvenience to rename a business and the much higher cost of rebranding.
As you’ll see below, naming is more complex than simply coming up with a name; ignoring or eliding those issues can be inconvenient at best, and catastrophically expensive at worst, so a naming firm’s experience and expertise can pay for itself many times over.
Why You Should Hire a Naming Agency
Naming a business or product is a multifaceted, multiphase, project. It can be expensive, but that cost pales in comparison to sales lost because your brand is muddled, incurs legal expenses, or needs a rebrand in a few years’ time. In a very real sense, the money spent up-front is money saved over the longer term.
Hiring a Naming Agency
As we’ve seen, there are myriad benefits to hiring a naming agency, and an equal number of risks in not doing so. Given all that’s at stake, it is especially important to choose carefully, research, ask questions, and cross-check your data all the while.
How Much Does It Cost to Hire a Naming Agency?
Costs vary widely. In a recent deep-dive on business branding for startups, TechCrunch quotes prices for company name development ranging between $15,000 and $75,000. What ought not to be overlooked, however, is the context in which this price sits; not just your name, but also your logo, branding, and brand strategy should also be taken into account for the immediate term. It goes without saying that most businesses will have further needs on an ongoing basis, from content generation to search engine optimization—each of which, likewise, needs to stay on-brand—which will influence not only your choice of an agency but also the cost you will pay as the relationship unfolds.
How to Find a Reputable Naming Agency
What does this process look like? It’s easy enough to search naming agencies, but don’t stop there. Some legwork is necessary. Start by seeing if their name resonates with you; a company whose own name falls short may not give you the desired results. Consider their core expertise as well; B2Bs have a different audience and different needs than a B2C company. Likewise, the process for naming a business is similar to but has different considerations than devising product names or service marks.
A good naming agency is specialized, especially for B2B. After all, naming in a vertical like manufacturing is much different than it would be for pharmaceuticals, menswear, or SaaS. They should also have experience working with companies in your stage of growth; it’s understandable if a business centers its experience with a big name like Apple, but the challenges are different when helping a new name find its legs and the kind of mindshare that gets it to the next level.
Finally, what’s the word on the street? On one hand, it’s important to consider social signals like reviews, referrals, and references. You should also ask whether your prospective vendor has case studies available, and take some time with them; they’ll have a lot to say about an agency’s approach and results. It’s also worthwhile to compare them against competitors, especially using a B2B marketplace like UpCity for at-a-glance comparisons.
Skills to Look For in a Naming Agency
The naming process is far more complex than it would seem at first glance. A good branding agency is considering a brand name as one step in a more comprehensive brand strategy.
Careful market research that ensures your brand will resonate with your customer base. You will also need to consider one or more domain names, encompassing your business website and possible microsites for specific products, services, and resources.
You’re not done yet. Remember that your brand identity encompasses a logo design, colorways, a catchword or tagline, and other essentials and that you will need brand management, including guidelines for type fonts, capitalization, use of trademark designations (™, ®), social media guidelines, and many other facets of promoting your brand.
There are also legal hurdles to clear. These often start with trademark screening that ensures your business will not be confused with competitors or be forced to rebrand because of conflicting trademarks, but also extends to the registration and protection of your brand.
Finally, you cannot overlook the importance of cross-cultural communication. This ensures your messaging isn’t garbled (or unfortunately but hilariously misconstrued) across borders or among diverse audiences in your home market; remember, this can apply just as much to differences between New York City and San Francisco as it can to the differences between Oakland and Dubai.
Nine Questions to Ask a Naming Agency
Time to get down to brass tacks. While not comprehensive—your own unique needs and circumstances are likely to dictate additional questions—the list below is a useful core as you evaluate naming firms.
Walk us through this process, from naming strategy to deliverables. What should we expect?
What is your market research process?
How will you be aligning the results of that research with our goals?
Is your brainstorming process self-contained, or collaborative?
Will this work be handled primarily in-house, or by freelancers?
What will be your, and our, role in project management as this process unfolds?
Do you offer other complementary services, like visual identity and brand name development, that will help our new name gain a foothold?
Looking longer-term, are you capable of putting a marketing team or strategists at our disposal to aid in brand growth?
What kind of trademark screening do you conduct, both during the initial naming and design processes and as these processes are transformed into a final product, for legality and compliance?
Unlike some of your important hires—such as a reputation management agency, or outsourced IT—it is not quite as easy finding metrics to quantify the success of a naming agency. Difficult does not mean impossible, however. The right agency will provide support via ancillary services like content creation, search engine optimization, and public relations. A brand isn’t simply something you build; it requires maintenance, too, so your agency should be equipped to help you to establish and maintain your good name.
Since we opened with a quotation, it’s only fitting that we should close with one as well. Seth Godin once reminded his audience, “A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.” Since the name of your business or product is doing some very heavy lifting—standing in for all of those variables at once—it’s important to get it right. Let UpCity guide you to the best naming agency in your area!