In a word, yes. If you’re just starting out with a new tech product, naming is really not something you should be thinking about too much. There is a fairly strong chance that the product you’re building will be completely different three months from now, so I would file ‘choosing a snappy name’ really, really far down the list of things to worry about. And believe me, if you’re just starting out, there will be plenty of things to worry about.
That’s not to say that a name won’t end up being an important part of your branding but you have to get it the right way around - the name and the slogan should derive from the brand, not the other way around. When you are first accumulating users you have to ask yourself - what do we stand for? What is the real value to our customers?
A great brand is a promise. It’s a pact between a company and a customer. It’s a guarantee that expectations will be met and exceeded. And once you have established that brand, it is the most important thing you own. The choice of that right image, the perfect design, that killer tagline for your latest product will all be informed and made easier by your understanding of your brand.
So, how do you find your brand?
One of the great advantages of being a startup is the opportunity to take a lean approach to branding. You can take risks and make mistakes because the number of customers you will ‘disappoint’ is so low. As a result, you can allow your identity to be shaped iteratively through an open back and forth with your customers. The key here is an advanced listening ability , which is part of the reason why Community Managers have become one of the first hires most startups make. As you experiment with your positioning, it is vital that you have your ear to the ground and are willing to make adjustments both to your product and to your branding.
Social Media is often the first thought in this regard but I recommend reaching out directly to new sign-ups to organize telephone/in-person interviews. This can seem labor intensive for a company with limited manpower but it’s an essential step. Pay careful attention to both the substance and language of what your customers are saying. What words are they choosing to describe the problem you are solving for them? How do they define your product, your company and your competitors? In particular, try to understand the emotions a customer is feeling when choosing your product. Your brand must be able to impact on the ‘Buy Moment’ and effect a positive change on the customer at the exact point they are making that purchase decision. Their motivation at this stage is often partly rational, partly emotional and so your branding must be also.
When we we first started to get some traction we carried out extensive interviewing. I realized that a point of sale system could offer different benefits to different types of merchants, and there was a danger of creating an overly broad brand. Throughout the process however, we began to hear variations on the same lines again and again, ‘I’m concerned I’m making the wrong decisions for my business’ and ‘My life is busy and complicated - I need things to be simple and easy to use.’ In the end, we chose a name that was easy to understand and easy to relate to and a tagline that addressed the core rational and emotional concerns of our users - The Simplest Way to Make Smarter Business Decisions. Our customers’ own word became the central planks of our branding.
Most startup entrepreneurs are well informed of the need for their product development to ‘run lean’. Far too often, however, these same entrepreneurs seem to forget this process when it comes to marketing. In conditions of extreme uncertainty, the key to startup marketing is to take a lean, iterative, and responsive approach to branding. And that starts with listening to your customers.