Plus 3 branding tips that I wish I would have known
I quit my day job eleven years ago on July 3rd.
One of the many liberties I celebrate every 4th of July is the freedom to pursue my own entrepreneurial ideas, set my own schedule, and generate my own income while working from anywhere. I like to think of July 3rd as my personal Independence Day!
While it's a fun anniversary to celebrate, it also reminds me of the dramatic start to our business. Getting our business to the point where I could go full time took 2.5 years. It was especially hard to launch while I was working full time hours for another company and my brother was finishing his master's degree. But we got our startup to the point where our revenue was able to cover our monthly living expenses with the help of my wife's $36,000 a year salary as a teacher. So with July 3rd, 2009 set to be my last day of full time employment, I turned in my two weeks notice. Our years-long dream was coming true and with the holiday weekend approaching, you might imagine that we were celebrating - but we weren't. We were panicking.
We launched our business in 2006 with the name Perkline. We chose this name because it was memorable, easy to spell, related to our offerings, and most important to me, we were able to get the .com domain!
We felt like it was the perfect name for the employee discount programs we were developing.
But while we loved our name, we'd soon find out that a law firm in New York City felt differently.
In fact, a week before my personal independence day, FedEx delivered an urgent envelope to our budding business with a notice of Trademark Infringement that required us to cease all use of the term Perkline by July 2nd to avoid further legal action. I was officially in the deep end of the entrepreneurial pool, and it wasn't even my first day.
We needed to find a new brand name, fast.
The Perfect Brand Name
We learned this branding lesson the hard way, but you don't have to. It turns out there are three simple steps that would've helped us avoid this whole debacle. And while I can't undo this tough lesson in my journey, I'd love to help you avoid this all-too-common issue.
Here are the three branding tips that I wish I would've known when we launched our business.
First, make sure your brand name is unique. Second, acquire a .com for your domain name. Third, create an industry specific story for your brand.
Following these simple rules has the potential to save you anywhere from $5,000 of rebranding expenses to more than $100,000 in legal fees, not to mention valuable time and unnecessary stress.
Tip #1: Make Sure It's Unique
The most important step to get right when you're picking out a brand name is to make sure it's unique and protectable. In a time when copyrights and trademarks are easier than ever to obtain, but harder than ever to enforce, this step can feel overwhelming.
This is the step that we initially got wrong and ultimately, it's the one that has the potential to cost you the most time and money. Remember, your brand name shouldn't look or sound like anything or anyone else in your field.
To avoid future issues, I recommend the following steps:
Identify Your Competitors: Start by making a list of your competitor's names, so you know exactly which names to avoid. Don't create anything that looks or sounds like someone else in your field.
Make a Word Cloud: List out the keywords that you'd use to advertise your products or services on Google as well as any words that define what you do and who you serve. Then, drop them into a Word Cloud generator for some inspiration. This is the point where you can create entirely new words for your brand by applying endings to your keyword like ily, ity, ly, ist, ier, ify.
Write the names that immediately come to mind on a piece of paper or in a journal so you can look back on them in the future.
If something unique doesn't jump out to you right away (ie. Facebook, Uber, Instagram, Zapier, Zoom, LogMeIn, Calendly, LinkedIn, Audible, Shopify), then consider combining one of your keywords with another to create something brand new (ie: airbnb, Zendesk, FedEx, PayPal, DropBox, HelpScout, BambooHR).
If you're still having trouble, consider mixing some platform and service-centric words into your word cloud like: hello, fast, fresh, spot, hub, or place (ie: Hubspot, Workday, BestBuy, HelloFresh, Netflix).
If these tips haven't sparked your imagination, then consider creating your brand around a mascot, historical figure, or symbol (ie: Tesla, Robinhood, MailChimp, Target, Starbucks, SurveyMonkey, Owler, Apple).
In our case, we provide corporate perks and discount programs for employers, alumni groups, professional associations, and customer loyalty programs. So, the keywords we considered for our rebranding purposes included: Perks, Private, Benefits, Entertainment, Affinity, Amenities, Loyalty, Rewards, Recognition, Engagement, Concierge, Travel, Savings, Theme Parks, Groups, Movies, Corporate, Coupons, Restaurants, Discounts, Hotels, Employers, Members.
Here's an example of the word cloud we created. If you're like me, you'll find that seeing your keywords in this kind of array will help you more easily visualize unique combinations.
In our case, we started combining keywords to form new names, like Amenify, BenePerks, BenAgent, Onvalu, SaveMore, CorporateRewards, SimplyRewards, and yes, Abenity.
After you've exhausted your creativity and landed on a few name possibilities, it's time to evaluate the uniqueness and protectability of the names on your list. I'd recommend using the following methods to test the usability of each possible brand name:
Browser Test: Once you've created a list of possible brand names, type them into your browser to ensure the .com version isn't being used by someone else. If someone is using it, then scratch it off your list. You don't want your customers going to the wrong website.
TESS Lookup: Next, run the names that survived your browser test through the Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) look-up tool to make sure that no one in your industry has protected the name. If they have, then that name is out as well. If the name is protected but in an unrelated industry, then you may proceed with caution.
Legal Opinion: Having a bulletproof name is mission-critical. It's well worth the fee that you'll pay to receive a formal legal opinion to ensure that the brand name you plan to heavily invest in is truly usable.
Tip #2. Find the .com Domain
This may be the hardest step, but I promise it'll pay off in the long run.
As a serial domain owner, I can relate to the allure of a .io, .co, .me, and .tv domain name, but there's a reason these are called secondary domains.
It's important to understand that these domains are owned and released by other countries, and some of these countries are very obscure. Why does this matter? For starters, secondary domains are simply less memorable for your customers than a .com, so you're unnecessarily subjecting your customers to a bad user experience. Additionally, they put off a "tier 2" vibe, excluding you from the first class service category that you should be targeting. Third, they're potentially unreliable.
Did you know that the emerging .io domain is distributed by the British Indian Ocean Territory and .co is released by the country of Columbia? Similarly, .me domains are released from Montenegro and .tv domains come from a tiny island in the west-central Pacific Ocean called Tuvalu. A few years ago, we were initially unable to renew one of the secondary domains that we owned due to geopolitical issues within its country of origin. We were helpless and our customers were upset. This would've been a nightmare situation if it had been our brand's main domain. I'll never build a brand with an offshore domain.
When you're shopping for the perfect .com domain, remember that the goal is to make the name of your website easy to find and remember. You should avoid using symbols within your domain name or alternate spellings of real words.
Pro Tip: Once you've found the perfect domain, buy up all of the spelling mistakes and phonetic ways that your customers could get it wrong, so that you can forward those mistakes to your correct domain. And if you want to practice what Jim Collins refers to as healthy paranoia, then buy every domain that matches your brand to prevent others from using it in the future.
If you're having trouble finding the perfect .com domain name, then try adding the, my, or go in with the brand you selected.
Finally, a longer domain name could be a great choice if it's memorable and relates to your services. For example, we've used: EmployeeDiscountPrograms.com, HRdiscounts.com, and PerksReport.com throughout the years.
Tip #3: Tell a Story
As we went through the process of finding a unique name and matching it up with an available domain, a story began to take shape around the word Abenity.
Our "aha!" moment came when we realized that amenities are essentially perks offered as a free benefit within a five star service environment. Amenities + benefits = Abenity! With that, Abenity was born, and we found the domain for less than ten dollars!
In the end, our rebranding debacle was a blessing in disguise. Our new brand name helped to set us apart in our industry and communicate the uniqueness of our offerings. We've now developed Abenity (Abenity.com) into a multi-million dollar brand name. Over the years, we've received countless compliments about our branding and I'm glad that we took the time to get it right the second time.
Regardless of the circumstances, your first day as a full time entrepreneur is going to have it's ups and downs. I believe the entrepreneurial life is best described as a roller coaster that doesn't stop. Our daily experiences are full of unexpected twists and turns, loop-de-loops, sudden drops, and unexplainable thrills. And while picking a brand name for your business is one of the most important decisions you'll have to make, the hidden lesson here is more about the process you take, than the decisions you make. Successful entrepreneurs make calculated decisions, based on the lessons they've learned and the wise counsel of others. So invest in the process! When you have big decisions to make, take your time, learn from the mistakes of others, and dot every proverbial "i" so that you get it right the first time.
Let's Talk! I have two questions for you...
1) What do you remember about your first day as a full time entrepreneur?
2) What is the story behind the brand name that you chose for your business?
To set up a time to speak with me on this topic, text "schedule" to (615) 802-6853 or visit BrianRoland.com for more articles like this one.
About the Author: Brian Roland is a social entrepreneur and Founder of Abenity, the 6x Inc. 5000 company that's powering corporate perks for top brands like U.S. Bank and Mastercard. While Abenity provides millions of subscribers with private discounts, the company's social mission is fighting extreme poverty with every program they deliver. Abenity recently exceeded $1 million dollars of total giving and hired a CEO to accelerate growth with their fully remote team. Brian lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with his family and enjoys roasting coffee, flying drones, and helping impact-driven entrepreneurs establish a social mission of their own.