Not to be confused with business names, product names represent the goods and services that your company offers. For instance, a car company (e.g. Chevy) offers cars of various names (e.g. Cruze, Colorado, etc.)
To an entrepreneur, naming your product might seem like an easy last step. But names carry more weight than many realize, and you need to be careful what you choose.
This is a concern for much of the Business.com community. Alberto Sfolcini, Business.com community member, asked: "Is it legal to use a similar popular product name for my own product?"
Our answer? It's complicated. Here's what you need to know when naming your product.
Checking for trademarks
Marc P. Misthal, a trademark attorney with Gottlieb, Rackman & Reisman, P.C., says that it's crucial to first determine if your potential name will infringe on anyone's rights.
"No one wants to launch a product or service and then receive a cease and desist letter with claims of infringement," he said. "This can usually be addressed by having counsel conduct a comprehensive trademark search, which will show what others are using."
You can try searching the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) database yourself, and a clearance search is a good first step. But a private trademark attorney will have the expertise to do a thorough job, and be able to interpret the results. The USPTO says "there may be trademarks that are not in our database that have rights over yours."
If your product name is not already trademarked, you might consider doing so yourself. If so, your best bet is to first hire a trademark attorney, then visit the USPTO to apply.
"Trademark registrations are of great value in protecting your rights, but there can be obstacles to securing a registration," said Misthal. "Again, a comprehensive search should be able to point out those obstacles, and possibly help identify a way to overcome them."
Misthal added that the more descriptive your product name is, the harder it will be to protect. For instance, because it isn't specific to any brand, it isn't likely that many would fight for a name such as Exxon or Kodak. But if you choose an expressive name that is more relevant to your marketplace, you might eventually find yourself treading water.
The same goes for location; if your product will be available outside of the U.S., then you'll want to ensure protection in those specific countries as well.
Speak with your trademark attorney to determine the best route for your business, considering all requirements, risks and maintenance fees before deciding.
Researching marketplace trends
David Barbour, co-founder of Vivio Life Sciences, recommended studying demographics, growth, media, academic studies, keyword volumes and SEO value of potential names – something he does for his own business.
"Look at similar products and the companies that make them, research them on data analytics programs to figure out which product names or other keywords are working best for them," he said.
Also determine your target audience and the marketing strategy that works best on them. Your product's name will impact how you advertise, so you want to be sure it's an accurate representation of what you're offering.
"Test different names, swap out names on labels, banner ads, website placements, content, copywriting and ad mock-ups," said Barbour. "If it is a small business, ask friends and family to weigh in. If it is a large company, hold office meetings and garner the opinion of your colleagues."
Creating a memorable name
You don't want your consumers to have to guess how to spell or pronounce your product's name. Make it user-friendly and simple enough for people of all backgrounds to understand and remember.
"Product names should be readable, writable [and] memorable," said Amy Kilvington, content marketing manager at Blinds Direct. "This means you should steer clear of uncommon and complex words. For online retailers, it's vital that your product names are easy to type into the search engine or the search functionality on your website."
Kilvington said to also avoid long names so you don't face spelling or abbreviation errors. You can be both descriptive and concise when creating a unique product name.