Once you have a hold of the basics of naming, you’re probably wondering what the next move is. Whether this is your first or your fifth experience of naming a business, you’re still learning. After working on over 30,000 naming projects and carrying out thousands of naming tests, I’m in a pretty unique position to give naming advice. So, what is important in terms of advanced naming strategies? 

Well, I always encourage business owners I work with to bring in outsiders. Of course, naming experts are a great option, as are advanced business name generators like the one from Squadhelp. But on top of all that, you can learn a lot from audience feedback when naming a new startup. 

Why is Audience Feedback Important?

It’s easy to be very ‘me, me, me!’ when naming. Of course, what you want and what you respond to is important, but ultimately you are building a brand for an audience — so, get feedback from them. The question is, what audience is it best to to ask for help from? It really depends on what you want, and who you have access to. 

Who Should You Ask?

There are four groups of people you can sensibly ask about business names. They all have pros and cons, but of course not everyone can manage access to every group. If you’re looking for an audience to ask questions to about a business name, you could look to:

Mentors and Peers

Depending on what your new company offers, it might be really helpful to get specialised feedback from people in the industry. This is particularly true if you work in a specialized area, like biotech, neuroscience, robotics, etc.

The issues here include the fact that you are asking individuals who aren’t branding experts. Take their advice on larger naming concepts, and engage in conversation about potential name ideas. Speaking to a specialist rather than a generalist certainly has its positives, but remember what they are a specialist in. The industry, not naming or branding!

Your team

Often, you’ll have a carefully curated team around you before you come up with a brand story, a name, etc. You can certainly use your team to help you come up with name ideas, and there are real positives to spitballing with the people you work with. Do remember, however, that a team will never fully agree on one name. There won’t be an ‘ah-ha’ moment of finding an apparently perfect name. Your team is a tool, and should be included, but don’t try and look for full consensus. 

Intended Audience

The best people to ask about names may be your intended audience. That’s great! But how do you find that intended audience? Depending on how specialized your startup is, it might be quite difficult to find a meaningful sample size if you’re asking only your intended audience for name feedback. Do make sure that you are aware of the audience you’re going for at this point – you should absolutely know who you are trying to market towards before you are at this stage of naming. 

General Demographic

If you’re going to invest in an audience test, a general demographic test makes most sense in my opinion. You’ll need a larger sample size (at least 100), or else you’re in danger of the results being far too general.

A general demographic survey is a good way to find trends and data points, and especially a good way to work out what isn’t working. If a name or concept is getting no votes, or seems universally hated, then there’s no doubt something is wrong with it! 


What Not to Ask

Once you know who you’re asking about business name options, you have to decide what to ask. It’s surprisingly easy to get this wrong. First, let’s look at what not to ask, as asking the wrong question derails naming projects. 

The worst, most usual question is, ‘do you like this name?’

That almost seems counter-intuitive. I mean, isn’t it an obvious question? But when you think about it, ‘Like’ doesn’t mean much here. 

It‘s just a word when you aren’t asking how or why someone likes something. Plus, it’s easy to say yes to mollify! Particularly if asking someone you know, never ask if they like one specific name. 

‘Do you like this name’ will also elicit everyone’s pet theories on branding. Everyone thinks they can name a business! Maybe they’ve named one or two before, but that’s not the same as being an expert. If you showed me your most recent equation, an equation that will change the world, I would quite honestly not be able to pass judgement on it. If you asked me if I liked it? Well, I suppose I would say yes!

What To Ask

Being specific is incredibly important. Being specific is the opposite of asking ‘do you like HopHellions for my new brewery’s name?’

My favorite three questions when asking audiences for feedback are:

  • Which of these [Add your Value Proposition] are you most interested in learning more about? 

For Apple, for example, the value proposition might be ‘human-centric computer companies’. So, ‘which of these ‘human-centric computer companies’ are you most interested in learning more about?’ 

You would then give three to six name options (from your names shortlist) and survey as many people as possible on which they prefer.

  • Secondly, ask which of your selected names align with your core brand values.

A great example of this is a toy company I worked with a few years ago who were aiming their products at older children, and wanted them to be rebellious, rugged, and unique. You can ask about a whole bunch of names here, narrowing them down with each brand attribute. The questions would look something like, Which toy brand feels the most rebellious?

  • Finally, you can ask a negative question. That might sound like a bad idea, but actually it’s a great safety valve! Asking ‘do any of these names have negative connotations to you?’ is a great idea.

The word ‘class’, for example, used to be either innocuous or positive. Recently, however, we have noticed that it raises questions. What class is meant? Is it a negative view on class? This is super interesting, and the sort of thing you only work out with great audience testing. 

After Audience Testing

So, what comes after the testing? What do you do with your new information? 

Well, It’s all about the data! Your audience testing information is a tool. But you still have to come back to yourself. There are things you can’t test – your personal vision, your team’s vision, a brand story that extends far beyond the words in the name. None of these quite fit into the audience testing model.

At the end of the day, choosing a name is about discretion, emotional intelligence, and using every tool available to you. Audience testing is one of those tools, use it wisely!