Category Archives: Marketing

How to Pick a Great Name for Your Product or Company

I love me a great product name. Except, of course, when I have a new product idea and can’t think of one… Then I can’t function or build or do much of anything until I do.

I spent the last few hours reviewing my favorite marketing books and blogs to come up with a master list of naming and domaining strategies. I found 13 that will weather the test of time and I can refer back to any time I need to pick a great name for a new product (and now you can, too).

While I wouldn’t worry about nailing all 13 strategies, I recommend picking a name that matches as many of them as possible.

Al Ries and Laura Ries

Al Ries wrote some of the greatest marketing books of all time. In The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding he and Laura Ries go so far as to say a great name is absolutely critical for an Internet-based business.

I was amazed that most of their advice is just as relevant today as it was when I first read it 10 years ago. In fact, most of the strategies presented by my favorite thinkers were derivatives of the strategies from Ries’ chapter entitled “The Law of the Proper Name”.

On the importance of a name (Al Ries also wrote the classic marketing book Positioning in 1981):

In the positioning age, the name was important. In the Internet age, the name is critical.

There is a reason for that. In the pre-Internet days, a brand always had a visual component. while the name was the most important element, the visual also influenced the brand’s purchase…

The Internet wipes out the visual. To tap into a website, you type in a word. No pictures, no colors, no typography, no look, no location.

Avoid generic names, like or

When you are choosing a brand name for your website, the first thing to ask yourself is, what’s the generic name for the category? Then that’s the name you don’t want to use for your site.

Stick to proper names, like Amazon and Google:

First, and most important of all, you want your website name to be perceived as a proper name. Then hopefully you want your name to be more “proper” than your competitors’.

Try to find a name that suggests your category, like Nilla Wafers and Campfire:

Here’s the paradox. To become a big brand on the Web, you need a proper name. On the other hand, the name should suggest the category without falling into the generic name trap.

If you’re going to be selling offline, say your name out loud. Make sure its easy to spell after you hear it. Avoid numbers or strange spelling:

When you select a brand name, you should listen to the proposed name being spoken, and not just stare at the word on a board.

Try to have some shock value, like DieHard, Diesel Jeans, FUBU,

An element of “shock” makes a name more memorable because it puts the power of emotion to work.


One good branding strategy for any Internet company is to immediately lock the “shocking” name into both the category and the benefit. has promoted itself as “Earths Biggest Bookstore.” This strategy works on several levels. The Amazon is the Earth’s “biggest” river, and the alliteration of “biggest bookstore” makes the phrase more memorable.

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (37Signals)

These guys are a couple of my heroes. In Getting Real, they start with offering similar advice to Al Ries and then they offer some additional solid strategies.

Avoid committees:

Also, don’t focus group or committee-ize the naming process too much. Pick a name that’s short, catchy, and memorable and then run with it.

On picking a domain:

And don’t sweat it if you can’t get the exact domain name you want. You can always be creative and get close with a couple of extra letters (e.g. or

Dharmesh Shah (OnStartups, HubSpot)

Dharmesh has founded a few successful companies and shares insights at OnStartups. He wrote a post on naming your startup a few years ago. I found a couple new strategies that I captured in my notes.

A unique perspective on why you should take care in choosing your name:

It’s a one-time cost to get a great name — but the benefit is forever. Conversely, if you short-change this and dismiss it completely, you’re going to incur what I’d call “branding debt”. Not bad at first, and maybe not a big deal for you ever, but every year, as you grow, you’ll have this small voice nagging inside your head “should I change the name of the company…”. It’s going to be annoying.

Don’t be trendy:

It seems that every generation of startups has their own “trendy” approach to names. Examples are the dropping-vowels thing (like Flickr), the breaking up of words (like or the newly fashionable “.ly” names. I’d suggest that names that don’t necessarily indicate when you started are a good thing…

Adii Pienaar (WooThemes, PublicBeta)

Adii wrote the book on branding on the Internet.

Make sure your name excites you:

It’s not about being short, memorable or whether you can get the .com for it. It just needs to get you excited.

Jason Cohen (A Smart Bear, WPEngine)

Jason pretty much reiterates what Al Ries says, then adds a few sobering insights that go against the norm (and my naming OCD).

Choose a domain that will help with SEO, regardless of what you name the product or company:

That means you should use your domain name for something other than restating your name. Instead of, why not or Isn’t getting into the first position in a Google search for “party candy” worth it? Those domains still say what you do, so it’s still informative and sensible whether you’re telling someone over the phone or displaying in advertisement.

Why your name may not be important at all:

In the end, I’ve never heard a founder of a successful company say the name of the company was an important factor in its success; similarly I’ve not heard of a name being the fatal blow.


22 Morsels of Startup Wisdom From’s Dan Martell

Today PublicBeta hosted a 1 hour “Ask Me Anything” session with with Dan Martell of I had heard of Dan before, but I wasn’t a follower. I started looking at what he’s written or shared in the past and it didn’t take very long before I developed a bit of a man-crush.

While Dan has shared a shit-ton of useful information over the years, the best post that I could find is Crazy! 189 Answers To The Top Startup Questions On Your Mind. I just finished reading all 189 and here are 22 snippets that I found to be the most helpful:

On struggling to get users who aren’t real life contacts:

Ask your existing users this question via a survey. “How would you explain Site X to your colleagues or friends” then extract the words they use on your home page.

On how to spend your time as an early stage startup:

It all depends on where you’re at. Here’s my high-level approach for startups. * Product/Metrics (70%/30% time) * Get your product activation (sign-up + meaningful action) to 60% * then, Get your product retention to 20% weekly. Those are the only 2 metrics you need initially.

Once you have that, then you have traction, then spend 80% of your time raising a round (if you actually need it – longer response on why you may not). Pick a date 6 weeks out, and hustle to close on that day (close = money in the bank).

On education:

When you start making $$$, no one will ask or care where you went to school. This doesn’t mean you don’t need to educate yourself, you just do it differently. Books, mentors, advisors, entrepreneurial friends, conferences, dinners, meetups, etc and it’s usually real time meaning you learn what you need today to solve your biggest challenges. Non of this academic stuff.

On “Stealth Mode” and what to do when you have an idea:

No, never keep it secret. The key is to ask the right people what they think – not your friends, parents or partner. The right people are potential customers – ask them if they have the problem. Don’t sell your solution, first validate that they feel the pain of the problem you’re solving. Once you’ve confirmed there is a pain, then discuss the way you think it could be solved and judge their reaction. #1 thing, don’t keep it a secret – tell the world.


Build something. Sometimes I use Balsamiq, sometimes I code a prototype, doesn’t matter – just create something, then tell the world. Once you tell the world, you’re committed <– that could be the best thing you could ever do. Tell everyone.

On how to do user tests:

Listen, don’t tell. Conduct it on their computer. Fix the issues after each test .. iterate like mad, especially when you’re small / trying to figure it out.

On social media mistakes:

They don’t think about the customers problem. You should find and share content (and engage with others who do the same) that talks about your customers problems.

Don’t talk about you and your company, talk about the problem. If I ran an airline, I wouldn’t take about flights, I’d talk about vacations & travel.

On successful content marketing:

There is no secret. Here’s how I do it though. * Build a product worth talking about (Word of Mouth) * Build some kind of invitation / share option in your app to let your users * Create content that’s soooo good, it makes top Digg/Twitter/StumbleUpon * Buy ads on Facebook * Create stories and get press * Write guest post on other blogs

On getting your first X customers:

I pick up the phone and call someone and ask for their business.

It’s that simple.

That’s how I got my first 10-50 customers .. then I learn from them and figure out other ways like paid marketing, social media and specific product flows to help get me more.

But 99% of the time I pick up the phone and explain what my solution does and see if they want to buy it.

On using Facebook for marketing:

Facebook is interesting since what gets you clicks, may not get you qualified traffic. I recently helped Startup Weekend (I’m on the board) with their FB ads.


Landing Page

CPL (email) = $4.35 – our goal was $5 ;)

How we did it (% of what matters to get right): * 1-2 core message (15%) * A tonne of images (80%) * Short value driving description (5%)

The thing about Facebook is you never know what image is going to work, so try a lot of them.

On increasing revenue from existing customers:

Aks them “What do you do 3 minutes before and after you use our product / service?” Then decide if you can build more value on either end of that process to demand a higher premium. The more value you add, the more you can charge.

On why you should care about social media (even if it doesn’t mean direct sales):

Using any social new site (reddit, digg, stumbleupon, etc) does 3 things. 1) creates inbound links (SEO), 2) brand awareness (Audience), 3) very small percent convert. Value in that order.

On when to worry about the fabled “press launch”:

Spend your time on product and building something people love. You and your team have address books. If you need early users to test with, source from that. Don’t be scared to send an email to everyone you know (and post to your personal Facebook / Twitter) to get early adopters. Press is something you should do once you know your activation / retention metrics are good.

On presenting your unpolished prototype to a potential first customer:

If the application isn’t polished and you’re trying to get a sale, then try creating some high fidelity mock ups and asking for a deposit. If your goal is to validate the problem and learn, then don’t go in there to pitch, but ask open ended question about their problem surrounding your solution. My favorite is the IPO question – “If you could wave a magic wand and the solution was built, what would it look like and how would it work?”. Then just listen.

On avoiding the failure death spiral:

If you just failed, the best thing you can do is … Surround yourself with friends that are doing awesome. If you don’t have any, make new friends. Go to the gym and workout, it’ll make you happier. Start making a list of all the problems you have and ways they could be fixed. Go listen to smart people speak and allow yourself to be inspired. Read biographies of people you admire in business. Doing that will bring you back up.

On goals and long-term planning:

I put em’ on my wall in front of me. The most I’ll plan for my startup is 9 months and 10 years. 10 years is a no brainer – world changing app w/ 80% of our target marketing using us. 9 months is different. I then break it out into a concreate 3 months w/ metric goals, with the following 6 months more high-level ideas. Both the 3 months and 9 months have concrete goals around product metrics, monetization, funding, etc. I like pictures so I draw it out in Omnigraffle and annotate it.

On customer feature requests:

I don’t focus on satisfying customer feature request, I focus on solving a problem and using the customers feedback (in aggregate form) to give me clues into how I should do this. If I get it right, I’m rewarded with time & money, if I don’t – I try again.

Keys to effective email marketing:

Permission: Double opt-in and be sure your subscribers know what they are getting into. Consistency: don’t send an update today, then in 6 weeks, then a week later. Content: Insure the content is value add and helpful – not always self promotional. Segmentation: Send the right information to the right people. and remember – “Permission is perishable”. Gail / CEO of ConstantContact

VC or no VC?

Do you have a vision to build a company that can/will generate $100M+ in revenue within the next 7-10 years. If that’s the case, then that’ll likely require capital. If you don’t, don’t raise VC.

On recruiting:

A+ engineering talent. We have a rule to continue hiring smarter people than the last .. it really keeps the bar high and recruiting extremely hard ;–) but worth it.

On getting beta users to try a prototype:

I like using Facebook because it’s relatively cheap. You do need to test a lot of the ads for copy and image, but you can usually get a visit for 60c. Once you get signups (be sure to get emails) use – typically 25% response rate. Send the survey 7 days after they signup.

On the right way to do PR:

Create something interesting and unique and personally reach out to as many press outlets as you can (not doing a press release – personally). If you build a great product and communicate with your users you’ll create brand advocates.

BONUS: I listened to a couple interviews on the Product People podcast. I highly recommend both parts: