In the Internet world, the wrong domain name can be downright fatal. Your chosen name might go completely unnoticed by potential clients or yield a poor reaction from them. Even worse, you might be sued by corporate giants for infringing on their brand identity or be put out of business altogether.

The newest crop of consulting firms is separating itself from the old guard with fresh, original names like marchFIRST and Accenture, and it’s likely that both companies spent considerable dollars on the creation of those names, as well as the branding strategies behind them.

Choosing the right name for your firm is a big deal. And the competition for domain names is fierce—available names are dwindling fast. Here’s some advice on how to choose a name and how to keep it.

What’s in a name?
Many experts agree that few other aspects of a business are as important as a company’s name. “The right name can help secure financing, attract customers, aid expansion, and position a company for a more profitable merger or acquisition,” says Jay MacDonald, a freelance journalist who has written frequently about the subject. According to MacDonald, when you are choosing a domain name, take these factors into account:

  • Is it easy to spell and easy to pronounce? If your clients can’t spell you, they may not find you. And if they can’t pronounce the name, they might forget about you altogether. Make the name a no-brainer.
  • Does it reflect your market objective? For example, if you were to choose the name “” for your IT consulting company, it would obviously not be clear from the name what your firm does. Make sure your name is reflective of your business and its intentions in the market.
  • Did you use real words? (This does not apply to titles.) Coinages (new words), acronyms, and initials face an uphill battle for recognition.

Also, be aware that registering a domain name does not give you the legal right to use it. The courts have held that trademark usage trumps domain-name registration. So be sure that your domain name does not contain an existing trademark or could not be confused with one.

Branding—the real power behind a name
There are a number of agencies that, for a fee, will help you find the right name. Ken DeLor, president of the Louisville, KY-based DeLor Group, has helped develop brand recognition for Eli Lilly, Courtalds of London, and BankOne. DeLor is quick to point out that people think naming is branding and take a “ready-shoot-aim approach,” when in reality, they should be taking a “ready-aim-aim-aim-shoot approach.”

But naming a company is just the first step. Branding builds upon a solid name to create a successful company. “If done right, [the name] will bring you positive results that, over the long run, will generate the kinds of loyalty and brand equity that can sustain your product through these competitive times and evolve with it into the future,” DeLor said. “You can pick a name faster than you’ve ever done before, but it doesn’t do you any good if you’re not getting where you want to go. That’s where branding comes in.”

According to DeLor, you must be able to visualize the name in order to develop a unique brand character for it. The name must evoke a feeling and a promise that gives it a personality. Once that personality is established, it’s imperative to deliver it into every aspect of your communications, across all media and audiences. DeLor cited Apple Computers as a perfect example of a solid name because it elicits an emotional response from customers.

Don’t let your good name be dragged through the mud
How important is a company’s brand once it is established? As a result of the industry leaning toward touchy-feely corporate monikers, one of the biggest problems e-business entrepreneurs face today is that even though the right name can be a successful brand-building tool, many names have been snapped up or are close enough to existing brands to invite lawsuits.

Just ask Disney or McDonald’s. These companies have been known to hunt down even the smallest, most obscure perpetrators who have infringed upon their trademarked name. If you hang a shingle out that reads “Mickey’s Café,” you can bet that you will be slapped with a cease-and-desist order. The same is true for domain names. One example is George Kim, who called his Web site Model E Corp. Kim found himself in a Michigan court defending his name against one of the world’s largest and most powerful corporations—the Ford Motor Company. That suit was thrown out, but he has also been sued in California.

Likewise, Apple Computers had an agreement with Apple Records (owned by the Beatles) that it would never do music products. As soon as the Mac included sound capability, however, Apple Records sued the company, which was forced to pay damages of about $43 million in British High Court.

That’s why the experts agree that you must do your homework before you jump into the fray. For instance, Hollywood studio DreamWorks paid a total of $350,000 for trademark clearance. And Internet Explorer, a small software company, successfully proved they had used the name before Microsoft, and got a $5 million settlement fee.

Research and register
Once you’ve studied your market, done the groundwork, created your business plan, identified your audiences, and are aware of some of the obstacles, you would think that you’re ready to pick that perfect name. Stop. The final, and essential, step is to make sure someone else hasn’t had the same brilliant idea.

Once you’ve chosen a name, it’s important to research it thoroughly, and then register it immediately. A trademark search is an inexpensive form of business insurance. You can conduct your search on the Internet, paying from a mere $35 for a surface search at to $895 for a full common-law legal search at American Trademark Company. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office also registers trademarks in 42 categories at the cost of $245 per category.

The bottom line is that a good name can lead to a strong branding campaign, but picking the right one takes a lot of work during the planning stages of your business start-up. It’s a lot easier to spend a little money on the front end to avoid costly mistakes. It’s difficult enough to get and keep your dot-com business up and running without the constant battle of “name drain” to hamper its performance.
How did you choose a name for your consulting firm? Did you run into problems when applying for a trademark or registering a domain name? Post a comment below or send us a note.