Choosing a Business Name (and other brainstorming activities)

I love brainstorming. I recently met with a client who’s starting a new business and together we went through the systemized process of brainstorming a name.

Now, there’s tons of information online about business names. Simply google “how to choose a business name” and you’ll be inundated with how-to sites. Rather than rehash all that, let’s discuss the brainstorming process itself. It’s a process graphic designers, engineers and problem-solvers everywhere use and it’s very effective no matter what project they’re doing.

Brainstorming—what is it, anyway?

Wikipedia defines it as a “group creativity technique designed to generate a large number of ideas for the solution of a problem.”

In her book “Idea Revolution,” author Clare Warmke describes it more creatively: “The magic of the ideation process (brainstorming) is that you start in a familiar place, but then take a twisting, turning path to a new destination.”

The photo above is a perfect illustration. It’s of my son, a brainstormer himself, who always leads me on twisted paths to new and interesting places.

Anyway, back to the process. Each creative follows it in different ways. I’m going to guide you through what’s most effective for me.

Open the Right Brain

The right side of the brain is often considered the generator of creativity. While some people are naturally more right-brained than others, sometimes we just need a little nudge to open the door. I like to start with a brain-opening activity because it breaks the ice and gets everyone going with broadened thinking.

Sometimes a brain opener can be something as simple as food and conversation. The carbohydrates of a whole wheat sandwich or the omega-3’s in a handful of nuts activate our creativity. I once hosted a brainstorming group of women and served cheese, chocolate and wine—now that was a very productive session!

Brain openers can also be activity-oriented. I’ve asked clients to fold a piece of paper into a shape related to their business. I’ve heard of designers leading visual “tours” of a specific place and asking clients to describe things they encounter with each of their senses. Concept artist Andrew Bosley created a fun tool called, of course, the Brainstormer. With this, you spin the pinwheel and it gives a random noun, adjective and story conflict. The challenge is to create an image or story using all three elements.

Define the Problem

Once everyone has relaxed and opened their minds to creative thinking, it’s then time to discuss the problem at hand. By problem, I mean challenge. In the case of my client, our challenge was to come up with a name for his new business.

No matter what the project is, I like to walk my clients through a series of self-examining questions. These are the questions I use to draft a creative brief. What is your business? What do you do? Who is your target market? What are their demographics? What are your qualities? What are your obstacles? What image would you like to convey? And so on…

Discussing these questions helps both clients and me see the full picture. As clients talk, key words pop up. I write these down for later use.

Start a List

The key words I’ve noted are the start of what I call my “concept list.” This is a list of random words related to the project. They build upon one another and they formulate ideas. At this stage of brainstorming, I engage the clients in further developing this list.

Let’s use my client as an example.

My client is starting a home maintenance business. I instructed each member of the committee to write down ten words they associate with home maintenance and renovation. I told them to do this quickly and think off the top of their heads.

We then discussed each group of ten words. Inevitably, as we did this more words came to mind and we wrote them down. We branched off from certain words and wrote sub words—for example, from paint we got “coat, brush, tint, varnish.” From professional, we got “master, lead guy, prime, perfect,” and so on. We listed nouns, verbs and adjectives. We listed positive traits and geographical names. We even listed outrageous words we’d never consider, because, after all, when brainstorming, there are no bad ideas.

Formulate Solutions

Words, words, words! By now a concept list easily consists of 50-100 words. Maybe more, because creativity is like a muscle—the more we use it, the more it develops.

This is the time solutions to the problem really come to light. A graphic designer begins drawing thumbnail ideas for a logo…an engineer drafts concepts for a new product…and we began putting words together for my client’s business name. And just like creatives draw many, many concepts, we listed many, many names.

The goal, when concluding my client’s brainstorming session, was to have a list of 100 names. We accomplished that, plus more (including a bit of mental exhaustion, which is common).

My client took over from there. He researched the availability of domain names. He polled family and friends for their opinions. He did a super job of thoroughly researching his market.

So congratulations to Mastercoat Home Renewal—Big Bend, Wisconsin’s latest in home maintenance! Watch for more coming from this top quality business!

Need help with your business identity and marketing? Hire me for successful brainstorming ideas and help with implementing them.

3 thoughts on “Choosing a Business Name (and other brainstorming activities)”

  1. I love brainstorming as well. Often I don’t have the luxury of collaboration with my fellow designers. Bummer. But I keep my drawing tablet by me all the time. You never know when an idea’s going to pop into your head.


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