Difference Between Business Names, Brand Names and Domain Names
Business name. Brand name. Domain name.
These three terms are bandied around so interchangeably these days (even by us at BrandBucket) that it would be easy to assume that they are all one and the same. But if you are in the process of starting a new business, there are some key technical differences between these three entities that you need to know. This article will tell you all you need to know about each of these naming assets, how to find out if they are available, and how to acquire them.
What is a Brand Name?
A brand name is a name that you use to identify a family of products or services, or a single line of products or services that a company offers. For instance, Apple is the brand name used on most products manufactured by Apple, Inc. In this example, the business name and brand name are the same.
Your brand name is who you are to your customers. It is the pillar your business's public image will be built around. If you are lucky, it will become a stand-in for your core business offering.
Uber - A ride-sharing service
Amazon - Online ecommerce marketplace
Google - Search engine
The products or services you offer can also have their own brand names. You will want to create new brand names for products or services that differ from your core business offering.
UberEats - Food delivery by Uber
Amazon Web Services - Cloud computing
Google Maps - Web mapping service
What is a Business Name?
A business name is the legally registered name of your business. You'll use your business name to create contracts, open business bank accounts, pay taxes, and any other administrative related activities.
Most business names contain the business's brand name, followed by the company's chosen business structure.
However, they don't necessarily have to be the same. In some cases, the business name is completely different from the brand name. This is most common in large businesses that have multiple brands housed under a single parent company.
Brand Name: Google
Business Name: Alphabet Inc.
Brand Name: MailChimp
Business Name: The Rocket Science Group LLC
What is a Domain Name?
A domain name is your website name - the internet address where people can access your website.
A domain name consists of two main parts, a name and a top-level domain (TLD).
The name can be any combination of letters, numbers, and dashes (though most good business domain names consist solely of letters).
A Top-level domain (TLD ) is the last part of a domain name that follows immediately after the "dot" symbol. Examples of TLDs include .com, .org, .net, .gov, .biz and .edu.
For businesses, .com domains are highly preferred for their familiarity and credibility.
How to Get a Brand Name
To secure a brand name, you will need a trademark. Trademarks give you an exclusive right to use certain words, phrases, symbols, or designs to identify your business. Therefore, to trademark a name, you must be using it "in commerce," or intend to use for a business in the near future. In other words, you can trademark a name for a business, but not for personal use.
Generally speaking, the more unique and original your name is, the better your chances are of securing a trademark.
Descriptive names are the hardest to register, as they rely on commonly used keywords to describe the nature of a business, or its value proposition.
Bob's Electronics - Too generic. Bob is a common name, and tons of businesses use "electronics in their name.".
Cloud Computing - This brand name literally describes the industry in which it exists. There's almost no chance of a trademark application for this name being approved.
Names that simply evoke a product or service without actually describing them have a much easier path.
Apple - evokes simplicity, ease of use.
Honey - sweet, rewarding, simple
Amazon - meant to convey vastness, dominance.
Invented names are by far the easiest to trademark, and receive the most ironclad protections, as they are completely unique, and don't contain commonly trademarked keywords.
To find out whether your desired trademark is available, you will need to do your research. A good place to start is the USPTO database. Do a search for your name and see if there are any existing trademarks. If there are any existing trademarks or trademarks that are very similar to your name, it's a possible indicator that your trademark application may be denied.
If you don't find any red flags there, conduct a more comprehensive search. This can be done by you, or if possible, a trademark attorney. Here are a few of the searches you should conduct.
State and Local Business Directories
State Trademark Databases
If you find a state or local business in your area that is using the same name, they may have common law claim to the name even though they don't have a registered trademark.
Once you are reasonably sure that your name isn't infringing on an existing trademark, it's time to file a trademark application. For a great resource on filing a trademark application, check out this step by step guide.
How to Get a Business Name
If you want to obtain a business name, you will first need to determine whether or not it is available. A business cannot have the same legal name as another business if they are both based in the same state. Checking ap business name can often be done by doing a search within the government website of the state in which your business is based.
You don't have to register a business in every state, only the state where you have a physical business presence. For instance, if your an e-commerce business that has customers across the country, you only have to register in the state you operate from.
The simplest way to register a business name is by filing a DBA, (doing business as) also known as a fictitious business name. A DBA is a bare-bones form of registration. It allows you to market, promote, and make financial transactions under a name of your choosing. You can do business as this name, even though it is not formally incorporated. Filing of a DBA can be done at your local county clerk's office.
Another way of registering a business is by visiting the Secretary of State and registering as an LLC or Corporation. In contrast to a DBA, an LLC is a separate legal entity from yourself. This provides a greater degree of protection in regards to liability and matters of law.
How to Get a Domain Name
To acquire a domain name, you need to register it at a domain name registrar. But first you need to find out if it is available to register. Go to a registrar such as Godaddy and do a search for your name.
If the domain name you want hasn't yet been registered (lucky you!), you can simply register it. This is done in a few quick steps.
- Add the domain to your cart.
- Enter your information. At most registrars, you have the option to keep your ownership information private for an additional fee.
- Pay the registration fee.
- The name is yours!
Most good business domains have already been registered. Luckily, many of these names are still for sale by their owners. You can find many brandable domain names for sale at premium domain name marketplaces like BrandBucket. For more on buying registered domains, check out our in-depth article on premium domain names.
You can also trademark your domain name, but it's not usually necessary, as nobody else can use a domain you have full ownership of. However, you should make sure your domain doesn't infringe on anybody else's trademarks, or you could be required to surrender the domain in the future.
What to do if your exact-match domain is taken?
Ideally, you want the "name" part of your domain name to be the same as your brand name. This is called an exact match domain. Exact match domains provide the most consistency from a branding perspective.
Brand Name: Uber
Domain Name: Uber.com
Brand Name: Nike
Domain Name: Nike.com
However, in the case where the exact-match domain isn't for sale, or out of your budget, there are some potential workarounds.
Let's say your desired name is Uber, but Uber.com is taken.
You add could common business words:
Or, use a different extension: Depending on the industry you are in, there may be other popular extensions out there that could make sense for your brand.
A good barometer for whether or not to use a certain extension is whether other businesses in your industry use them. So while the above examples may work for the tech space (where they are popular), they may not be great for the fashion space.
The Problem with Not Using Exact Match
But while adding words and using different extensions are useful in the way of getting ahold of a desired name, there are some major downsides that often make these workarounds far from the best choice.
People Assume Exact Match: People are naturally going to assume your domain name is an exact iteration of your brand name. If your brand name is Uber, they are going to assume your domain name is Uber.com. When they type in Uber.com and find that there's no website there (or worse, another businesses website), it's going to cause confusion. Best case scenario, you make a bad first impression. Worse case, you lose that type-in traffic completely.
People Assume Dot-Com: Even though it isn't part of your brand name, the .com by far is the number one brand of TLD. So much so, that when most people go looking for your brand, they will naturally assume your internet address is "yourbrandname" + ".com". As with not having the exact match, this is a sure-fire way to throw your customers for a loop. Not having the .com can also hurt your credibility, as people inherently trust it more than other domain extensions.
You'll Pay More For It Later: Even if you do go with added words or a different extension now, you will probably end up buying the exact match .com name in the future. There are numerous examples of companies that started with added words or different extensions, only to cave in and purchase the exact match .com later (for a much higher price than if they purchased it before they were successful).
Twitter.com - Was originally twttr.com. Ended up paying bird enthusiast $7,500 a few months later for twitter.com (those are some expensive vowels!).
Facebook.com - Originally thefacebook.com, Mark Zuckerberg and company ended up shelling out nearly $200,000 for facebook.com only a year after the company launched.
Overstock.com - Overstock actually changed its domain from overstock.com to O.co. But the domain name and domain extension remix was brief, as sales immediately started slipping. They have since changed back to overstock.com, and probably won't be rebranding again anytime soon.
The moral of the story? If at all possible, the exact-match .com domain is the way to go. If your brand name's matching domain isn't available, you may be better off choosing a different brand name altogether.
An Easier Way
Sometimes easier to start with names you CAN have. That's why at BrandBucket, it all starts with a domain. We have thousands of highly-brandable and available domain names to choose from, so you are sure to find a perfect fit. Begin your naming search with BrandBucket today. Start your brand name search today.