High-priced branding consultants who huddle together for months to concoct a new company name would like the public to think that effective naming involves secrets revealed only to those who earned a Ph.D. in linguistics, speak 17 languages or learned advertising through working their way up the ranks at a famous-brand agency.
If you turn away from the idea of naming as a black art, however, you can find some secrets of branding in scientific studies that have been published after having been reviewed by academic authorities as reliable. Here are four points on which researchers have given all of us insights that help guide the creation of effective business names.
1. Pronounceability matters. A 2009 study by University of Michigan researchers revealed that if we have difficulty pronouncing a product name, we consider it risky. This builds on a 2006 study from Princeton University psychologists who discovered that people shied away from buying newly offered stocks from companies with hard-to-pronounce names and hard-to-say stock ticker symbols, compared to companies with easier-to-pronounce company names and symbols.
Lesson: Before settling on your final choice of a company name, score the candidates according to how easy they are to pronounce. This doesn't mean simply whether or not there are combinations of sounds that may be unfamiliar to many people, as in the proposed restaurant name, Hsizienchi, but also whether there are likely to be uncertainties about how to pronounce something, as with Caf(c) Cachet (is the second word pronounced in the French style, like "cash-ay," or like "catch-it"?).
2. Vowel sounds have associations. Consumer researchers from the University of Texas at San Antonio published a fascinating study in 2007 distinguishing the impressions fostered by two different sorts of vowel sounds: those made with the tongue forward in the mouth, such as the short "i" in "milk" and those made with the tongue farther back in the mouth, such as the broad "a" in "mall." Internationally, the front vowel sounds convey small, fast or sharp qualities, while the back vowel sounds convey large, slow or dull qualities. By a margin of 2 to 1, people in this study preferred names for knives (sharp) or convertibles (small) with the front vowel sounds and names for hammers (dull) or SUVs (large) with the back vowel sounds.
Lesson: If you have something you want to be perceived as cute or quick, call it Picalilly or Anna's Attic rather than Paula's or BooKoo Books. On the other hand, if you have something whose excellence lies in bulk or power, names like Bumball or Under it All will perform better for you than names like Packadermy or Let Me At It.
3. Jazzier names spur consumption. Cornell University researchers who did nothing but change the names of the foods four-year-olds were served for lunch discovered that snazzy names made a profound difference. On the days the preschoolers were fed "carrots," they ate just half as many as they did on the days the vegetables were called "X-ray Vision Carrots." Researchers found the same kind of boost, though not quite as much of an increase, for adults when "Seafood Filet" was billed on the menu instead as "Succulent Italian Seafood Filet." The adults also rated the taste of the latter dish more highly than the taste of the plainly labeled dish.
Lesson: Just as kids become more well-disposed to "Power Peas" and "Dinosaur Broccoli Trees" than to plain old vegetables, shoppers find creatively named stores, restaurants, companies and products more interesting and more worth patronizing or purchasing than generic ones.
4. Names do influence us. Inc. magazine columnist Norm Brodsky once wrote, "Your company's name plays little, if any, role in determining your success." In case you're inclined to agree with him, consider the study at McMaster University where researchers presented patients trying to decide on their own medical treatment with graphical depictions of three treatment options that were simply labeled as option A, B or C. To the surprise of the researchers, who were actually studying something else, when they showed participants the names of the three treatment options, more than a third changed their choice of treatment on account of the names.
Lesson: Business names do have an impact, Norm Brodsky. Words, sounds and spellings influence our decisions. And that's why it's essential to give our new company a stand-out name that makes a positive impression.