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Is Your Brand Name Any Good?

Choosing the perfect name for your brand, product, or service is a high-stakes decision that can significantly influence your venture’s success. The journey begins with a common dilemma: you’ve brainstormed tirelessly, perhaps alone or with your team, sifting through countless options. Finally, you land on a name that feels just right. But how do you confirm it’s not just subjectively appealing to you but objectively suitable for your audience?

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How to Determine If Your Brand Name is Any Good

Naming for your audience requires stepping beyond personal bias and conducting thorough name-validation research with your intended market. This might involve various research methodologies, from traditional focus groups to more innovative approaches. However, focus groups, while popular, come with their own set of limitations. They can foster an artificial environment where participants overthink their responses, deviating from their natural reactions.

To truly test a name’s effectiveness, we advocate for presenting it within as realistic a context as possible. Whether it’s visualizing the name on a website or a product package, the aim is to mimic real-world encounters as closely as possible. This approach aligns with NameStormers CEO, Mike Carr and his extensive background in market research, including a tenure at Nielsen, underscoring the critical role of context in naming evaluations.

Quantitative research, or quant research, is another tool in the arsenal, allowing for feedback from a broad and representative sample of your target demographic. This method offers the advantage of extrapolating findings to a wider audience, providing a more reliable basis for decision-making.

However, quant research in naming presents unique challenges. Traditional metrics and questions can elicit contrived responses, as people don’t typically engage in conscious analysis of names in their daily lives. Instead, names often make a subconscious impact, capturing attention in a fleeting moment without the individual fully understanding why.

In Daniel Kahneman’s book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” he explain this phenomenon: Our brains, ever-efficient energy conservers, prefer to operate on a subconscious level when possible, relying on instant reactions rather than deliberate contemplation. This insight is pivotal in naming research, suggesting that the immediate, subconscious response to a name is more telling than any rational analysis.

To illustrate this point, let’s discuss a hypothetical “smart toothbrush” designed for teenagers. In testing various potential names, the focus isn’t just on which names are liked but on how quickly and decisively they are chosen. This approach reveals that while “Intelligent Toothbrush” might score well on descriptive appropriateness, a name like “Smart Mouth” elicits faster, more visceral reactions, making it more likely to stand out in the real world.

“It’s imperative to choose a name that not only resonates with you or your team but also captivates and connects with your target audience.”

Despite “Smart Mouth” not being the top scorer in traditional likability metrics, its ability to instantly engage and intrigue set it apart. When we conducted this name testing study, some parents expressed reservations due to the name’s cheeky connotation, but many appreciated its edginess and potential appeal to teenagers, highlighting the importance of considering the target audience’s perspective and preferences.

In conclusion, it’s imperative to choose a name that not only resonates with you or your team but also captivates and connects with your target audience. Through a blend of contextual presentation, representative feedback, and attention to subconscious reactions, you can navigate the challenging waters of naming with greater confidence and clarity, ensuring your chosen name not only sounds good but also performs effectively in the marketplace.


Mike Carr (00:01):

So today’s topic is how do you know if this new name you’re fixing to lock and load on is the right name, is a great name. Let’s say it’s a name that you personally love, right? You’ve gone out and you’ve done some things and after a lot of effort, you’ve come up with a name and man, that’s it. Or let’s say you’ve had your team involved or maybe your employees involved and it’s taken weeks, or maybe it’s taken months to go through hundreds of thousands of names, and you get down to a few and you say, which of these is really the best name? Which of these names really should we invest in and take into the future? So that’s the question. How do you get past that subjectivity and sort of seen outside of the box? And I think maybe the obvious answer is, well, you have to validate the name with who it’s for with your target.


So if you’re selling a product or a service, if you’ve got a new company, you’re going to use ’em as a master brand. Or if you’re can do some fundraising with your nonprofit, you want to make sure that name, that new name resonates with the people you’re targeting with that name. So that often involves some type of research, some type of name testing, research. Some folks like focus groups. There’s some problems with focus groups. That’s where you get like 6, 8, 10, 12 people maybe around a table, and you ask them all kinds of things. And the problem with that is it’s often an artificial setting. There’s often a lot more thought put into the discussion and the name than there would be in a real world. The worst thing I’ve ever seen done is you don’t even tell ’em ahead of time what it’s for, right? You bring ’em in, you have the two foot by three foot whiteboards with each name and exactly the same font in color, all in black.


And you show ’em a name and you say, well, what do you associate with this name? What do you think this name might be used for? Don’t do that. It’s ridiculous. A name always has context, and the only way to test a name in our opinion, is to provide as much real world context wrapped around that name as possible. It could be how it might look on the web, it might be how does it look on the box if it’s a product, whatever that context is. That’s the proper way in our opinion, to test a name. And we’ve been doing this for almost 40 years, and prior to starting this company, we were part of Nielsen, the market research firm. So we do have roots and grounding in how to test all kinds of things, and naming is a bit of an odd beast, but certainly the context is important. So you might say, well, I’m going to call some of my friends, right? I’m going to tell ’em a little bit about what it is, and then I’m going to get their reactions. And that’s valid. But again, unless your friends are representative of your target, I’m not sure that opinion should carry as


Much weight as you might give it. So the approach we like is what’s called quant research, quantitative research where you go out and you talk to a representative sample, a large enough group of folks that are from the target you are, you’re going after, right? The right age, the right gender, the right socioeconomic status around the country or wherever it might be. So you’re actually going to get results from people that you then can extrapolate to the entire target you’re going after. But there’s a problem with quant research when it comes to naming. And here’s the problem. Whenever you ask the question, what do you think of the name or Which of these names best fits what this product is, or which of these names will make you most interested in buying the product or the service or contributing donating money to my nonprofit? You’re going to get an artificial reaction.


And think about it, when you yourself are browsing on the web or walking down the aisle of a Costco or a Target or wherever it might be, are you consciously thinking about, is that a good name or a bad name? Probably not, right? Unless you’re weird like me, and you’re in the naming business and you think that way, you’re not going to think about names that way. You’re simply going to react to a name. You won’t necessarily even know why that name grabbed your attention, but you’ll see, oh, that’s sort of interesting, right? Oh, what’s that? It breaks through and it grabs you just for that split second. So how does one test for a name and capture that reaction? And this goes back to Daniel Kahneman’s book, and it’s thinking fast and slow. And it was a landmark text. I think you got a Nobel Prize for some of the research that he did there.


And it talks about how the human brain consumes an inordinate portion of the energy given its size and weight. And so through evolution, we have evolved as creatures to minimize the energy load on our bodies and on our brains. So the brain defaults to subconscious thinking or reactions whenever possible to take the cognitive load and the energy consumption off the brain. So Kahneman’s research show that if we have some defaults in terms of how we react to certain things, that is the preferred way the brain’s often going to operate. It’s fast, it doesn’t take much energy. And then if needed, the rational thought, the system to thought, the more pondering can be brought into play. But for 99% of the names that are out there today or 95%, you never really get the system two because the key is that system


One, how do people react to the name? So I’m going to take you through a scenario and show you a couple of slides if you’re watching this on YouTube. And if you’re not, I’ll describe the scenario to you. This is how we think, and this is how we test names. So let’s pretend in this case that we’re coming out with a smart toothbrush. So you’re a parent with some teenagers at home who tend not to brush their teeth. They’re on TikTok, they’re doing this and that they don’t have time to brush their teeth. And so you take ’em to the dentist and guess what? They all have cavities. Every one of ’em has got a cavity. And the dentist pulls you over and says, look, either your kids have got to start brushing teeth or the next time you bring ’em in here, they’re going to have a lot more cavities and this is going to up costing you a fortune.


And later in life it’s not going to serve them well. So you think, oh my gosh, what am I going to do? So the smart toothbrush comes out and it’s pretty darn cool. It’s got some intelligence built into it, and it actually senses how long they’re brushing their teeth, what the orientation of the toothbrush is. So they get in the upper right quadrant, the lower left quadrant, all that kind of stuff, and it’ll give you a report at the end of the week. So for each one of your kiddos, you can see, okay, how long were they brushing their teeth? Did they brush their teeth the right way? And all that kind of stuff, right? So it is a great tool. So the challenge is what do you name the thing? What do you call this new smart toothbrush? So we came up with some names and we actually did this test.


This is a fake test. It’s not real. I mean it’s real data, but the names and the scenarios fake. So we came up with names, and these are not all great names. We just want to give you a representative sample, thorough care, intelligent toothbrush, smart mouth, cyber tooth, integrated toothbrush, confident and connected toothbrush. So those were the names that we put in front of consumers in front of parents. And the stimulus was pretty much what I told you. You’re looking for a toothbrush that you think will help you get your kiddos to brush their teeth like they’re supposed to so they don’t get any more cavities. And we ask the question if the following names are associated with what you just saw, we show ’em a little picture, a little picture of what the toothbrush would look like. Maybe if you’re looking at this on an Amazon website or at that target or that Walmart and you’re shopping for a toothbrush, we show ’em a picture like what they’d see and just this, if the following names were associated with what you just saw, how would you rate each name? But what we’re doing is not just looking at their ratings from great to awful, but we’re also looking at something else. How quickly do they pick the name? In what order do they pick the name? Is the name selection definitive that is, do they have to move it around? Well, maybe that’s not as great name as I thought. So they go back and they push on it, or they click it and they move it to a different score. Or do they even touch the name at all?


Is it a boring, awful, terrible name that they don’t even bother to rate it at all? That’s what we’re looking at. And here is the traditional way the results would be plotted if we didn’t care about reaction. Just on this x axis, the best names on the right, the worst names on the left, this is the traditional research approach. And the best name, just looking at the traditional research approach was D. And that’s Intelligent Toothbrush. Duh. I mean, that’s a very descriptive, obvious name. It’s a smart toothbrush. It’s got some AI technology built into it. So Intelligent toothbrush is a great name. Mom or Dad thinks that’s where I want to go, okay? But if you look at the reaction, which is on the Y axis, that’s where it gets really interesting. So when we do that, look at what rises to the top on that Y axis.


It’s not intelligent toothbrush, it’s a smart mouth. Smart Mouth garnered almost an instant immediate reaction. It was the first name that most respondents scored. And from a market real world setting, that is almost always the name you want to go with because it grabs their attention, it cuts through the clutter, and now you can tell the story or now they’ll pick up the box, or now they’ll read the rest of the description on the Amazon website, whatever. It’s right. So that’s the key to doing name testing is not just you can ask the questions. It still is interesting to know which of these names do they like the most, but what’s more important is which name do they react to the quickest. And initially. Now you’ll notice that Smart Mouth doesn’t score as well as intelligent toothbrush in terms of likability. Intelligent toothbrush did score a little bit better.


So there’s some verbatims where we actually ask them, why do you think you scored the name the way you did? What were you thinking? And this does get into that system too, but it’s still insightful. So what was interesting was some parents did not like Smart Mouth. Why do they not like Smart Mouth? They’re already having problems with their middle schoolers talking back to them having a smart mouth and being a smart Alec. So they did not want to name that reinforced that type of aberrant behavior that they wanted to avoid. But most parents said, I like the edginess in the attitude that Smart Mouth conveys. I could see my 12-year-old son or my 13-year-old daughter thinking it’s pretty cool and funny to be brushing her teeth with a smart mouth toothbrush because it does have that attitude. It does have that little back talky edginess to it,


And they might even talk to their friends about it. So the parents that liked it and scored it at the top is because of compliance that maybe that’s not the best name for me, but for my kids. And that’s my problem. I can’t get them to brush the teeth like they need to. Smart Mouth is a great name. Whatever you guys decide to do. The takeaways I would like for you to remember is number one, please however you do it, try to validate your name with your target with that external audience. If you have to do a focus group, at least present the names in context. If you want to touch base with some people, then include people that are representative of that target. And if you have the money and the time, do it the way we just talked about, which is how we do it, which is where you do a quantitative test with a large enough set of respondents so you’ve got some statistical valid results. So then you can actually know that well, smart Mouth is truly a name that’s going to cut through the clutter, it’s going to hit the ground running, and it’s going to leverage whatever budget we have, however limited that budget might be for effective brand building, for building preference, because we know that Smart Mouth grabs that consumer, grabs that customer very quickly. Best of luck in your naming journey and in testing that name the right way. See you later. Bye.

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