Photo Benjamin Stäudinger/Flickr |


The Naming Exchange

While the memorability of your brand name matters, there's another facet of naming that matters more.

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I have a confession to make. I am terrible with names. Though I never find it difficult to create brand names for clients, I struggle to remember the name of the person I just met. Most of the time, I feel anxious that I will get someone’s name wrong, so I end up referring to them in the most generic way possible. “That’s a really interesting point … you … guy with the pink shirt.”

While my conversational skills are slightly better than the above snippet, I kept thinking about this character flaw on my way home from a busy weekend at South by Southwest, where I met dozens of new people (and numerous new brand names). Many of the people I met knew my name. They greeted me in a lobby with a firm handshake and a confident, personalized introduction. I tended to recall the names of people who knew my name more than people who didn’t. It got me to thinking about the way brands focus on names.

Naming is nearly always a passionate pursuit. Many clients obsess over it. They worry that a wrong name for their project is tantamount to certain doom. They invest a lot of energy into the process, testing names and cylcing through endless discussions and debates about why a name is right or wrong or in need of refinement.

That energy is perhaps misplaced.

It is misplaced because when I confess my personal weakness about names to others in conversation I am often surprised to learn that they suffer from the same affliction. A lot of people struggle to remember names. This is as true for people’s names as it is for brand names. That’s why a lot of my client work is focused on creating names that are easy to remember; names that stick in memory without requiring much conscious thought. That said, I’ve read study after study that indicates that neither recall nor favorability for a brand name is highly correlated with preference. That’s right, your choice of name is a statistically weak driver of preference. Many of my colleagues will attest to the fact that great names generally inherit their equity through experience, not birth or linguistic creativity.

Which leads me to my second observation. Most brands worry about people remembering their names when they should worry more about remembering their customer’s names. The people I recall most from my sojourn to Austin are the ones who greeted me by name when they initiated a conversation. I remember the experience more, and I am more likely to remember their name. Research supports this observation. While brand name recall/favorability is a fairly weak indicator of preference, personalization and engagement during experiences are strong and reliable moderators of preference.

I often say that naming is a dark art. It’s truly a work of art and science. I would be lying if I said that a great brand name doesn’t matter. Great brand names, like great logo designs, can inspire a brand’s audience and give a brand an edge. However, real brands worry more about knowing the names of their customers than they do about having customers know their name. The former goal helps them achieve the latter.


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