Names, labels and symbols matter
By Jon Michail
Whether you’re looking for a name for your first-born, new product, brand or company, your choice really does count.
When Phil Knight, founder of Nike was searching for a name for his brand, his researchers realised that all the best-selling brands have strong, short names containing a letter with a strong sound, such as X or K. Hence the iconic brand names such as Xerox, Kleenex, Clorox, and Kraft. His company a great believer in story telling eventually ended up with the name Nike. An inspired choice, especially as in Greek mythology, Nike was the goddess of speed, strength and victory.
“Meaning can systematically bias perceptions and judgments”
A study from 2007 found ‘the sounds of words can convey meaning apart from their actual definitions, and this meaning can systematically bias perceptions and judgments’. Put simply, the researchers found that sharp sounds were preferred for an implement like a knife, and dull sounds were preferred for an implement such as a hammer.
Other research found that buyers will perceive a piece of furniture as small when its name used the letters “mil” and larger when the letters “mal” are used.
Parents often spend a long time deciding what they should name a baby. There’s a lot to consider: family names, the matching of first and last names, how the initials look, family connections to a place or person or culture, and so on.
Research shows that our birth names can have long-term effects on our lives because they can (and most likely) define us. This includes our choice of profession to the place we make for ourselves in our environment. We may even be attracted to places, jobs and people that have some sort of link to the letters in our names. It has also been shown that if we write our own names repeatedly for a long time, we may come to suffer from ‘implicit egotism’, a type of obsessions with the letters and sounds in our personal names.
So, the name we give to something or someone is incredibly important, as the name create associations which can have an a positive or negative effective on the thing or person having that name. Ask any teacher about their feelings they have for specific names – they will always be able to give you a character assassination or two based on those names. Stereotyping is one of our most-used mental shortcuts: the assumption that something or someone will have a certain characteristic because of its name.
The same assumptions happen when we add the words ‘cheap’ or ‘standard’ to a product name or description. ‘Cheap’ is likely to be received negatively, whereas ‘basic’ doesn’t have the ‘cheap and nasty’ connotations. And if you label your product ‘basic’ rather than ‘standard’ you will influence your customer differently.
“People buy certain brands because they believe these brands will support their personal or professional image.”
Some people buy certain brands because they believe these brands will support their personal or professional image. For instance, many consumers buy Apple technology because they have a desire to be seen as ‘techie’. Buying a high-priced car or designer suits can elevate your image to one of a superior, well-to-do or sophisticated professional in the similar way Toms brand speaks community orientated.
However, as Mark Twain observed, ‘Names are not always what they seem.’ A certain name may invite us to purchase a product, but it doesn’t take long for consumers to form an opinion based on its real value or usefulness.
Then it’s back to the drawing board!
I’d love to know your experience on names and their impact on business, products or even personal.
Jon Michail and his team at Image Group International partners with their clients to achieve breakthrough results with contrarian and disruptive ways to grow and monetise their personal and business brands. A veteran coach with a Who’s Who clientele, Jon is the CEO and Founder of Image Group International, an Australian-based corporate and personal brand image advisory and coaching organisation that conducts transformational seminars, workshops and one-on-one coaching in over four continents. He is recognised as Australasia’s No. 1 Image Coach.