Part of my job as a copywriter includes, from time to time, creating names for businesses, products, and services. Choosing a name may be the single, most important business decision you will ever make.
We are constantly bombarded with marketing messages. Limited by people’s very short attention span, your marketing message has to be effective to the degree that it must communicate its essence and create top-of-mind awareness within an extremely short amount of time.
Names are often the best tools — and sometimes the only ones — for accomplishing this efficiently.
In the game of positioning, your name has to stick firmly in the mind of the marketplace and must do so instantly. While uniqueness is an important factor, there are many other elements that can help the anchoring process — elements that help a name become memorable as well as chosen when a customer experiences a specific need or desire.
So, here are some simple rules to follow when choosing a name for your company or product.
To make a company or product name truly memorable, it should convey its main feature or benefit. It should be suggestive. Even if it’s unique, it should, in some way, communicate what it is or does in one fell swoop.
If I give you the word “Die Hard” for instance, you will think of a battery that dies hard. If I tell you “Jiffy Lube,” you will naturally assume that it’s a garage offering oil changes in a jiffy. If I tell you “Band-Aid,” you will picture an adhesive bandage that comes to your aid. If I said “Minute Rice,” you will assume it’s rice that cooks in minutes.
Suggestive names don’t have to be genetic, either. You can easily create a unique name, which somehow communicates its core benefit, its purpose, or at least its nature.
Think of names like “Kleenex” (cleanliness), “Windex,” (windows), “Duracell” (durable battery cell), “Nicoderm” (nicotine skin patches), “Cusinart” (kitchen accessories), “Pine-Sol” (pine solvent or cleaner), “Travelocity” (travel), etc.
Names that do not convey at least the basic nature of a company will be easily forgotten. This includes hard-to-pronounce words, abbreviations, and acronyms such as “MGF Holdings LLC.”
It also includes self-titled companies such as “Michel Fortin International” (which was, believe it or not, the name of my original company close to 20 years ago — one that nonetheless failed — and later changed to The Success Doctor, Inc.).
Benefits are particularly effective because such a name would make a company or product instantly appear as if it had some added value. When placed alongside a competitor offering an identical product, a benefit-based name positions itself above the competition in the mind.
As a result, the name will thus be quickly remembered when people make their decision to buy.
Since the invention of the printing press, the written word has made it easy for us to forget names. Consequently, the process of rhyming has in the same way gradually fallen out of favor.
But strangely, what we remember the most are, for example, the nursery rhymes that we were told as children. In today’s memory management courses, people are told to use rhymes and word association in order to improve their memory.
Rhyming is therefore effective because it is pleasing to the ear and helps to hook words easily in the mind. Beyond ease-of-recall, rhyming also tends to add credibility.
Psychology professor Dr. Matthew McGlone, in his article “The Keats Heuristic: Rhyme as Reason in Aphorism Interpretation,” has found that rhymes not only make a phrase more memorable, they also make it more believable. According to his research, people preferred “woes unite foes” over “misfortune unite foes” or “woes unite enemies.”
We are a beauty-driven culture, and words are not excluded. The esthetically pleasing sound of a rhyme makes it cognitively easier to assign greater perceived value, accuracy, and believability. In other words, rhymes confer a greater sense of credibility.
As Dr. McGlone points out, “People often attribute the aesthetic quality of a rhyme to the statement’s validity, which suggests that people may unknowingly equate beauty (a rhyme’s singsong quality) with truth.”
(According to his research, while it may not be the only reason, a major factor that played in O.J. Simpson’s acquittal during his murder trial was certainly Johnny Cochrane’s incessant claim, “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit!”)
While some names can easily rhyme since they use multiple words (e.g., “Blinds of All Kinds,” “Lean Cuisine,” “Reese’s Pieces,” or “Ronald McDonald”), most names are made up of only one word.
If they can not rhyme at least within themselves (e.g., “Rodeo,” “YouTube,” or “Coca-Cola”), then the job would be conferred unto their taglines — those small sentences that follow and complement names.
For example, if I said “It takes a licking but keeps on ticking,” you will probably remember this phrase if not instantly recognize the product with which this tagline is associated. And if the tagline rhymes with the name (such as “Uh, Oh! Better get Maaco!” or “When you need an edge, use Pledge”), the name will stick even more effectively as a result.
(For instance, a recent example is Windows® Vista’s “The Wow Starts Now.”)
What do “Saran-Wrap,” “Coca-Cola,” “Krispy Kreme,” “Chucky Cheese,” “Willy Wonka,” “Barbie,” “Google,” “Hamburger Helper,” “Crispy Crunch,” “Blockbuster,” and “Pipeline Profits” all have in common?
Rhymes are not limited to vowels (often called “foot rhymes”). Sometimes, head rhymes (or “alliteration”) can create the same effect as the other. Why? It is because they all do the same thing. It contains repetition.
The repetition of consonants give a name that pleasant and obviously effective singsong quality. Repetition makes a name memorable by making the pronunciation more simple. In other words, it is definitely easier to remember a string of similar sounds than it is to remember a combination of totally different sounding words.
(Did you “see the softer side of Sear’s” lately?)
In fact, consonants are great for many other reasons. Studies show that strong-sounding or “choppy” consonants (like the sound of “P,” “D,” “T” and “K”), used particularly at the beginning, help recall by adding emphasis.
They are called plosives. And according to naming guru Steve Rivkin, who co-wrote “The New Positioning” with Jack Trout, “It makes linguistic sense to start a brand name with a strong-sounding consonant or plosive.”
Plosives, and rhymes and alliteration specifically, help to make a name more memorable. These are called mnemonics. Mnemonics are not only useful but also effective, particularly in the branding process.
Bottom line, from the simplest product to the most abstract or complex technical service, a memorable name helps to make the company or product memorable as well. In fact, it may even become genericized and used as the term that defines all others in its category.
(By the way, can you Xerox that document and FedEx it, please? If you don’t know how, just Google it.)