• Hi Steve, thanks for the post. I think you’re absolutely right. We do tend to judge brands/products by their names. That’s why it’s a big business! I have worked in the past with a great naming firm, Namestormers. Their advice is that you shouldn’t overly fret about negative associations with names because almost every name candidate has some potential downsides and negative baggage. The examples they give are the “hell” inside of Shell Oil and the BM inside of IBM.
    The reality is, as Namestormers points out, that people don’t usually think of names like this because they usually have some kind of context in mind.
    I do think it’s important to think of the context in which the name will operate.
    For Drury, I didn’t actually think of “dreary” until you implanted it in my mind. I thought of the surname.

  • Randall Hull

    I’m sorry but I can’t get past either the Monty Python album or “The Muffin Man” nursery rhyme when I hear “Drury”, no matter the cover.

  • I think names that are clearly family names get a free pass when it comes to connotation. I’ve stayed in Drury Inns and did not give the name a second thought, figuring the name is from a long-standing family hotel name like Hilton. Negative connotations never crossed my mind.

  • Good questions, Stephen. There are a lot of variables here — like what constitutes a good name, product, branding, marketing, sales strategy and more. And I’m no researcher, but here are my gut percentages for how much I think the name influences sales.
    + Great Product, Great Name – Plus 30%
    A great product with a great name is usually destined for success. Whether it’s word of mouth, a chance encounter on the shelf, or seeing it in action for yourself, the name will draw you in. I’d give a great name a positive 30% impact on helping a really good product soar.
    + Great Product, Bad Name – Minus 10%
    If the name doesn’t pop right away, you can kiss a percentage of completely new buyers goodbye. You just can’t get them to lean in and learn more. But there are a number of stellar products out there that generate buzz because they’re actually good products, not because of their name. In those cases, word will get around, and folks will come around. Here I’d give the name’s impact a minus 10% total.
    + Bad Product, Great Name – Plus 5%
    If you have a bad product, a really cool name will help you generate some short-term buzz. But when push comes to shove in today’s markets, people are aren’t going to stick around if you can’t deliver.
    + Bad Product, Bad Name – Minus 5%
    A bad product with a bad name is a recipe for disaster. Unless it’s an anomaly, it won’t even float. Here I’m allotting minus 5%. The thinking behind it? If your product stinks, your sub-par name alone won’t make it sink.

  • I’ve stayed at Drury Inns before and never made the connection to “dreary” ‚Äî I always tended toward “Drury Lane,” from the nursery rhyme. Having said that, and having read your blog post, my immediate reaction is that the brand name becomes less important as the product/service/company becomes more well known … one might have an initial positive or negative reaction to the name, but it’s the consequent experience with what the brand stands for that means most in the long run. For example, you might be more willing to try on “Happy Feet” shoes than “Clodhoppers,” but if you develop corns and blisters from the first you won’t be so happy. If, though, the “Clodhoppers” make you feel like you’re walking on clouds, you’ll go back for more.

  • Generally I don’t think brand names impact sales positively or negatively, at least not until brand recognition has been achieved, after which the brand is everything, symbolizing the feelings the consumer has from its interaction with the brand.
    Certainly, bad names / poor translations (as in Vega cars, which in Spanish means no go) could result in a loss of sales, but I am not sure that a “great name” would result in any greater sales.
    Now to completely contradict myself, I’ll admit that when I am unfamiliar with all products in a category, all else being equal, I usually will choose the product whose name / packaging I like best.

  • 50% of the success. Why? We are inundated with marketing messages. We make constant knee-jerk reactions to names in order to shorten the research cycle to select products and services. We have too. We’re all busy. If you can’t capture immediate, positive attention you’re probably missing half of your potential customers before they even evaluate your business. Example: “Striking Changes.” vs. Dunckley Consulting. I could have chosen Dunckley Consulting but that would have had zero name influence out of the gate. People always ask me, “What do you do?” I say, “I make striking changes for my clients.” I’m already out the gate and ready to run with my 30 second elevator pitch. All good!

  • A name which uniquely captures the essence of the product, service or company attracts attention and imparts a degree of promise. Success is determined by the ability of the product, service or company to match or exceed those expectations.

  • I like Scott Milano’s assessment of how a ‘great’ name works best for a ‘great’ product. When I hear clients say that they want their name to be the next “Google” or “iPod” what I really hear is “I want my product to be the next Google or iPod.” Often when the product is mediocre or worse, it’s hard to come up with that great name because there’s no greatness inside waiting to be expressed. The job then is to create a name that gives the product whatever boost it can at launch.

  • Hindsight is perfect vision. It’s very easy and pretty naive to look at a successful product and attribute its success to its name.
    Any product or service wouldn’t be successful unless it was an excellent product or service. Equally, a brilliant name will not make a lame product a success.
    A ‘good’ name helps a product or service to be distinctive and memorable and therefore gives momentum to the marketing effort.
    Like all branding and marketing, it also depends on what it is that you are branding, marketing or naming and who it is you want to attract?
    Lastly, it’s often the names that at first seem terrible that often work best. Who would have thought in 1973 (or whenever it was) that Apple was a good name for a computer company or in 1994 that Orange was a great name for a mobile telecoms network? Equally, Bluetooth, iPod, Firefox, Google, Pret A Manger, Twitter, Nike, Camper and Facebook may have all sounded a bit odd at first.
    I think the name ‘Walkman’ was heavily criticised by some of the stakeholders within Sony before it was eventually selected. If it’s a consumer product or service you’re naming, the ‘rules’ are pretty simple, short, distinctive, easy to spell and are the relevant URLs available?!
    Would the iPhone not have been a success if it had been called the ‘Phone and MuZikiZergraph’? (That’s meant to be a terrible name, by the way). Of course it would – because its a brilliant product and like nothing else on the market. Think of your favourite restaurant. Would you stop going there if it changed its name but nothing about the food, the service, the prices, the ambience or restrooms changed? Of course, you wouldn’t. You might lament the change of name but you’d still love to go there. The name matters but other things matter much, much more.
    If you’re hoping the name will make your product or service a success, you’re in big, big trouble. It’s important but there are many more elements that are more important. And I say that as a lover of language and the discipline of naming.

  • Lara, I’m pretty sure you’re referring to Nova, not Vega. And the whole Nova/doesn’t-go story is a myth. Nova cars sold quite well in Spanish-speaking countries, and “nova” (the star) is pronounced slightly differently than “no va” (doesn’t go). Here’s the official debunking on Snopes: http://www.snopes.com/business/misxlate/nova.asp
    Scott, I find it interesting that you deduct only 5% for the bad product/bad name combination and 10% for a great product with a bad name. My take: a good product handicapped by an unfortunate name (Smucker’s jam, anyone?) can succeed with effective marketing–which usually requires a lot of money, effort, and–most of all–creativity.

  • Thanks Nancy; I appreciate your catching my mistake and addressing it in a constructive manner. It’s been quite a while since I took or had an opportunity to use Spanish, can you tell? ;-)

  • There’s a simple research technique that can quantify the value of a good name by comparing it to an existing, competitor or poor name:
    Telephone a large sample of randomly selected people (you can screen to get whatever sample type you want but it means making a lot of calls). Ask them to write down the name you are going to spell for them. Ask them to read it. This will identify prononciation problems.
    Then tell them it’s a name being considered for a new product (or service, or company, or whatever) and ask what kind of product they think this name might be for. This will tell you what first impressions the name makes.
    Read them a description of the product and ask if they think the name fits (1 to 5 scale is easy).
    Then ask a series of yes/no questions such as “based on the name only, would you expect this product to be expensive? For children? For men? For women? High quality? Dependable? From a large company? etc.” Ideally, the categories for the yes/no questions are drivers for the industry the product is in (in the economy hotel segment, for instance, drivers are: clean, comfortable, bathrooms that don’t smell, and good value — easy to ask, “Based on the name, would you expect this hotel to be clean?”
    Ask what they would expect to pay for the product you’ve described with the positioning statement (read again if necessary).
    Finally ask how likely they would be to buy to product if they were in the market for something that did what it does. 125 completed surveys are a minimum to get a projectable national sample.
    Do the identical survey using a different calling list and another name (you can even do it with a competitor’s name). Then compare the results for each name. Since the only variable in the study is the name, differences in responses can be directly attributed to what the name communicates. For example, if name #1 has a higher price expectation and intent to purchase is the same as for name #2, the name is what added the value. Same for every other dimension. Whether someone “likes” or “dislikes” the name is irrelevant (they’ll tell you they don’t like sex and violence on TV, too — but that opinion has little to do with what they actually watch).
    The key is a quantitative, monadic (each person only responds to one name) study that does not ask respondents for their opinion on the name itself, but assesses their feelings about a product with the name (in packaging research, we never ask if people like the label. Instead, we ask them to evaluate the product inside.
    Lexicon Branding in Sausalito has developed some impressive techniques for evaluating names in foreign languages with a global network of linguists called GlobalTalk.

  • Here’s the Sony Walkman story:
    “The Walkman went by several names. It was actually originally sold in the United States under the name “Sound About.” In the United Kingdom the same product was called the “Stowaway.” Eventually Sony settled on the “Walkman” name that became synonymous with the product This name was based on the “Pressman,” an earlier cassette player from Sony
    (I got it here: http://www.ehow.com/list_5898725_sony-walkman-faq.html )
    I also read that the executives at Sony feared that ‘Walkman’ would sound like a straight translation from Japanese and therefore it wouldn’t work very well in the US and Europe.

  • The UK TV channel G2 moved to Freeview and relaunched as ‘Dave’ in Oct 2007. The renamed channel increased its audience by 40% within a month, and although the move to Freeview will have helped, I’m sure that much of that increase, which took the channel to number 10 in the UK, was down to the name. (Even in homes with Pay TV, Dave performs significantly better than G2 ever did.)
    As a name, ‘Dave’ has a friendly, blokey, down-to-earth feel ‚Äì it’s a surprising and witty choice for a tv channel. ‘Dave’ is promoted as ‘the home of witty banter’: a slightly old-fashioned sounding phrase that underlines the friendliness and accessibility of the name and also reflects the fact that many of the programmes are re-runs of classic UK TV shows.
    Together, the name and strapline suggest that the content will be masculine, quick-witted, playful and very funny. A winner…

  • Hi Chris! Dave is a great example! It epitomises what I meant by
    “A ‘good’ name helps a product or service to be distinctive and memorable and therefore gives momentum to the marketing effort.”
    A name is crucial to the brand because of course, names shape perception. It’s the old ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ idea.
    What we call something shapes what we think and feel about it, so when creating a brand from scratch, it’s very important to get the name right. It will inspire much of the brand identity and the tone of the subsequent comms.
    Names are also very culturally sensitive, so how well would Dave work outside the UK? Pretty well, I think – because, even if it didn’t have all the ironic, blokey connotations you mention, it’s short, direct and easy to pronounce for non-English speakers.

  • I can’t find it right now, but I read a research stating that up to 60% of buying decision for CPGs is based on the colour. That leaves name less than 40%. I hope that helps.

  • Gunter: Would love to see the research when you find it. It sounds suspicious that a definitive number is possible for a subject as complex as color. For a specific product, in a specific setting with a specific customer, MIGHT be possible but overall, 60% would be a poor benchmark.

  • I remember seeing it in Alicia Wheeler’s book: Designing Brand Identity. Yet, I can’t remember the source. Let me try to find the book!

  • I just checked her book. Page 111. No support of her statement in a list called “Color brand identity basics”: “Sixty percent of the decision to buy a product is based on color.”
    I love the book, but this statement as if it’s fact without noting any source challenges her credibility.
    Back to naming: Even if she were to be right, leaving 40% of the buying decision to the name is equally naive.
    According to WPP’s Millward/Brown Research Group, Brandz survey, buying decisions are based on Presence (You can’t buy it if you don’t know it exists), Relevance (“Is this even a product I want?”), Performance (Felt to deliver acceptable performance — “on the short list”), Advantage (Felt to have rational, emotional or status advantages), and Bonding (buying it).
    There are 3 rules in retail consumer package design: Appetite appeal, appetite appeal and appetite appeal (lots of pundits will claim eye-catching, bold, colorful, etc. as the holy grails of packaging, but they are tactical aspects of creating appetite appeal). Food packaging is fairly straightforward: “Does this look like something I want to put in my mouth?” (generics of the ’70’s failed largely because they looked like military rations). For other products, appetite appeal gets defined by customer perception of needs and the ability of a marketer to strike the right note. “Liking” a package isn’t important. Believing the product inside appeals to my appetite better than competitors is the difference between success and failure.
    Are names important? Yes. Colors? Yes. Brands? Yes. Product descriptor? Yes. Photos or illustrations? Yes. Size? Yes. Price? Yes. Layout of label? Yes. Shape of container? Yes. Where it’s sold? Yes. Discounts? Yes. Past experience with the product? Yes. Reviews? Yes. Product convenience? Yes. Each element has a role in filling the appetite of a product’s appeal. But every customer has different priorities for each product and marketers have to know how to use each tool to their competitive advantage.
    The courts try to make global definitions and judgments on each element in isolation to defend or exploit the advantages. A lot of successful law careers are built on the inherent ambiguity of balancing so many variables at once.

  • Great discussion, all!
    I am learning a lot here, so thanks to all.
    David, I would tend to agree that a lot goes into what makes a product successful, and attributing as much as 60% to one element seems implausible, at least to me. Perhaps Dan Kelly wasn’t too far off in guessing 10% goes to toward the name: https://www.duetsblog.com/2010/02/articles/a-frisbee-by-any-other-name/
    And, yes, lawyers are famous for creating legal tests that balance a variety of factors to reach a final decision or conclusion. After all, the test for determining trademark likelihood of confusion involves the delicate balance of anywhere from six to a dozen factors, depending on where the dispute is venued: https://www.duetsblog.com/tags/likelihood-of-confusion/