A Name’s Sake

Despite what you’ve learned, Q is for innovation. If you want your new brand to appeal to women, consider a name starting with an L or V. When it comes to brand naming, there is much more than just creative phrasing and best guesses—it’s a science. With science, there is research, and the suggestive properties of Q, L and V are among the intriguing findings of new research completed by Strategic Name Development.

We conducted the English consonant research among 414 randomly selected U.S. consumers from an online panel of 7 million. Our research tells us what different consonants represent in the minds of consumers. The results—which fell into categories such as classic, innovative, simple and complex—were compared with Brandweek’s top 1,000 most advertised brands in the U.S.

At SND, we determined that the letters C, S and B are perceived as more traditional or classic—and what could be more classic than Coca-Cola, Sears and Budweiser? Likewise, names with the letters B (Bounty) and C (Cheerios) were perceived as being less complex.

The team’s curiosity was peaked by the letter Q, which rated high for innovation. Consider brands like Quicken, which was highly innovative when it first appeared on the market, or QuickBooks. Q is one of the least-used letters in the English alphabet, only appearing in 0.02 percent of all words. That in itself may help to explain the letter perception among consumers.

Conventional brand naming examines factors such as the number of syllables, memorability and ease of pronunciation. But this recent research on specific letters of the alphabet provides knowledge and insight as to why some names have greater target market acceptance than others. Although it is not a precise science, we see it as a significant new naming tool. The average number of syllables and characters in a brand name also has value. SND’s study revealed 3.5 syllables and 10.4 characters as the norm for the top 1,000 brands, and it’s important to consider the value of these influencers in the consumer’s mind. Take the automotive industry, for example: Mazda’s 6 and Hummer’s H3 exemplify brevity, but potentially at the expense of clearly defining what the brand offers. Move up to three letters, such as Saturn’s Vue or, for an example in consumer foods, Jif peanut butter, and we have a clearer understanding of the product’s emotional benefits.

Anyone can name a product if all he is looking for is a name, but there’s a tremendous amount of discipline that goes into it. At SND, we also consider aspects of naming such as a brand’s pronounceability. Brands that are harder to pronounce—such as Cialis, Prevacid, Touareg—are spending millions more in advertising (between $157 million for Cialis and $99 million on Touareg). Brand names that roll off the tongue, like Botox, Fructis and Tic Tac, are more easily sold without spending the mega millions in advertising (between $33 million for Botox and $17 million on Tic Tac).

In addition to using this new alphabetic research tool, we also work with sound symbolism, psycholinguistics and a keen understanding of how the name will appear visually, among other variables. We have a very disciplined approach for evaluating names based on the client’s objectives. And most importantly, we look at names from the perspective of the target market. This eliminates subjective evaluations that result in names being added or eliminated based on nothing more than gut reactions. The common response we hear from clients is, “You’ve got me thinking about the naming process differently!”

These recent consumer findings are particularly intriguing when segmented by industry. For example, there is a predominance of top 1,000 brands beginning with B in the household goods industry—from Bounty to Bounce, for example. Classic and simple.

There is also a distinct line between what appeals to men versus women. As I mentioned before, V is distinctly feminine, and what could be more feminine than Victoria’s Secret or Venus, Gillette’s brand of razors for women?

The No. 1 consonant to use in marketing to men? X. Consider Gatorade X-Factor, Jaguar’s X-Type and the Nissan Xterra. X also ranks high as being both a complex and innovative brand.

Creating a name for your new brand can be a daunting task. Is it short, distinctive, pronounceable, memorable, appropriate, extendable, trademark-able?