In early 1995, two Stanford grad students started working on a new way to index web pages. This search engine used a proprietary algorithm to map out all links come into and going out of a web page. Internally, they called this search engine BackRub.
By 1996, BackRub had grown too big for Stanford University servers. The two students had a choice — they could either sell off the algorithm, or they could turn it into a business.
Fortunately for the internet, they took the latter option. And the first thing they did was to change the name. BackRub turned into Google — a play on the mathematical term googol.
You know how the rest of the story unfolds.
What’s in a Store Name?
Can you imagine saying why don’t you BackRub it?
Google’s name had a not insignificant hand in the search engine’s success. It’s short, quirky, pronounceable, memorable, and easy to write. Unlike its competitors at that time — Lycos, AltaVista, etc. — it can also be turned into a verb. For a company that sells an activity (searching), that’s a big plus.
(Imagine saying just Lycos it — doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, right?)
As a number of studies have shown, brand names have a marked effect on how customers perceive your business:
- A joint study by the University of Miami and California Polytechnic Institute found that store name and quality of merchandise are the two biggest contributors to a store’s perceived image.
- Another study found that consumers are more likely to pay more for a store’s own brands if they have a positive perception of the store brand itself.
- One study concluded that brand names of products sold in a store had no impact on consumers’
risk-perceptionwhile shopping. However, consumers perceived greater risk if the store’s own brand image was weak.
This is why Sean Parker advised Mark Zuckerberg to drop the The from Facebook; your name is far more important than you realize.
How Brands Work
Finding a brand name that works is more than just a matter of brainstorming over a weekend. It’s about testing creatives, surveying potential customers, analyzing competitors, and most importantly, understanding what gives brands their value.
Major brand consulting agencies such as Igor or A Hundred Monkeys will charge you upwards of $1M for it.
You can get the same benefits by truly understanding how brand values work.
The Two Pillars of Branding
Brand names don’t exist in isolation. What works for a clothing retailer might not work for a car accessories manufacturer. This is why it’s important to understand where brands get their value from.
Extrinsic and Intrinsic Quality Cues
Every brand name gets its values from intrinsic and extrinsic quality cues.
As you might have guessed, intrinsic cues are inherent to a product. Extrinsic cues are a result of external factors.
Both intrinsic and extrinsic quality cues are related. For example, a designer shoemaker who uses
These intrinsic factors, in turn, affect its extrinsic cues — its brand name, where it’s sold, label information, etc.
At the same time, changing extrinsic cues alters how customers perceive intrinsic factors. In Paul S. Richardson, Alan S. Dick and Arun K. Jain study of 1,564 shoppers, it was found that changing the brand name for generic products made customers believe that the products were more valuable.
This is an important lesson — we can’t readily change intrinsic cues, but we can change extrinsic factors. And this can have a drastic effect on customer perceptions:
- A study at the Iowa State University concluded that there is a direct link between store name and perceived quality of a product, i.e. a product being sold at a
high-endretailer is perceived as more valuable.
- A study of beef sold at retailers showed that consumers can be made to pay more by controlling extrinsic quality cues, i.e. changing the beef’s brand name, the store it’s sold in and its price.
You’ve probably experienced this yourself — you’re willing to pay more for a product at Whole Foods than WalMart simply because of Whole Foods’ better brand image.
So ask yourself:
- What are my product’s defining intrinsic quality cues?
- What is the product’s target market?
- How can I change extrinsic cues — brand name, price, etc. — that will change how customers perceive my product?
Low Knowledge, High Knowledge Consumers
Not all your customers possess the same amount of knowledge about your products.
For example, if you were running a laptop store, a
How knowledgeable a consumer is about a product affects the way he/she shops.
- High knowledge consumers focus on intrinsic quality cues.
- Low knowledge consumers focus on extrinsic quality cues.
In one study of female blazer shoppers at the Carlson School of Business, it was found that shoppers who
Why is this important?
If your customer base is primarily composed of
If your customer base is largely
We’ll see how this works in practice in the next section.
How to Name Your Store: 5 Principles of Brand Names
We’ve had enough of theory. Let’s now look at how to actually pick brand names that work
1.Choose your brand according to your audience
We concluded above that how much customers know about a product impacts what they consider valuable.
This is why brands that cater to
For example, Nautica, the
The name effectively becomes a shorthand for sailing, and helps the brand’s
Which is to say, when selling to low knowledge shoppers, sell the brand, not the product itself.
In contrast, brands that cater to
For example, Tom Ford, the designer label, is based on the founding designer’s name.
The brand name is not shorthand for any specific brand image. Rather, it keeps the brand name in the background and highlights the quality of the clothes being sold.
Similarly, Simon Carter, the London based designer’s eponymous label, has a muted brand name that focuses on the intrinsic value of the product.
That is, for
From this, we can say:
- Use abstract or strong,
image-evokingbrand name when targeting low knowledge shoppers. This helps shift focus from the intrinsic quality of the product to the brand name itself.
- Use muted brand names if your audience is largely high knowledge shoppers. This helps them focus on what they value — the intrinsic quality of the product.
2. Simplify whenever possible
Take a look at Forbes list of the world’s most valuable brands:
Nearly all the top brands in the world have one defining characteristic: they are simple and easy to pronounce. They are either between
Simplifying your brand name has two benefits:
- Short, pronounceable brand names are easy to remember.
- Simpler names are easier to translate across languages — a crucial requirement for
- Ease of pronunciation can impact brand success, as one study of brand names conducted at the Hong Kong Baptist University concluded.
Valkee, a light therapy tool that runs on the Ecwid platform follows this principle in its name.
The name is short, pronounceable, and has just two syllables. It’s easy to remember and easy to speak.
How can you pick a catchy name for a business? Follow these guidelines:
- Limit yourself to
2-3syllables per word
- Use strong vowel sounds in the name, such as o (eg: Google, Toyota)
- Keep the name short — preferably one word, at most two words.
- Limit the use of silent letters. Use phonetic words as much as possible. Studies show that this can also make your brand name easier to translate.
- Drop unnecessary suffixes/prefixes such as the.
3. Use descriptive adjectives that mirror what customers value
In 1985, ConAgra introduced a line of
By the early 2000s, however, sales were in free fall. Internal research showed that dieting had fallen out of favor with buyers. Instead of crash diets, customers now wanted to be healthy, not just slim.
The solution? ConAgra changed the product name from Diet Deluxe to Healthy Choice. This helped the product turn around and improve sales in an otherwise failing frozen food market.
The lesson: Using words your describe what your customers value can have a big impact on your brand name. These values are typically intrinsic quality cues your audience identifies with.
Harvest Eating, an Ecwid store, uses this principle in its name as well.
The site, that helps people find and cook with locally grown, seasonal foods emphasizes the freshness with the word Harvest in its name.
Similarly, Vitality Tap, another Ecwid store that sells cleanses, juices and smoothies, uses the word Vitality in its brand name to emphasize the cleansing nature of its products.
Here is a simple three step process for coming up with business names ideas:
- Step 1: List your product’s intrinsic quality cues. Say, if you’re selling cookies, these might be the softer texture, superior ingredients, etc. Use these as a springboard for naming ideas.
- Step 2: List your target customer personas and what they value. For your cookie company, do they value extrinsic factors such as price, or are they more concerned with taste, texture and ingredient quality?
- Step 3: Find qualities that overlap in both the above lists. Use them in your brand name. For example, if your customers value freshly baked cookies that are easy on the wallet, you could use a name like FreshBakes.
4. Ask your target customers
In 1998, Coco Pops, a popular Kellogg’s cereal brand in UK, changed its name to Choco Krispies. The impact of the name change was immediate and disastrous: sales declined within weeks and market share dipped to an
In an attempt to haul sales back up, Kellogg’s ran a telephone poll where it asked children to choose from a handful of names, including the original one. Nearly 90% of respondents chose the original name.
With this data, Kellogg’s pulled the trigger and switched the name back to Coco Pops in 1999. Sales shot up by 20% and the cereal continues to be sold under the original name today.
This is an example that shows how important it is to keep your customers’ choices into account. While you might have strong feelings or passions about your store name, your customers might not always feel the same way.
Fortunately, it’s easier than ever to run an opinion poll asking customers what they want. Here’s a three step process to do this:
- Use Typeform to create a simple customer survey. Alternatively, use oLark or Qualaroo to poll visitors dropping on your site.
- Send this survey to all friends, family and acquaintances on your social networks. Some networks, like Facebook and LinkedIn, also allow you to poll your friends/followers directly on the site itself.
- For opinion from your target market, run a Facebook ad campaign directing users to the customer survey. Make sure that you use Facebook targeting features to show the ad only to your intended demographics.
5. Make sure that the name is available
Lastly, before you select a name, make sure that the equivalent domain is available in a popular extension.
Unless you’re specifically targeting a local country market outside the US, your extension choice should have this priority:
- .io (only for tech focused brands)
- Country TLD (such as .de, .co.uk, .pl, .ru, etc.)
- .me, .info, .tv
- gTLDs such as .tech, .space, .fashion, etc.
In 99 out of 100 cases, you won’t go wrong with .com, so try to get the name in this extension first.
Besides domain name, you also need to check for availability of social media usernames. Use a tool such as NameChk.com to search multiple networks at the same time for the right name.
Branding theory is a vast and complicated, but for coming up with business names ideas, all you need to do is understand your product’s intrinsic and extrinsic qualities, and what your target customers value. This will help you choose a short, pronounceable, memorable name that will let you stand out from the competition.
- Every product has intrinsic and extrinsic quality cues.
- Your target audience can be divided into low and
high-knowledgecustomers. Low-knowledgecustomers focus on extrinsic quality cues, high-knowledgeon intrinsic cues.
- Short, simple names work in nearly every situation.
- Use descriptive adjectives in your brand name.
- Pick a business name that is available in a popular extension.