How To Create Brand Names That Stick

Today’s guest entry is written by Alexandra Watkins, CIO of Eat My Words. After writing advertising copy for 20+ years, including five years at Oglivy and Mather -where she flogged everything from Microsoft to Mighty Dog- Alexandra got hooked on naming when Gap hired her to create cheeky names for their first line of body care products. Since then she’s generated thousands of names for snacks, software, sunscreen, social networking sites, sportswear, shoes, sugar scrubs, serums, and seafood -and that’s just the S’s!

The secret to creating powerful, unforgettable and sticky brand names is simple; a name should make you smile instead of scratching your head. I’m still baffled why companies insist upon naming themselves something that is meaningless to their customers, difficult to spell and hard to pronounce. Some leading offenders: Tcho, Vumber, Naymz, Technoganic, Doostang, Motiva, Ziizoo, Fragranza, and Mathnasium. Start-ups and old-school naming firms fall in love with invented names for three reasons:

  1. They sail through trademarking because they are unique;
  2. the domain names are usually available for $9.95 on Godaddy;
  3. people want the ego boost of coining a word.

Invented names are the easy way out but most invented names are forced and unnatural sounding. My #1 head-scratcher is a company called Xobni. What is Xobni and how the heck do you pronounce it? “Zob-knee” is inbox spelled backwards. Cute to the founders. Dumbfounding to customers. If you have to spell, explain or teach someone how to pronounce a name, it’s a bad name.

To create and evaluate names, we’ve created the Eat My Words® SMILE and SCRATCH Test™, which has been featured in The Wall Street Journal. It’s a fun and non-objective way to screen any company or product name. Run your own names through it and you’ll instantly be able to see if you have a winning name or if you should scratch it off your list.

SMILE, the qualities of a powerful name:
Simple – one, easy-to-understand concept
Meaningful – your customers instantly “get it”
Imagery – visually evocative – creates a mental picture
Legs – carries the brand, lends itself to wordplay
Emotional – empowers, entertains, engages, enlightens

SCRATCH it off the list if it has any of these deal-breakers:
Spelling-challenged – you have to tell people how to spell it
Copycat – similar to competitor’s names
Random – disconnected from the brand
Annoying – hidden meaning, forced
Tame – flat, uninspired, boring, non-emotional
Curse of Knowledge – only insiders get it
Hard-to-pronounce – not obvious, relies on punctuation

Some of the many names we’ve created that pass the Test include a chain of frozen yogurt stores called SPOON ME, a natural energy drink for women named BLOOM, and a home cleaning robot named NEATO. You can find more examples at Eat My Words.

While Eat My Words caters to corporate clients, you’ll find the Eat My Words blog to be humorous and educational albeit snarky and partisan (in case you’re a little raw after yesterday’s election). One regular feature I liked is the Name Shame Hall of Fame. Submissions to the contest are encouraged.

In addition to this article, Alexandra suggests (and I concur) you may find 10 Domain Naming Tips that Will Save You Time and Tums to be educational. Read it to find out why it is a misconception that you need to own the exact dot com of your business name.

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  1. Phil Davis says:

    I can attest to Alexandra’s talent. Her firm produces some of the most novel and creative product names out there. And it’s a credit to her that she stands her ground and pushes for names that are meaningful. It’s very easy to get discouraged due to trademark and domain issues, and just torture a word into submission. That doesn’t require talent, just a Scrabble bag of letters. Both Neato and SpoonMe pass the SMILE test. I always look forward to hearing what Alexandra and her crew are cookin’ up at

  2. Great post! thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    I’ve never understood the thinking of naming companies one couldn’t pronounce easily. Why would a company want to create an obstacle to others saying their name?

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