Posted on Aug 14, 2020

2 Branding Psychology Rules

Choose a Business/Product Name (Powerpoint)


Our instincts with branding are usually way off. For example, a couple of unorthodox rules I have found that hold true for branding are…

1. If you ask a few people on the street and they like it, its probably not a good brand name. If they hate it, its probably good.

2. Avoid using a name which describes the product or service precisely. A subtle link to the product or service in the name, or no link at all is better.

Both of these seem illogical and its why the vast majority pick bad brand names.

A Brand is Like a Person You Know Well…

Pick a random name of anyone you personally know out of a hat. You immediately have opinions, qualities, values etc. attached to that person.

That is the same for branding. And it is on an INDIVIDUAL level just like how you form associations and opinions about people, you do the same for a brand.

“Nobody would call their kid Happy Blondie”

Do we name our kids using words that describe them?

Of course not, nobody would call their kid ‘Happy Blondie’. It’s generic, it doesn’t stand out, and there are millions of people that could be given the same name. It also devalues them as a person – it makes them less ‘real’ like an inanimate object.

The same is the true for brand names and companies. For example, any Scuba company could call itself ‘Best Scuba‘, and it sounds like just another and signifies it is not different.

Names are there to express uniqueness, not similarities.

Neptune Diving’ would be much better, and even better than that ‘Deep Neptune’ which has an even more subtle connection to the service.

Just In: ‘Britney Spears’ & ‘Virgin’ used in same sentence TWICE…

When you hear a name like ‘Britney Spears’ your brain will make lots of immediate associations, just like you will make associations when you hear ‘Virgin Airways’.

Both Britney Spears and Virgin Airways have brand associations, and our brain did not need a descriptive name to remember the name, or the instinctive association with what that brand means.

In fact a descriptive brand name would have made memorizing and positive associations harder, and here’s why…

How We Think About Brands…

Our mind can work like a thesaurus and when you use descriptive names, your brain remembers the meaning, rather than the individual words. So you’ll probably think something like ‘Good Diving‘ when trying to remember the name of ‘Best Scuba‘.

If the words have less or a confused meaning, we are forced to remember the name, and then decide the meaning for ourselves.

This is perfect because we truly like to make our own conclusions about what we associate with a brand, not have it forced upon us. A descriptive brand name like ‘Best Scuba’ forces an association, and raises our resistance to believing it because its someone else’s opinion and not our own.

Whereas a non-descriptive name allows us to draw our own conclusions (even though such conclusions will likely have been prompted by how the brand presents itself).

Brands & Brains…

A brand to a person is simply a collection information that leads us to a conclusion about what that brand is about, and this happens whether it was intended or not. The words of the brand name, the actions of the brand, the colors, the type of products and services, and how the brand presents itself all play a part in how we make and recall these associations in our head.

When we see a brand, subconsciously or consciously, these associations effect our decisions and thoughts towards that brand.

The Meaning of Words in a Brand Name…

In fact, the choice of words is important, as words themselves have associations in our mind, by the way they sound, and what they may represent.

For example, an Apple represents fruitfulness, freshness, good health and sweetness. While not all apply to computers, the positive associations like good health and freshness, along with the help of great products and a solid marketing campaign, pave the way for people to see Apple Computers as a fresh computer brand that delivers a healthy operating environment.

Yet instinctively we want to use directly descriptive names when choosing brand names, and the man on the street will tell you that your subtle non-descriptive brand name makes no sense.

A few decades ago the man on the street will huff ‘What’s an Apple got to do with a computer?’, and ‘Microsoft sounds like a penis dehancer’

If we were selling to robots, the man on the street would be right, but we’re selling the brand name to humans, and they think a little differently.

This applies just as much to small companies as it does Fortune 500 companies. If you have customers or an audience, then that audience is making associations with your brand name, and it effects how your company and products are perceived and if they will keep coming back to you.

Read the powerpoint summary of this great branding book below for more branding tips…

What do you think? Did you choose the right brand name for your business?

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  • Dr Mahesh C. Jain says:

    It appears that branding as detailed in this post is more appropriate for outbound marketing rather than inbound marketing.

    • Chris Munch says:

      I don’t think it would make any difference. We’re still making those connections and associations in the same way so the same rules apply.

  • A question I am currently discussing with a customer. He is a Lifecoach, coaching people how to make changes and accept change rather than resisting it, even at ages above 50. My idea is to brand his name on all plattforms i.e. Facebook rather than something like “Embracing change over 50” or something to that effect. He should be perceived as the only expert to go for coaching in that area. What do you think?

    • Chris Munch says:

      Yes you are right.

      With authors, coaches and consultants where the individual is the one providing the product/service (i.e its not a group of coaches, authors or consultants), then the name becomes the brand. Just as people attach easier to non-descriptive brand names over descriptive brand names because they are more similar to people’s names, people will attach easier to a person’s name rather than a brand name

      Even if he tried to position himself under a brand name his name would still take precedence in the mind of the audience.

      • Rieke F. says:

        Regarding this example I share your opinion to brand the name when it comes to individual services (like coaches, authors, teacher etc.)

        As there are meanwhile a lot of PERSONs who are offering the same service and therefore presenting themselves as the ‘best and only’ the branding should deliver something particular together with the name.

        When it comes to research on a topic people will first look for the topic and in a second instant go for a person’s name.

        Therefore to my opinion when a consultant, coach, teacher, etc. starts the internet audience does not know him and his qualification. So a description of the service together with the name would be preferable, for ex. ‘Mind patterns over 50′ by Georg Grosz’.

        With his/her internal image the individual will then positioning this given person.

  • Great post Chris — you’re right there’s a lot in a name, and the “naming debate” is ongoing here, with us and our clients.

    There are certain key attributes we check for using surveys — the name is not already “taken” in consumer’s minds, it has no negative associations, it doesn’t mean anything unexpected in another language, it’s easily spelled, the recall rate and accuracy are good after several minutes, etc.

    Although clients usually want to know if people “like” their brand/product name, these other factors are just as important.

  • Student says:

    Hi, I’m doing a science fair research on how different brand names affect consumer preference. I’d like to use this article as a resource; what is your credibility and how should I cite this? Also would you know what model names with letters and numbers are called? For example a golf ball model called Titleist Velocity would be descriptive (Velocity), what would a golf ball model called Titleist NXT be called (NXT)? Your response would be greatly appreciated… Thank you

    • Chris Munch says:

      Just credit us with the blog title and direct URL to this page.

      I’d use ‘model code’ as the terminology to describe things like that.

  • Victoria tovar says:

    What if we are designing an app/ company and are having a hard time creating a name that reminds you of karma, is individualistic, easy to say and remember as well. What’s a good resource to find something that will stick? I think long term; therefore, I want to create an effective name that will last a long time. Any advice?

    • Chris Munch says:

      Here’s how to find good domains quickly…

      (I’ll pretend I’m finding a domain for a product like leadpages)

      1. Come up with some partially descriptive and related words like along with some cool sounding words which might match your brand:
      lead, page, leads, pages, optin, squeeze, woo, green (and so on)…

      2. Come up with some words that are non descriptive but give a good feel to your brand and might work with the other words…
      wax, blue, tiger, heavy, fast, tool, hammer (and so on)….

      3. Go to thesaurus.com and put those words in the thesaurus to get some more ideas.

      4. Take those two lists of words and combine them here.
      You’ll get hundreds of domain variations. (use MS Word Search & Replace to remove space between words)

      5. Use a bulk domain search tool to see whats available quickly. Pick the best ten, choose one.

  • Nishant says:

    I generally dont comment anywhere, but your post made me comment, really nice post

    I also think words that already have meaning is not as good as new word

    Example Karbonn mobile dont seem as good as htc ..

  • MaryAnn Mangala says:

    If the brand name (nondescriptive) takes precedence in people’s mind over the descriptive (which becomes…what…the byline?)
    and the brand name is the person’s name, would you suggest going for a trademark on that name, as well as the domain name? Thanks Chris

    • Chris Munch says:

      Yes its a good idea to trademark an author’s name, and grab the domain too.

  • Rose Campbell says:

    The apple logo is a bite out of the apple, referring to the bite that Eve took from the apple to gain knowledge. Thus, it is the perfect icon for a computer – it’s not an abstract association.

    • Chris Munch says:

      I’d never heard that! I’m not sure it’s the association Apple was going for as it’s an action that condemed the first people to hell. Eitherway we can agree the association is not obvious, which is the point. 🙂

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