Choosing a company name: How to build a successful emotional connection with your clients

To celebrate the launch of our new book, “Preparing to set up your limited company”, Stela (our marketing guru) has shared her experience with you in this series of blog posts – they’re packed with tips and advice to help you come up with the perfect name for your new business.

You’ll probably come up with hundreds of ideas for company names, and you’ll no doubt love some of them more than others.

Build a bear and Wok and Go are experiential names

Try not to get emotionally attached to names too early, as this might cloud your judgement. Take a more ‘scientific’ approach and leave the sentiments for later when you nominate a winner.

Treat your company as a living and breathing creature with its own personality, objectives and mission. Then define your brand positioning relative to your objectives and the on-going market trends. Remember: the bolder your objectives, the more unique name your may need to be to push your way into your market.

A unique innovative brand would require a distinct and memorable name which creates positive associations and interest. In the other extreme, if you are going to compete in a lower end market, a more functional name might suit you better.

Use every opportunity to differentiate your business in the marketplace, starting with your name. Pick up something distinguishable, make it sound memorable and dominate your niches. This will give you a competitive advantage and bring you rewards for being creative in the long run.

Evoking positive emotions

As a rule of thumb, a name should always evoke positive emotions in the mind of your target audience. Think of words that best describe your business not only from a functional perspective, but holistically, outlining all the benefits to your clients. Use some of them to draft a name, which has a meaning, conveys a benefit and expresses your company’s unique personality.

In this post we’re going to touch on the emotional perceptions that a name brings to people’s minds: it’s a well-known fact that psychology plays a major part in influencing our purchasing decisions. Smart marketers know this and act very rationally on the irrational part of our brains.

Here are some techniques for choosing a name that can stimulate your target audience’s emotions at a subconscious level, and hopefully lead them to purchase from you.

Experiential names

The names Explorer, Evolve, Build-a-Bear, and Dance Direct suggest a connection to something real that triggers associations and desire for certain actions.

A number of famous global brands use this approach: it’s a common way to evoke positive feelings by communicating a desirable experience.

Evocative names

Evocative names paint a picture positioning the company, as opposed to the tangible goods, services or the experience. If you are planning on delivering a service based business then you might find this approach useful.

Big brands use evocative names to convey positive experienceGiven evocative names do not describe a product or service, these names are usually unrelated words that evoke the positioning of the company and become characteristic of the brand. Plus, the more the business evolves, the less suitable descriptive names become, making room for something far more inspiring.

Examples of evocative names include:

  •  Apple: (then Apple Computers) a name chosen to differentiate from the cold, technical-sounding names of competitors at the time and give a spirit of more friendliness and fun.
  • Virgin: looks like the right choice for a company new to the business at its start – pure, fresh and promising.
  • Lotus Cars: named after the Lotus fruit, as the legend goes, causing a person having eaten it to forget where they came from and lost all desire to return. Similarly, Lotus wanted to create cars, which provided driving experiences like no others, making those who tried it lose all desire to return to their previous type of car.
  • Shell: a name chosen as a tribute to the previous occupation of the family – the seashell trading business.

Phonetic Symbolism

It’s worth knowing that using the right vowels and consonants can affect the way people feel about your brand. This fact is particularly powerful for words which have been invented.

Some argue that using phonetic symbolism is much more relevant when naming a service. It’s abstract nature and the lack of the physical characteristics which products have imply a much more emotional (rather than rational) criteria when taking a decision. 

Vowel sounds affect emotions and imagination

The vowels used in a word influence the perceptions consumers have of a specific product, such as size, roundness, softness, brightness and speed.

Briefly, linguistics differentiates between back vowels and front vowels, depending on the relative position of the tongue when these are pronounced. 

Participants in a study conducted among English speakers were asked to describe their associations with the invented words Mal and Mil in relation to a wooden table. Here is how they described it:

Back vowels

[o], [a] like in Mal conducted more perceptions of: big, heavy, soft, slow, round, dull object

Whereas …

Front vowels

[i] like in Mil conveyed a feeling for: small, light, hard, fast, angular, bright.

Alcatel and Bing are two brands, which used exactly the opposite techniques to evoke the desired associations in the mind of consumers. Can you guess which one used “Mal” and which “Mil”? Now you get the idea.

Let’s take another example. Take a minute to answer the following question:

Think of an ice cream. Which name would you prefer for it: Frish or Frosh?

According to the mentioned study, a better name is Frosh, because it suggests smooth, rich, creamy and soft associations because of the vowel [o].

In addition to back and front vowels, also consider low-pitched and high pitched sounds in a name:

Low pitched vowels

[a] (ahh) convey sombreness, slowness, sadness and gentleness: Barclays, Dove

[u] (ooo) conveys wonder and awe: Google

High pitched vowels

[i] (eee) and [ai] (ayyy) convey excitement and urgency: Febreeze

A word on consonants

The sound of b, d, k, p and t seem to bring to mind more explosive, violent actions.

Sounds like s, sh and f are softer and have a gentler sound, they are often used in descriptions of water or flowing motions.

The z sound is vibrant and suitable for animated actions, where n and ng sounds also help to get across the same idea.

L sounds are often associated with running water, smooth movement and flow.

Putting it into practice

Now that you know more about sounds and phonetic symbolism, go ahead and choose a name that represents your business emotionally, as well as semantically. When you consider the verbal representation of your name, bare in mind the following useful tips, too:

  • Your name needs to sound natural when said aloud by you, your future customers and media presenters. You would like clients to associate with your brand, so before preparing a good case, give them a great name to be proud of
  • Make sure your name is easy for people to spell
  • Think of a name that sounds articulate enough when said in a noisy environment
  • Consider global linguistics – make sure your name sounds suitable and it does not bring negative connotations in foreign markets. Double-check that it is not offensive and does not bring any unwanted cultural associations in other languages too.
  • If you plan to operate internationally, consult native speakers who would be familiar with idioms, slang and other cultural perceptions that your chosen name might bring, to prevent embarrassing situations from the outset.

Fitting the pieces together

Define your name objectives, position your company against competitors, and identify what name resonates best with your audience. When you pick your winning name, ensure it sounds natural, looks good in writing and the domain name is available.

The emotional approach using in naming your company should also be consistent with the graphical representation of your name. Learn how to lay out your name graphically and align your emotional perspective with the name’s visual identity here. You will also find tips on choosing an effective domain name and avoiding the common pitfalls in the process.

Finally, give way to your imagination and select a name that fits your business criteria best. Use your knowledge wisely and let your emotions lead you along the way. Whatever your choice – serious or quirky, technical or simple, remember that intuition is often stronger than intellect. 

Why don’t you also learn more about trade marks and branding rules for a name in our guide Choosing a company name?

For more tips on choosing distinctive, funny or domain names, read next in the series: