The Psychology of Brand Names
Updated: Mar 24
March 22nd, 2021
By: Grace Zhu
A brand name is an integral part of any business. Not only does it identify the business, but it also conveys important information about the company’s line of work and values. However, creating the right name from scratch can be a daunting challenge. So how do businesses strategically create the right brand name? Research in neuroscience and linguistics offers insight into this topic.
The brain processes brand names in a unique way. According to a study by Possidonia Gontijo of UCLA, a brand name tends to stimulate an emotional response from people, rather than a logical one (Ament, Medium). We usually process language in the left side of the brain (the “logical” part of the brain), but brand names are also processed in the right side of the brain (the “emotional” part of the brain). This research suggests that brand names appeal to our feelings. For instance, when we think of Starbucks, we instantly imagine the smell of coffee and feel satisfied. A good brand name should trigger an appropriate feeling from the consumer.
Similarly, the composition of a brand name creates subtle associations in consumers’ minds. According to a project by Will Leben of Stanford, “Fricatives convey “faster” and “smaller” — as do vowels that are voiced near the front of the mouth, like the a in “bat” or the i in “hid.” Plosives, or stops, convey “slower” and “bigger” — as do vowels that are voiced at the back of the throat, like the o in “token” or the double o’s in “food”” (Gabler, the New York Times). Since certain sounds produce certain associations, the way a brand name sounds can also influence the consumer’s perception of the business.
Start-ups are known to be fast-paced — they move fast, grow fast, hire fast, and fire fast. Accordingly, many start-ups have chosen names that sound fast. From Zoomph to Qwick, start-ups are choosing fast-sounding names in order to convey their speediness and hopefully appear more attractive. These decisions align with the research mentioned above. As a fun fact, there are more than 120 start-ups that have something similar to “zoom” in their names (Griffith, the New York Times)!
In the Headlines: Streaming Services
Many streaming platforms have chosen to add the “+” sign to their names. For instance, there is Disney+, ESPN+, Apple TV+, BET+, Discovery+, AMC+, and Paramount+. The plus sign communicates to consumers that the platform has innumerable shows and movies and offers something more. This is a clever strategy for the short-term, but Mike Carr, the co-founder of a branding company, cautions that it may backfire in the long-term. In the long-run, the plus sign becomes unimaginative “because all of your competitors are out there doing the same thing”; additionally, “there’s always a next-generation, a version 3.0 or 4.0…So does it become Paramount Plus Plus? Paramount Plus Plus Plus?” (Hsu, the New York Times). Streaming services will have to consider these issues in the long-run.
What are your thoughts on brand names in general? Do you have a favorite one? Let us know in the comments below!
Grace Zhu is one of Marketing Society’s Spring 2021 Co-Content Directors at NYU Marketing Society. She is a freshman at NYU CAS majoring in Economics and minoring in the Business of Entertainment, Media & Technology. She is running the Case Studies column!
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