Is Your Brand Name Helping Your Business Or Hurting It?

The following was previously published in an earlier edition of Marketing Insider.

When someone sees your brand name, how do you want them to react? 

  1. Exclaim, “I freakin’ love it!” 
  2. Struggle to understand it, as if they’re reading hieroglyphics 
  3. Go back to looking at their phone 
  4. Throw up a little bit in their mouth 

Obviously, you should be shooting for choice A (for Awesome). Your brand name makes a critical first impression — even more than your shoes.

Think about how many times someone will see, say, or hear the name of your brand in its lifetime. The number of impressions is incalculable. 

No other investment you’ll make in your business will last longer or get used more than your brand name. Before you choose one, put yourself in your customer’s shoes and imagine how your name will appear to them. 



Bad names happen when companies get carried away being “kree8tiv.” Or they fail to consider, for instance, that no one will know that the name Hiranyagarbha means “cosmic intelligence” in ancient Sanskrit. (Tip: if your name means something foreign, it will be just that to your customers – foreign.)

Consumers don’t fall in love with brand names created by linguistic voodoo or playing Drunken Scrabble. Unintelligible name mutations don’t resonate with humans because unfamiliar names lack the critical “feel-good factor” that is the emotional connection we crave. 

The most powerful names get noticed, get buzz, and get sales because they resonate with consumers on an emotional level, making us feel good. And they are based on familiar concepts we understand and appreciate. Obsession perfume. Kryptonite bike locks. Leaf electric cars. These kinds of names speak volumes. 

Unfortunately, just like jumping into a relationship before you really get to know someone, you may not see the faults of a poorly chosen name right away. You’ll be too caught up in everything else you need to do to launch a new product or company. 

It  won’t be until after you’ve started to build a future together that you realize your name “has issues.” And you’ll be forced to find ways to justify it. Like the bizarrely named baby clothing company Speesees. Here’s how they explained the idiotic spelling: “s-p-e-e-s-e-e-s is the way a baby would spell species if a baby could spell.” (Really? Really.) 

Many companies have thought they had a good name but later realized it was a mistake. Like Bawte, whose name, a bastardized spelling of the word bought, could also be misheard as the word bot, both by humans and bots. Or American Scrap Metal, which may have had its domain name,, emblazoned on everything from trucks to T-shirts before the company noticed it could be read as “Americans Crap Metal.” 

I’ve created an objective way to evaluate names so you will avoid making mistakes. The Eat My Words SMILE & SCRATCH Test is based on my philosophy, “A name should make you smile, instead of scratch your head.” 

SMILE: The 5 Qualities of a Super-Sticky Name 

Suggestive—evokes something about your brand 

Memorable—makes an association with the familiar 

Imagery—aids memory through evocative visuals 

Legs—lends itself to a theme for extended mileage 

Emotional—moves people 

SCRATCH: The 7 Deal Breakers 

Spelling-challenged—looks like a typo 

Copycat—resembles competitors’ names 

Restrictive—limits future growth 

Annoying—seems forced, frustrates customers 

Tame—feels flat, descriptive, uninspired 

Curse of knowledge—speaks only to insiders

Hard to pronounce—confuses and distances customers 

All five qualities of SMILE can give your brand a competitive advantage by helping your name get noticed and remembered. Any of the seven deal breakers of SCRATCH can weaken your brand and make it a turn-off to consumers. 

Don’t be blind to the obvious and get stuck with a brand name you will regret, and your customers will forget. Before you pull the trigger on a name, make sure it can ace the test.

Editor's Note: This is an edited excerpt from Watkins' book, "Hello, My Name Is Awesome."

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