What's In A Name? A Lot, When It Comes To Sports

  • by , Columnist, November 8, 2022
As a sports industry researcher, I see a vast array of studies come our way.  Among the more intriguing are those that seek to uncover the impact of various branding elements, particularly names.

From something with relatively low stakes, like branding a promotion or event activation, to the more significant missions of creating and testing names for sporting equipment or even teams, there are lots of insights that can be derived -- and mistakes that can be avoided --  if companies go about things in the right way.

From a qualitative perspective, there is much to be gleaned by using what we call “projective techniques,” which remove the difficulty of the direct questions that are often so hard to answer within the auspices of a focus group or one-on-one interview setting. 

For example, there are brand sorts, where a respondent places a variety of brand (or team) names into various groups that convey similar emotions or qualities.  There are also disparate association sorts, where names get grouped by their association with abstract categories like types of cars that one might assume the brand would drive, or the celebrities that a respondent feels would be most apt to use the brand or root for the team.



The richest insights in these exercises come from probing respondents for the reasons why they place a name within one of these groups.  In the car association, this is where we often look to find names that are perceived to be aspirational or linked to dynamic qualities like speed or power that can align with what a brand is looking to be.

With the celebrity association exercise, I vividly recall a sporting goods equipment manufacturer who learned how the unifying theme behind celebrities associated with one of the brands being considered was that each of those celebs were dead -- or had long ago seen their careers fizzle out.

Another popular projective involves photo decks where respondents place various brand names with one of a series of carefully selected images of potential customers.  Again, the goal is to listen for how the respondent perceives the image and describes why that particular person would prefer the brand name in question.

In the golf industry, we’ve often used an image of a poorly dressed and overweight man who happened to have a very good backswing.  It was always interesting to hear the dichotomy of responses for why this individual was perceived to be a customer of the brand selected. He was just as often seen as a slob who was not serious about golf as he was someone with a powerful turn that was going to hit the ball long and straight.

A name is at the heart of all brands, and selecting one without objectively determining its emotional connotations can be a costly mistake for any company.

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