Insight

What’s in a Name? Your Entire Brand

by Jason Ocker
Date
Jul 06, 2020
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Recently, we welcomed Alexandra Watkins to the Agency on Record podcast. She’s a brand name expert who founded the naming agency Eat my Words and wrote the book Hello, My Name is Awesome. She was a lot of fun to talk to and the topic is a lot of fun, and I wanted to follow up it up with a review of her book.

Hello, My Name is Awesome filled a void for me: Making the super-subjective results of an exercise like brand naming—whether that’s a company or a product—more objective. Selling anything creative to stakeholders is hard, but names are particularly so. After all, they are the most prominent part of a brand. They’re emotionally charged. There’s six billion of them out there. They’re easy to poke holes in by anybody, regardless of their expertise and experience. We ask a whole lot of these 1-3 words.

In her book, Watkins outlines a set of criteria for judging names. She calls these criteria the SMILE & SCRATCH test, the former acronym outlining the elements of a name that make you smile, and the latter, the elements of a name that make you scratch your head. This is that test:

SMILE

  • Suggestive – suggests a positive brand experience

  • Meaningful – resonates with your target

  • Imagery – visually evocative, creates a picture in your head

  • Legs – lends itself to a theme for extended mileage

  • Emotional – moves people

SCRATCH

  • Spelling-challenged – isn’t spelled how it sounds

  • Copycat – similar to competitor’s name(s) Restrictive-locks you in, limits future growth

  • Annoying – indecipherable, forced, cutesy Tame –non-emotional and flat

  • Curse of Knowledge – only insiders get it

  • Hard-to-pronounce – not obvious, relies on punctuation

You want to hit all five of the SMILE criteria and avoid all seven of the SCRATCH criteria. If any of you have ever pitched names to a room, you can already see what this test could do. Instead of trying to convince a bunch of people with a name, a list of general pros, and some creative mockups, you can set up that name against a proven checklist of criteria to see which boxes it checks. It constrains the conversation (and, oh man, does that conversation need constraining) to those criteria, versus trying to have a discussion about a sense impression of the word from some rando in the room who has baggage with that word from back when they were in college.

Now, SMILE & SCRATCH isn’t a method for coming up with a name, but a method for testing names. She does talk about her methodology in the book, which is refreshingly old-fashioned research work, just her and a computer and a set of trusty resources. I particularly liked this part of the book, as it punches in the face such dead-end techniques and temptations as brainstorm meetings and focus groups.

Granted, Watkins has put the test out there on the web (you can even vet a name at her site), but where the book really comes in handy is the real-world examples she uses—names that are bad, names that are good, names that are great but never would have made it through focus grouping, and names before and after the test. Basically, you can see the test in action with real brands.

So it’s a short book, full of real-word examples, that outline a set of criteria for arriving at a name that will—in the words of the book’s subtitle—stick. If you ever find yourself anywhere near a brand-naming project, grab this book...and then read it while the rest of the team is brainstorming.


Jason writes. Tells stories. Develops strategies. He oversees a wide range of creative and technical projects. He’s also an award-winning author of half a dozen books and has been featured on or in CNN, The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, The Guardian, The New York Times, and TIME.

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