Going through the process of developing a brand name for your business? If so, it’s important to take this process seriously as it can have a large influence over the success of your business.
There is a large body of research pointing to the importance of a brand’s name and its effect on human emotions. One area of particular interest is the research done by neuroscientist Vilayanur S. Ramachandran.
His theory probes at the possibility that the brain finds correlation between certain sounds and images – that a word can sound “sharp” and an image can also look “sharp.” That this process, Synesthetic Cross Modal Abstraction, allows our brain to recognize commonalities between sounds and images. Even more fascinating is that fact that when say certain words, our mouths make the shape of the thing we describe. (This process is called Built in preexisting cross activation.)
When it comes to branding, this link between sound and imagery is interesting in a number of ways. First, the connection between the two, and second, the impact on human emotion.
What Do You See?
When thinking of the name of your brand, it is important to understand the imagery that correlates to its sound. For example, when you hear the word, “Off” what images come to mind? Do you visualize someone pushing something away?
Say these words out loud, eyes closed, and pay attention to what you visualize:
What do you see when confronted with the nonsensical word “kiki?” What shapes or imagery come to mind?
(In his experiments, Ramachandran showed two images to his subjects, one a round, bulbous shape and the other a sharp, jagged shape. He then told the subjects to identify which shape was “kiki” and which shape was “bouba.” Would it surprise you that over 95% of the time, subjects named the sharp object “kiki” and the round object “bouba?”)
This phenomenon is related to Sound Symbolism, the idea that sounds contain meaning in and of themselves. The idea that sounds contain meaning is an ancient one dating back centuries and can be found in the writings of Plato, The Upanishads, and Shingon Buddhism.
In the last century, researchers have delved into this idea in an attempt to find out how this relates to human emotion. The results do not disappoint.
“Results of the study indicate that products with brand names using sound symbolism to convey product-related information are liked better by consumers and positioned more strongly in their minds. Supplementing sound symbolism imbeds with semantic imbeds in a brand name further enhances both product liking and positioning.” (Klink 2001)
What Klink found in 2001 was that people like words that are symbolic – words that paint a picture in the mind – and that these words were easier for people to remember.
These findings dovetail nicely with research done by Dr. Kim Robertson on Strategically Desirable Brand Name Characteristics. He identifies two categories of characteristics that are important to a brand name: those relating to memory and those relating to support of the desired brand image.
Relating to memory, Robertson outlines the following six ideal characteristics of a brand name:
- Verbal or sound associate of the product class
- Elicits a mental image
- An “emotional” word
Relating to support of the brand image, he notes a brand name should:
- Make use of repetitive sounds – rhyme, rhythm, alliteration; repetitive sounds are pleasing to us
- Make use of Morphemes – a morpheme is a word or part of a word (like –ly) that contains meaning
- Phonemes – a smaller unit than a morpheme (think the sound of a single letter), experiments with phonemes have been shown to link sound and meaning on an incredibly small scale.
He also noted that the characteristics that support the brand image may also make the brand name easier to remember, thereby reinforcing the importance of memory.
Developing a Brand Name the Right Way
In conclusion, certain words and sounds make for better brand names. Those words are pleasing to the ear and easy to remember. People also enjoy sounds that contain meaning and illicit imagery – imagery consistent with the sound being heard. Together, pleasant sounds that convey meaning and are consistent with imagery associated with them are the most pleasing to people and are also easiest to remember.
Please note: This blog is the third in a four-part series about Branding
Part One: The 3 Qualities of Great Brands
Part Two: How Important is Branding?
Creating Effective Brand Names: A Study of the Naming Process
Chiranjeev Kohli & Douglas W. LaBahn
How Brand Names Trigger Our Emotions
To Be or Not to Be Consistent in Brand Logo Changes?