Tips for Testing a New Company Name with Consumers


At Catchword, we’ve been in the naming business for 17+ years and helped many clients conduct consumer tests on a new name…and we’ve also talked a lot of clients out of consumer testing as well. Just for clarification, consumer testing is not the same as a global linguistics check that ensures a name is pronounceable and isn’t a potty word anywhere around the world. What I am talking about is the testing of people in your target demographic to determine which name resonates most with them.

The first thing to do is really think hard about whether you should test your name in the first place. Let me explain. Consumers have one very reliable tendency—they like the old and the familiar and dislike the novel. That is to say, consumers gravitate to the names that are the most similar to what they already associate with whatever industry the name is destined for–they rarely love a unique or innovative name at first sight. As such, we encourage brand managers, marketers, and company executives to trust their instincts with a new name, because they are the ones with an understanding of the brand’s aspirations and market positioning—consumers just don’t have that vision. Do you think that any consumer in the 80s would have liked “Apple” for the name of a computer company?

Put another way, a brand name is not the same as a brand. A brand is more like an indescribable entity, a feeling, if you will, and the brand name is a tool that helps cultivate that feeling and, when seen or heard, sparks that feeling in consumers. So consumers really can’t be expected to see a name candidate and envision how it may be transformed into a trigger for a feeling.

That being said, we still do facilitate name testing for clients who really want it. Sometimes it is because they have narrowed it down to a few names and simply can’t decide. Sometimes it is because marketers or brand managers want hard data to help sell a name to company executives. Whatever the reason, here is how we recommend you do it.

1) Pick a manageable number of people in your target demographic. Name testing doesn’t need to involve math, hundreds of people, or breaking the bank. Finding a small number people that you can sit down with individually for 5 or 10 minutes to administer the survey will ensure you can guide the respondents to think about exactly what you need them to think about, and get quality, substantive answers.

2) Phrase the questions tactfully. Do not simply present a list of names and ask which ones are liked or disliked—this will invite unproductively harsh criticism. Your job is to find out what name best maps onto the brand’s aspirations, so ask about that! Present a small list of names and ask, for example, which of the following names best suggests infinite possibilities: Relentless, Galaxy, Spectrum, or Amazon? Which name sounds friendliest? Most reliable? Which name sounds like a company you would most likely read about in TechCrunch? Which name sounds most like a company you would like to work for? Which name sounds the best inserted into the following phrase: “Hello, thanks for calling ___________, how can I help you?” You could even follow up with respondents the next day or day after unexpectedly and simply ask which names out of all the ones you tested they remember? Note which names they remember first, and which names they don’t remember at all. This will give you a data-point about the name candidates’ subconscious memorability.

3) Don’t let respondents suggest alternatives. This is a common pitfall especially when testing names with employees of the very company that is being named. It’s tempting to use employees, because they are readily available, but the danger is that employees are always interested in suggesting alternatives. Stressing that the name finalists are set and have been arrived at through exhaustive brainstorming and legal investigations will help curtail any unproductive pooh-poohing of all of them, and forestall employees from throwing out their own, less visionary and typically legally unavailable suggestions. If you open the floor to suggestions, employees will typically come up with obvious, less visionary names that they will like best because it was their own idea…and then become bitter when they aren’t chosen. Maybe that sounds pessimistic, but it happens all the time

4) Don’t expect unanimity. It goes without saying that every human has different predilections, which are often unproductively subjective and idiosyncratic, even if the questions are phrased tactfully. This is partly why it is important to conduct the interviews in person—when someone’s preference is based on a personal reason, the moderator should challenge them to move past their personal bias and think about the name as objectively as possible. The more information moderators elicit, the better executives can decide what negative (or positive) feedback is worth the most consideration.


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