It turns out that being a word-nerd has its advantages.
Seeing the big picture when it comes to sales is definitely helpful in long-term strategic thinking, but being able to recognize when to focus on the small details is just as helpful.
When it comes to naming your brand, your brand’s name may not be in that big picture if the name itself is not immediately tied to revenue goals.
But it should be.
Because names signify everything your brand is.
You knew that.
On the other hand, your brand’s name also signifies everything your brand is not.
For instance, Tylenol is not the same as Bayer. While it’s true that both medicines are used to treat pain, they have different ways of doing it. Tylenol elevates the amount of pain you’re able to tolerate; Bayer is more of an anti-inflammatory.
It may not be common knowledge for consumers to recognize the difference between these two brands. To some, pain relief is pain relief. But to others, the brands are different because of what they represent. For example, Tylenol might represent relief from a headache, while Bayer might represent life–aspirin is used to prevent blood clots.
In this example, a change in name with a simple turn and flip of the uppercase “P” to lowercase “b,” changed how people felt about the brand.
It could be argued that customers were responding to changes in that name, rather than the name itself. This flies in the face of customer criticism of the name alteration. One customer told them to more or less stick with what IHOP is good at: pancakes.
To that end, IHOP even released a commercial affirming that the company is “sticking to pancakes,” while also promoting the fact that they do burgers.
In this instance, the name itself didn’t bother customers so much as what the change represented.
The point is that what may seem an irrelevant change in your brand’s name to you (instead of the customer) could actually have a monumental effect on sales.
How the Actual Sound of a Brand Name Affects Sales
In the world of semiotics–the study of signs and symbols, as outlined by Merriam-Webster, a signifier is sound associated with something–a brand’s name, for example. A non-signifier is the image associated with the signifier; it’s also called the signified.
So when you think of Rice Krispies, the hard pronunciation of the letter “K” in “Krispies” makes you think of its signature onomatopoeia–snap, crackle, pop. But the difference between the sound and the signifier isn’t the snap, crackle, pop–it’s the hard “K” pronunciation of “Krispies.”
That’s the signifier. “Rice Krispies” is also the non-signifier–it’s cereal. It’s the brand.
Your brand’s name can work both ways as a signifier and non-signifier. This means the name itself can either identify what a brand is or isn’t with its name alone–by auditory, visual, or other means.
For example, consider toothpaste brands.
A name with a signifier would be Rembrandt; a name without one would be Pepsodent. Rembrandt was the name of a legendary painter. It’s easy to understand why marketers would then be attracted to the connection between beautiful teeth (the masterpiece) with the toothpaste (the “paint”). On the other hand, Pepsodent doesn’t lend itself to many connections…
This is not a subliminal connection because for something to be “subliminal,” it has to fall below the perceptible threshold of consciousness. Simply put, you need to be conscious to make connections; it requires somebody to be aware and alert.
These micro-level components of semiotics–the study of signs and symbols–don’t get by business strategists or marketers. In fact, they spend small fortunes on signifiers and non-signifiers.
But why are brand names important? Isn’t the name more or less secondary to function—the big picture?
One of the many functions of a brand name is to project an image. Image is supported by the kinds of stories the brand tells of itself as well as the stories we share about it.
In Robert McKee and Thomas Gerace’s Storynomics, they say that for an event—naming, for instance—to be meaningful, the values behind it must have changed somehow:
Dynamic events affect our lives not as singularities, but as binaries of positive/negative value charge…
For an event to be meaningful, the mind must sense that the charge of at least one value has undergone change… But when charge changes from positive to negative or negative to positive (for instance, from love to hate or hate to love; from winning to losing or losing to winning), the event becomes meaningful and emotions flow. Because a well-told story wraps its telling around emotionally charged values, its meaning becomes marked in our memory.
Telling stories with names is nothing new. You do it every time you participate in a rebranding effort. Returning to the IHOP and IHOb example, the perceived binary would be that IHOb is positive and IHOP is negative.
Then, after seeing some results from that marketing initiative, it turned out the inverse was true. IHOP is positive–it had a positive charge; IHOb had a negative charge.
The values of these names have undergone change from a positive to negative, negative to positive. (IHOP to IHOb and later, IHOb to IHOP.)
Meaningful events only have a positive, neutral, or negative value charge because we assign emotions to those stories.
Circling back to the promise of the piece, signifiers and non-signifiers are important when naming a brand because they are shoe-ins for what your brand stands for and what your brand means to customers. (Remember Tylenol stood for “relief” and Bayer was “life” in the minds of select customers?)
Brand names are also important to sales, as you’ll soon see how…
Being able to arouse curiosity in your brand name may inspire leads to find out the story behind it, which may lead to a sale. This can be seen in advertisements that reveal the brand name at the end, although thinking is split in this area. Some advertisers want to mention the brand name at the beginning, some at the end.
What actually happens in your brain when you get curious is that the brain is literally reconfiguring itself to accommodate new information.
If you get a lead curious about your brand’s name, that means you have gotten them to care about it, even if that care is only about solving the mystery of the meaning of your brand’s name.
That’s 25% of the battle right there. Flagging the lead’s attention. The other 75% is keeping it, getting the sale, and maintaining the relationship.
Having said that, brand names do influence sales.
For instance, in the study, “Influence of Brand Name On Consumer Decision Making Process-An Empirical Study On Car Buyers,” by Alamgir, Nasir, and Shamsuddoha, they found that car buyers did not buy branded cars due to lack of information.
Lack of information can easily be addressed in targeted advertising. In fact, in Wordcraft, by Alex Frankel, he said that’s how Accenture’s branding was successful. Leveraging a “top-down” approach to marketing through targeted advertising resulted in leads and prospects.
Additional brand naming stories from Frankel’s book can be found here.
So What Does This All Mean?
As a marketer, what you can do is take a top-down approach with a signifier and non-signifier to get prospects and customers curious about your brand name in order to drive sales.
Here we have an abstract signifier–CVS. The non-signifier is “health.” (It’s important to note that the signifier and the signified is CVS. The non-signifier just happens to be “health.”)
Another example would be Marvel. Marvel created a single universe where all superheroes, supervillains, and everything in between could exist at the same time. And so the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) was born. Characters remained the same, although some have slightly different takes. (We’re looking at you, Peter Parker!)
In the MCU, the signifier is Marvel Cinematic Universe. The non-signifier might be the wonder that all Marvel characters exist in the same universe. The overwhelming diversity of the MCU gets customers curious about it.
Put another way, signifiers and non-signifiers are a lot like how a sentence is formed. The signifier is the subject (what’s being called out) the non-signifier is the predicate (what it means to the customer). It’s the predicate that gets prospects curious.
All-in-all, names are important. They influence sales just as much as the amount of R&D involved in creating them. The key is to define what your brand is and isn’t with your name. The rest will follow.
What was the process you went through to develop your brand name? Send us a message in the chat below to tell us what inspired you and what worked best.