Most companies want a great name. As they should! A name is the first and most elemental point of audience contact with a brand. In many respects, the name is the brand. It tells whatever big picture story a brand wants to tell. In short, everything a brand represents, does, or ever will do begins with its name. That’s why it’s vital to get it right.
Moreover, many of the most powerful brand names have evocative names. Names that map to and support the positioning of a brand metaphorically, rather than literally and linearly. Evocative names, by definition, escape the attention filter and demand to be noticed. They are creative; they defy expectations and don’t conform to industry norms.
The naming conundrum
So, why are many companies afraid of embracing a truly creative, evocative name? Even the ones that “get it” often shy away from evocative names that sound “too different” or “too out there.” In this post, Zinzin explores some of the psychology behind creativity and how it affects notions of success, failure, and fear across all businesses. So, buckle up! We’re about to take a ride into the certainly uncertain world of creative thinking.
Are companies afraid of evocative names?
Dr. Jeremy Dean, psychologist, founder, and author of PsyBlog, wrote an interesting piece called Why People Secretly Fear Creative Ideas. He explores the reason why creative ideas are often rejected in favor of conformity and uniformity. He also cites several psychology studies (Mueller et al. 2011; Westby & Dawson, 1995) to back up his case. Dean asks rhetorically:
Does society really value creativity? People say they want more creative people, more creative ideas and solutions, but do they really?
The answer, sadly, is no, but why is that so? The reason, Dean writes, is that fear of uncertainty overrules the desire for creativity:
Across two experiments Mueller and colleagues found that when people felt uncertain they were:
- more likely to have negative thoughts about creative ideas
- found it more difficult to recognize creative ideas
This supports the idea that people don’t like creative ideas because they tend to increase uncertainty. The thinking goes like this: we know how to do things we’ve done before, but new things are mysterious. How will we achieve it? Is it practical? What could go wrong? And so on…
People don’t like to feel uncertain; it’s an aversive state that generally we try to escape from. Unfortunately creativity requires uncertainty by definition, because we’re trying to do something that hasn’t been done before.
People deal with the disconnect by saying one thing, “Creativity is good, we want more of it!” but actually rejecting creative ideas for being impractical.
And, the more uncertain people feel, the harder they find it to recognise a truly creative idea. So as a society we end up sticking our heads in the sand and carrying on doing the same old things we’ve been doing all along, just to avoid feeling uncertain.
Instead we should be embracing uncertainty because it’s only when we’re unsure that we can be sure we’re in new territory.
How does a company embrace uncertainty?
Creativity requires uncertainty by definition, because we’re trying to do something that hasn’t been done before. Dean is spot-on in his assessment. A primary factor that keeps people from embracing uncertainty is fear of failure.
Leon Ho, founder and CEO of Lifehack.org, wrote an article called, Why You Have the Fear of Failure (And How to Overcome It). He illustrates different ways that individuals and corporations allow fear of failure to block creative solutions to problems: a culture of perfection, clinging to past success, being a high achiever, or being unbalanced in any one direction (too over-achieving, too moral, too anything).
Furthermore, Ho notes that finding a proper balance is the way out of this trap:
Everyone likes to succeed. The problem comes when fear of failure is dominant. When you can no longer accept the inevitability of making mistakes, nor recognize the importance of trial and error in finding the best and most creative solution.
The more creative you are, the more errors you are going to make. Deciding to avoid the errors will destroy your creativity too.
Balance counts more than you think. Some tartness must season the sweetest dish. A little selfishness is valuable even in the most caring person. And a little failure is essential to preserve everyone’s perspective on success.
We hear a lot about being positive. Maybe we also need to recognize that the negative parts of our lives and experience have just as important a role to play in finding success, in work and in life.
Savor these two ideas; they are golden:
- “The more creative you are, the more errors you are going to make. Deciding to avoid the errors will destroy your creativity too.”
- “We hear a lot about being positive. Maybe we also need to recognize that the negative parts of our lives and experience have just as important a role to play in finding success, in work and in life.”
This applies to all aspects of business, but resonates strongly for us in how it relates to Zinzin’s naming process. We live in permanent trial and error mode. On every naming project, we will ultimately create hundreds of “failure” names that will lead us to the one great name that defines a successful outcome.
Trust your counter intuition.
So, what ultimatly leads you and your company to that one great name? When considering a list of final contenders, remember this: there’s the counterintuitive nature of “creative risk assessment.” Zinzin believes so strongly in this idea that we dedicate an entire section to it in our Naming & Branding Manifesto called The Risky Business Of Risking Business:
When naming, companies often make a fundamental mistake about the nature of risk. The faulty assumption is that they need a descriptive name in order to “describe what they do,” or what their product does, because they “don’t have a huge marketing budget” to do this describing. In other words, an evocative name that doesn’t “describe what they do” is considered too “risky.”
This kind of thinking is prevalent across all industries, and it’s also completely wrong. That’s because a powerful name will create brand awareness, get the press to write about it, generate word-of-mouth buzz, engage with your audience and convert them to fanatic devotees of your brand. The generic descriptive name, on the other hand, will drown in a sea of sound-alike clones, and you’ll end up having to pay a lot more money for advertising in a vain attempt to get the brand noticed by your glazed-over audience.
It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s true: in terms of the bottom line, “safe” names are risky and it’s the “edgy” names that are actually a much safer choice, because of what they can do for your brand and the value they’ll create.
Before you unbuckle, thanks for joining us on this uncertain ride. Remember to be open to creative ideas in yourself and others, embrace the trial / error / try again process, and step away from names that feel “safe” — they’re far too risky. When you start to feel that sweaty, squirmy, uncertain feeling, congrats! That’s true creativity talking, and we’re certain it will serve you well as a catalyst on your road to success.