You’re a rational person, aren’t you?  And yet there are hundreds of decisions and choices that you make each day without consciously applying this rationality, or thinking these choices through.  In fact, “thinking them through” is not only time consuming – it’s hard work: which is why we’ve all developed shortcuts that help us, and why we rely on things that we just know and feel.

Of course, sitting behind these decisions is a disparate collection of beliefs, experiences and memories, but most of our feeling and decision-making is done in an instant.  Our ‘implicit’ neurosystem drives the vast majority of what we do, day-to-day.  It also sits behind how brands work in the brain; which in turn explains why, in research and insight development, our spontaneous first impressions and immediate choices are a vastly more valuable currency than our more thought-through rationalisations.

This has all sorts of implications for the way in which we go about talking to people, and in particular when we present them with new ideas and expect them to feed back to us in quantified surveys.  And yet, for the most part, what we know about how people make judgements isn’t applied to how we research new ideas.

This is especially true of naming.  While brand naming might not be the most critical thing you do, but it’s still one of the toughest jobs in marketing.  A brand name doesn’t transform a bad product into good, or vice versa, but a great name can make a marketer’s job much easier.  Done well, it can leap out at consumers and convey the essence of an idea in a mere word or two.

It’s a tough process because it often divides opinion in an organisation, and those involved are living and breathing the intended meanings, poring over the alternatives and vying for their favourites.  This hyper-rational process doesn’t reflect how brand names operate in the real world when people encounter them.  However, it’s not an easy thing to research well, as research approaches can often encourage the participants to become overly rational, too.

Look carefully at the questions in a typical pre-test or attitudinal survey, especially in the context of when a new item of stimulus or some alternative ideas are being presented to the target market, and you’ll see scaled questions that require people to think carefully about how they think and feel (What comes to mind when you see this? – answer in your own words…. How interested are you?  How likely are you to buy this? Why do you prefer that one? … and so on – with verbal scales that try to capture shades or degrees of opinion.)

These types of approach encourage people to ponder and weigh up options and alternatives.  And this leads to over-rationalised answers, often veering towards the safe, the most descriptive, or perhaps the category norm.

Far more effective is to tap into people’s implicit responses to names.  Think of some of the famous brands we live with – Red Bull, Uber, Twitter, John Lewis, Monzo, Zurich Insurance and so on.  Each of these names instantly conveys meaning without us having to know anything about the brand itself and without us having had personal experience with them.  Malcolm Gladwell powerfully captured this notion, calling it the ‘blink test’ – we make judgements in the bat of an eye.  And now there are any number of papers from the world of behavioural economics that back this up.

It’s high time that research techniques are adapted to the way in which we know human beings make decisions.  It’s always been harder to justify instinctive responses to names for internal stakeholders who deal in facts, figures and rationality, but behavioural economics now puts science behind those responses, lending them the weight and credibility that they deserve.

We owe it to ourselves to embrace this latest thinking – go on, you never know, you could even make a name for yourself.

The Namer is an implicit choice tool from Acacia Avenue that can help brands tap into consumers’ system 1 responses to their names, in as little as 6 hours. To find out more, visit





Louise Horner

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Louise Horner

Louise Horner is a Partner and Strategist at Acacia Avenue

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