There's something unmistakably endearing about Canadian born but newly minted Aussie, Louise Karch, aka the 'Name Whisperer'.
I'm not sure if it's her witty turn of phrase (the likely result of a stint as a stand-up comic), her innate abilities as a storyteller (perhaps inspired by being on Seth Godin's coaching team?) or her fascination in the lucrative power of names.
Either way, from the moment I met her (IRL, pre-COVID and on the Ticker TV set, alongside content marketing gunslinger Trevor Young), I just wanted to learn more.
And sure enough, the more I learnt, the more my curiosity in her abilities to weave her naming superpowers grew, to the point where I just had to share her wisdom with the entire Sourcey family.
In my recent interview with her, Louise explains the true value of a name (and I'm talking cold-hard cash value - not some flaky, unquantifiable value), and generously reveals the key considerations that go into identifying if yours is making you money, or just making you forgettable.
She also hints at her latest project, which is ANOTHER book! Oh, did I mention she has a multi-award-winning book Word Glue that helps guide you through her naming process? (Godin describes it as, "a gift, a priceless shortcut".)
In short, Louise is the real deal. And you're about to find out why I KNOW so.
Now if you're someone who likes to read the interview transcript (like me), I've added that below too.
Best yet, I've edited all the 'ums' and most of the 'like's and unintelligible stuff coming out of my mouth to boot. ;)
Bec: Alright. I'm going to ask you straight up, Louise. Can a good brand name make you money?
Louise: Yes. Millions.
Bec: Okay. How?
Louise: Well, I didn't realise the power of a name until I renamed an organisation called the TDG group. When you hear TDG group, what do you feel?
Bec: That’s a terrible name.
Louise: Yeah, it's a terrible name, from a wonderful man. Colin Dombrowski made orthotics (amongst other things) for people with a lower leg extremity issue. He was doing a PhD in the area. Well, these chains were outperforming him in terms of market share, but they didn't have his expertise. And he was so frustrated. His primary clients were doctors. Referrals came through doctors.
We had a pizza party, cause I'm Canadian. There was beer. I had done pre-work. I had talked to doctors about what they thought of his existing name. Cause he kinda liked it. After all my preliminary research and this party, where his good friends walked around his clinic and his lab, we came up with Sole Science because he was the only one, ‘sole’, doing a PhD in the area, (and) ‘science’ because he was a nerd. He would nerd out on all this stuff and he's like a PhD. He was one of a kind. Well, that name change alone increased his revenue by 130% in 18 months.
Bec: Wow. That' S-O-L-E, right? Like the sole of your shoes.
Louise: Like the sole of your shoes. That was my first (naming experience) and I named other things too, like plays and books and… I've always loved words. But when I saw the revenue generation of that name change, I was like, this is a superpower. And when I renamed organisations, enterprises, I always asked them a year later. “Well, what's the dollar difference?” And I am not bragging when I say this. It is just a fact. I keep doubling people's incomes with better names.
"It is just a fact. I keep doubling people's incomes with better names."
Bec: That's amazing. Okay. Well, so conversely, can your brand name lose you money other than as an opportunity cost? Like a bad brand name… can it lose you money?
Louise: It can lose you money AND opportunity because what's happened is this guy in 1973 wrote a book called 'Future Shock'. He was a futurist, Alvin Toffler. And he said that we're going to be entering this era called 'infobesity'. Too much information. That was in 1973.
Bec: My God. That's amazing.
Louise: I know. Now when you look at 543,000 brands being launched a month in the US alone and Coca-Cola has a $2 billion marketing budget. You are competing for attention with the big dogs, along with every little dog who's entering the marketplace. Your name can lose you money if it doesn't capture attention right away.
Bec: Yeah, that’s so true. Can I just add a story of my own? When I was thinking of a name for my business, my husband suggested the name 'SourceBottle'. It wasn't me at all. I can’t take any credit for it, if you think it's an okay name. But one of the reasons I thought it would work was because I had a very limited marketing budget. And so, I knew it had to get cut through. And the word 'saucebottle' is part of the Australian vernacular. Maybe not so much internationally, but certainly here. So, I guess from my own perspective, I agree. And that's why I love the expertise that you bring to the table because you help communicate the value of this. It's so, so important.
Now, should you take into account search factors [in coming up with a name]? For example, very few people are going to be looking up my name unless they’re looking for a bottle for sauces. So, until my brand name is recognised, I get no SEO benefits from a search perspective using that name. Do you take that into account when you're helping clients with names?
Louise: I do. But nobody is going to look up Haagen-Dazs or Rolex if they don't know what it means. So, you have to build the cycle of attention and trust. Once you’ve captured somebody's attention, then you have to give enough value and have enough integrity that they're going to stay there long enough to realise that you're trusted. Yes, in an online community, you need to build content over time that conveys you're worthy of the attention that people are giving you and your trust will build.
So, do I want you to call yourself media expert.com? Oh, well, that's going to get some people to a site, but you've got such depth and respect in your industry. People are coming because they KNOW you. And if you want something that's SEO friendly, well, that can be in a tagline, which is the book I'm working on right now.
"And if you want something that's SEO friendly, well, that can be in a tagline, which is the book I'm working on right now."
Bec: Ah, yes. Good point.
Louise: I'm dealing with a potential client right now, they're a tech company, and they've been building these fabulous products and they've struggled with their naming for months. They want to go to market on August 1st and they can't get the name right. Because they want a .com.
If you're thinking of launching something, work on the name early. Figure out who it's for, what it’s for, the feeling you want people to have [through the name] and start to generate the name early. Because when I named an international tech company it needed to be trademark in five countries. I probably generated up to 1200 names to get one that would work and it takes time to get something that's trademarkable now.
Bec: Yeah. Really good point. Okay. Is ‘catchy’ a criteria of a good name?
Louise: Well, we have got this amazing thing called the brain and the brain has evolved over millennia. And there's new brain and old brain. By ‘catchy’, what I take you to mean is something that ‘catches’ our attention. Let's look at the letter ‘F’. So, the brain is a filtering-out machine and that's to keep us safe and not overwhelmed. And that's the old part of the brain, back of the head, closer to the spine. It's filtering out all the time, otherwise, you would go mad. So, it filters out everything that we don't think is useful, but it'll focus on something that we think matters to us. And so, if you named something in a way that captures our attention like, ‘Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch’ captures attention. That's very catchy.
When I named a probiotic drink, they were having trouble getting on the market shelves, I renamed them from like Proboucha to 'Belly Up' Well, Belly Up, good for gut health. Now, they're on all the grocery stores in Caltex and they're in restaurants, like cafe chains. Because it's got a great name. It’s got a great feel.
The brain will filter out first. Then, you want something that's going to pull focus. Then, you want something that makes you feel a certain way, which is the complete opposite to the way most people name things. They usually go, ‘Do I like it?’, which is the figuring out part of the brain at the front. [It’s better to] Just start with, "Is this name worthy of my attention? Is this going to grab me in some way?" And then, "Will I feel something?"
"Just start with, 'Is this name worthy of my attention? Is this going to grab me in some way?' And then, 'Will I feel something?'"
Bec: Okay. Yes. Great. What are the key qualities of a great name?
Louise: Well, there's a difference between unforgettable and memorable. Belly Up for a kombucha-style drink is unforgettable because... if somebody kills you, you're going to go belly up, [and] it makes your eyebrows go up. You want to be the ice cream company called 'Spoon Me', not 'Bec's Ice Cream Store'.
Bec: Yeah. So true. Okay. You're saying that one of the most important qualities is that it has to be unforgettable, not memorable, unforgettable.
"You're saying that one of the most important qualities is that it has to be unforgettable, not memorable, unforgettable."
Louise: Yeah. That's ideal. I mean, it's hard to do that sometimes. But that's why you want to generate hundreds, if not thousands, of names to find something that's really 'yum'.
Bec: And how do you make that determination? How many people do you talk to? Or how do you, sort of, distill 1,200 names or options down to just that one?
Louise: Well, there's a couple of layers there. Sometimes, what'll happen is I'm working away and the name will come. Like, I've spent so much time with it. Just like Hans Walldorf was playing with wooden letters day after day after day. And when he was riding on the second story of a horse-drawn carriage in London, England, the word 'Rolex' came to him. If you play with letters enough and words enough, sometimes the answer just flies in and you're like, "Thank you, cause I’m meeting with my clients tomorrow!" Sometimes it really is perspiration for inspiration. But sometimes I'll just know. And I just hope to heck that no one has trademarked this word. And is it trademarked in other countries? I'm like, "Okay, well I've got a winner. Can I get the.com? Okay. We can’t get the.com, but they've saved up the money they can buy it." Okay, great.
So, yeah. What I do is I ask the decision makers ahead of time. "What criteria are you going to use to choose this name?" And I train them on neuroscience. [And explain] That it's more important that it pulls focus than that we like it. Cause remember, like Steve jobs didn't like the name iMac at first, it totally pulls focus, because it references the ‘I’ of the individual and that's the whole naming technique.
"...it's more important that it pulls focus than that we like it."
Then, I test it. When you get three to five trademarkable names, then you test it. If it's a big agency, like a big firm that works with an agency, they will hire a market research company to test it.
But if you're just a small enterprise, and you're just, this is a baby project and you want to name it well, you write down the names that you're thinking of, and you can do this for online. But you have to be very careful, because you don't want somebody to just steal the name and go live ahead of you. You have to figure out who your trusted inner circle is. Who shares the persona of those you want to serve? They are your target market.
You present them with the names in different orders. So, you avoid primacy and recency effect, so liking the first name or the last name. Different orders, size 16 font, all capitals. And you present them. And you go, NOT, "Which one do you like?" because opinion doesn't matter. It's not the judging part of the brain.
[Instead, you ask] "Which one grabbed you?" And you could record [their responses] so that you get qualitative information, or take notes. So, you keep numbers. You keep scores of these different tests because the words are in different order, so, there's no bias. And then, you just see, which number, which name is getting the most numbers? And more importantly, ask what they are feeling when they say, "This one grabbed my eye." And "What do you feel?" And "This one makes me feel happy." "This one makes me feel optimistic," or "This one made me giggle," or "This one made me feel reassured." You want to pull focus and then, what does it feel like?
Bec: I love it. Okay.
Louise: Yeah. It's just like, it's so cool.
Bec: The thing is, and I'm going to try not to embarrass you. But I just wanted to just say, for those people who aren't familiar with you (and I don't know who they are), the fact that you just recently become an Australian citizen means we are so blessed to have your expertise on our shores. Yeah, I'm just so grateful.
Louise: Thank you. I'm talking to two Australian startups right now and… I'm going to do something. Can I angle the screen? I mean like over there, is a recycling bin. Do you see that recycling bin? I'm renaming [the business] Man Rags. They're the folks who take the clothes from H&M, that are being dropped off for recycling, and they turn them into textiles. They are stopping clothes from going to the landfill. And so, I'm renaming them right now. And I'm also renaming or naming another Australian tech company. It's so great to use these skills for these people, who are launching amazing products like Belly Up and saving textiles from landfill. It's just very, it's humbling and awesome.
Bec: It’s wonderful that they're getting [access to] your expertise. Now, we talked a while ago about Harry and Meghan’s new brand when they moved on from Sussex Royal, or whatever it was, to whatever it is that I've already forgotten. So, I wanted to talk to you about it and I know I'm putting you on the spot here, because I didn't actually prep you for this.
Louise: Bring on the royalty. Bring on the royalty. Go get my crown. I’ll curtsey. Go ahead.
Bec: They’re one example that I was like, and I'm a total novice at this, but I didn’t like their new name. I don't know why I didn't like it. I just didn't like it.
Louise: I can tell you from a sound perspective why you didn't like it. But keep going, get to your question.
Bec: Well, that was one of the examples that I was going to ask you about, along with a few others that you don’t think are great brand names. And why? Do you not like [because] it's not catchy or it's not memorable?
Louise: My mother's British. I was taken out of high school for the Queens... I don’t know, the 20th Jubilee in the seventies? Like, so the Royal family, my family are not monarchist, but there's an appreciation for history and queen Elizabeth has been a stalwart role model of service.
Now, we've got a spare heir who has behaved badly, different times in his history, and he’s now a father and a husband, well husband first and then a father. And they wanted to break out on their own and have done it very badly. They've been badly advised. They were badly advised on the name. So, ladies and gentlemen, however you identify, if you're going to go live [with a name], don't tell anybody until you've locked down the trademarks and you've locked down the URLs and you've locked down all the social media because people just go, “Oh, they're going to call it that? Well, I'm going to grab this.” It was just… it was a S.H.I.T S.H.O.W.
That name, 'Archewell' is hard on the mouth. We like, 'well'. 'Well', it feels good in the mouth, but it's the 'arche'. Like, it just feels like the cat is about to have a hairball. It's bad. It's bad. It doesn’t matter what story they tell, because it doesn't feel right. And if I have your permission, I'll tell you about a Canadian tech company that I named.
"That name, 'Archewell' is hard on the mouth...it's the 'arche'. Like, it just feels like the cat is about to have a hairball."
Bec: Oh, I'd love to hear that.
Louise: There's this beautiful tech company. They're creating this app where young people, 18 to 30’s can go online and they can connect with a mentor and ask questions, so they can inquire about these different careers to figure out what their path is. And my dear friend, she's a friend now, Rebecca, wanted to call it a variety of things. They bought my book. They worked it out. They're a startup, right? So, they can't pay my full fee. That's fine. I'm like, "Here, here's the book, do the work and then bring me in as you need and I’ll advise you on a chunk."
So, she comes back. "We're so excited. We found the name!"
"Great Rebecca, what is it?"
"What? Become Bull?" I said, "Tell me more."
She goes, "Well, because you have to stumble before you become yourself."
I'm like, "Yeah. Good story, bad name." When you say Becumble, you fall down and you're about a brand that lifts people up. We went with like 'Inqli'. I-N-Q-L-I because 'Inqli' when you say it, like you can't help, but feel happy.
Bec: It’s true. What is that?
Louise: Well look at, there's researchers who look at sound symbolism and sound symbolism is around the world. So, we associate different sounds with different feelings. And it's probably how our brain is evolved over time of like 'snap', sounds like, what it is, right? There's what are called ideophones. I won't go too nerdy on this. Archewell doesn't sound like a generous, giving, loving community. It's got the wrong 'feels'. It got the wrong feels.
…We've got a bad name that they're starting with. And then, we add 'well' because we want that sense of depth and giving. You know what? Like when you slam words together, like Royal and luxury [to make] 'Rolex' or, microcomputer and software [to make] Microsoft. You can make some portmanteaus, that's from the French word for two pieces of fabric making a bag. But anyway, you can make a name by bringing pieces together, but they gotta feel good in the mouth.
Bec: Yeah. They do. And there are some words, like you say that are so delicious to say them and there are some that are so guttural and that you have that sort of, what do they call it? Like a glottal attack or whatever it's called. Yeah. And they’re just awful to say. Well, it was so forgettable for me. I knew it was 'Arch' something because I knew it was [based on] their son’s name. But, yeah. I'm just a bit opposed to their whole arrangement. It seems very self-serving.
Louise: And that's a problem. What they needed to do is they needed to call it something like 'Level Up' and 'Join us to make a difference in the world'. They both need help with their personal brands and their fundraising brand.
But back to naming, they may end up renaming and I hope they do because they need a better story and they certainly, they can leverage their profile for good if they've very, very careful.
Bec: Yeah. I agree. I don't think they’re un-rescuable. But, yes, I do think they need to pivot. (Ugh. I hate that word.) Can you think of another one or two that you don’t like? As I said, I know I'm putting you on the spot here.
Louise: No, it’s okay. I mean, I've renamed a bunch of things. I mean, it's interesting. I don't notice bad names, per se. Although I've been thinking I should have a contest every year. The worst name you've seen.
Bec: Oh, you should!
Louise: Yeah. Cause sometimes people will send me things like, "Can you believe this?" But you know, I'm always looking for what's good and why it's good.
Bec: Well, that's great brand recognition for you. I thought of you immediately, as soon as I heard [Meagan and Harry’s] new brand name. I thought, I wonder what Louise thinks of that. I mean, I didn't think I liked it, but I needed to find out whether I should or not. You know, I wanted to get that second opinion.
Louise: If it fails the heart, cat hairball test, you know, it's not a good thing.
"If it fails the heart, cat hairball test, you know, it's not a good thing."
Bec: I love that. I love that so much.
Louise: For those people who are listening, who are about to rename and it's, you know when you have to rename it. Because you can outgrow your name and it's very painful. Like, your name no longer tells your story and you have to let it go and find something else. And to people listening, it's doable, you know? And in fact, if you get your next name which suits you better, it will take you even farther than you thought possible.
Bec: Yes. Well, that's very true. Well, what about a good name? You said there were some really great names. What are some other really great names where you've thought, man, they nailed that and they didn't even need my help.
Louise: Well, Uber.
Bec: Okay. Yeah. But that's such an abstract kind of name. What was so lovable about that?
Louise: Well, there's, I'd have to go get my own book to look at the five reasons why that works, but I can remember a couple of them off the top of my head. So, remember that Apple was a name for a technology company. Virgin was entertainment and then airlines. It's like, "Whoa, those are really break out disruptive names in their category." And we remember them because it's not another IBM. It's not another HP. It's a frigging Apple. And we like apples. We feel good when we say Apple, right? Virgin, well, that's just cheeky. Bring it on.
Bec: Yeah. I mean, looking over your shoulder at the magazine Time and thinking what a fantastic name for a magazine.
Louise: Yeah. Well, yeah, that's because it is. That's a descriptive name because you're learning about what's happening in time. There are many different kinds of name categories that work.
I renamed an educational consultancy. And they were called 'The Learning Labyrinth', which just makes you sound like you're going to be lost. And these were two principals. They were brilliant. They trained out of Harvard, Harvard education and they were going around the world teaching people how to be better principals and educators. Well, we ended up calling them 'Educa' because it's the root of education, which is Latin for 'to bring forth'. Using language in unique ways is, like you can translate words. So, Uber works. That's a real word. Uber works because it means, the best of, but also when you say Uber, it's like the sound of a car. It's got what's called an ideophone. It's got the sound of the product embedded in the name. It's also short. There's a bunch of reasons why that name works and they probably didn't even realise how many reasons there were for that name to work. And it was a really brave choice. Because you can imagine the boardroom, really? "We're going to call it that." Yeah. Somebody said, "Yes, let's be brave." And that was a brilliant decision.
Bec: That's so true. And I mean, part of their business methodology was to become ubiquitous and I suppose Uber meaning vast or enormous was probably in line with that. That's really clever. Alright.
I just want to talk to you forever.
If we were to put together a checklist, so I mean obviously the first thing on your checklist to come up with a brand name is buy your book. Which can we just talk about your book quickly? Now I know you've got another one [book] coming up, but let's talk about Word Glue, which is winning awards everywhere. Let's talk about that.
Louise: I just won the fourth one a couple of days ago. So, yes. Word Glue. Go to wordglue.co. It's the professionals' naming handbook. Word Glue – Find your million-dollar brand name. It's for professionals. I wrote it for serial entrepreneurs and it's what I call a 'tip, dip and flip' book. You open it up, find the tip that you like, and dip in and you can have a name idea in 10 minutes.
My master's is in Adult Ed. I'm trained in Harvard thinking routines and I've got a background working in marketing. I've worked for Seth Godin for three years, who is a marketing genius. All of my yummies are in this book for people who don't have access to an agency.
Bec: Fantastic. Okay. Tip: step one, buy this book. So, that's the first thing they have to do. Okay. If we were to think of some other things to [add to a] checklist. When they've read your book, digested it and what you've shared, what's the next thing they should do? Like a five-step process?
Louise: Yeah. Well, actually there's 12 questions that I have in my book called the Q12, and they need to do what I call the Q12. Because that will ask a series of questions to get out what matters about the brand. Who's it for? What's it for? What do you want people to feel? Who are the other people in your competitive space? What are they called? If you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be? Cause you might name your brand like 'Red Bull' if you were a mythical character. All these kinds of prompts, like 'Nike' is named after the goddess of victory.
All of these different prompts to get you really thinking about what words and phrases, feelings, colors, identities would matter to your brand. So, they have to get the book. Do the Q 12. And then, once they've got the foundation of core words that matter, they just flip through and do the exercises and that will generate names. If they're doing this with the team, then you get [input] from the team, save four weeks. Just assume it's going to take up to four weeks to get a name that you can trademark in the countries that you want to serve. Don't, please, don't leave the name last, and don't use a placeholder name, because people will fall in love with the temporary name and it will be even harder to shift from that temporary name to what you should be and people will be cranky.
Bec: Yeah. That's excellent advice. Okay. So, we get your book. We've read your book. We've gone through those 12 steps. We've allowed four weeks for the process, then what?
Louise: Well, then you need to test your name in your marketplace. I mean, some people don't have time to read the book and go through all that. So, they hire me and I come up with names that are trademarkable.
Bec: Either buy the book or buy Louise. Yeah.
"Either buy the book or buy Louise."
Louise: Yeah. But if they're doing it - and I come from a do it yourself family, like my father could build buildings practically without a measuring tape. So, I get the DIY thing. Yeah, buy the book. Do the Q12. Generate names. Test the names that you come up with, a short list that are trademarkable. Test those names. And then, when you're ready to go, lock down all the social media, so you're not going to have some person stealing your hashtag or whatever. Yeah. Lock everything down.
And then, you want to launch. And what launching means is in the book, I provide a brand roadmap. I was inspired by Mike Moser who wrote the book United B Brand. And I have been doing branding as well, but I've moved solely to naming because there's lots of really good brand people in this country. Australia is so good at branding. It's just a delight to see. But if you don't have again an agency you can work with good designers if you give them a good brief, and that's a brand roadmap. There are seven questions that if you answer and present the answers to your designer, your website people, your logo generators, your press people, they will understand who you are as a brand and bring you to life more consistently.
Bec: Wow. Okay. That is a wealth of information and insight. Thank you so much, Louise. Honestly, that's so good. I’ll include links to buy the book and include all your contact information so people can get in touch with you. It's such a good book. But I also want to preface [that] by saying, can we bring you back when you launch your next book? Do you want to give us a little [taste] of it?
Louise: Yeah, sure. I mean, did we talk about a project before it's live?
I don't want to talk about it too much because I don't want to jinx it. I've got a good chunk of the book done and this one is on taglines because Nike would not be Nike without ‘Just do it’. And so, writing taglines is hard, which means a lot of people aren't using them anymore, which is now an opportunity for you to find one that really works.
Bec: And you made such a good point about this before. Rather than feeling constrained to change the name so it's optimised for search, think of using your tagline is the vehicle to do that. I mean, that’s such a good idea. That, plus all these other incredible insights will be in that book, which we're not talking anymore about. But we also want to stress the value and importance of taglines. Okay.
Actually, important question, straplines or taglines?
Louise: Well, I'm going to call them brand lines because, what I'm talking about is… like Dove, they’re soap...they've been using the same tagline or brand line for a hundred plus years, ‘99 4/10% pure’. Coca-Cola use ‘Open Happiness’ for seven years. Nike is going to use, 'Just do it' until they can't. Wheaties in the US, and they've got a Wheaties band here, they've been using the phrase 'Breakfast of champions' for almost 100 years.
What I'm talking about is not a strap line for an ad or a campaign. It's the one phrase you want associated with your brand for as long as possible. I'm going to call it a brand line. And I've discovered, I'm just beginning to discover, both from looking at the research and just analyzing a lot of taglines, why some work and some don't.
"What I'm talking about is not a strap line for an ad or a campaign. It's the one phrase you want associated with your brand for as long as possible."
Bec: Oh, I can't wait.
Louise: I know it's like totally nerdy fabulousness.
Bec: Oh, it is totally. Okay. Well look, fabulous to talk to you. Thank you so much. And I promise you, I desperately want to get you back on and have a chat to you further about THAT next and maybe some other questions about naming a brand because that's what you are like a standalone expert on. I thank you, we’ll speak to you soon.
Louise: Okay, thanks Bec. And thanks to all of you who listened. Ciao.
Bec: Thank you. Bye.