How words can make your brand taste better


For years, restaurateurs have known that each time you add an adjective to a dish’s description, you add about 10% to its perceived value. You pay more for ‘heritage’ tomatoes than tomatoes, and even more for ‘organic heritage’ tomatoes.

Words shape people’s perceptions and perceptions shape the bottom line.

The restaurateurs aren’t being entirely cynical. Our research shows that the language which is used to describe food brands does affect the perceived taste: you can make a chocolate taste sweeter without changing the recipe.

In fact, the collection of words you use, whatever type of brand you are, affects the perception of you in ways you might never expect – whether that’s the perceived gender of your brand, or even which category you belong to.

It comes down to phonetics: the sounds of words, not just their semantic meaning. It influences us in subtle ways.

95% of people think a product called ‘Bouba’ is sweeter than a product called ‘Kiki’.
A scoop of ice cream called Frosh tastes creamier than an ice cream called Frish, even if it’s the exact same ice cream.
Heading for IPO? If your stock’s ticker is easy to pronounce, the stock will tend to perform better in the first few weeks after launch.
Next time you’re in the market for a new car, count how many names end in a vowel. It has become a category convention.

And in our experience naming retail and FMCG brands, we’ve found that it’s important to be clear about what the category conventions are, before you go changing them.

We believe that the UK has consistently underestimated the value you can build into a brand with suitable naming. Why?

Twenty years ago, a misleading name wouldn’t make such a big difference. There wasn’t much gap in time or space between someone hearing about your brand and then experiencing it. Now, the arrival of sophisticated digital media means that customers experience a brand before they touch it. And social media sharing has accelerated linguistic trends (as anyone with a school-age child knows).

I was lucky enough last month to Chair an awards’ jury which looked at all aspects of verbal branding. The stand-out finding was that the American name-branding market is far in advance of anywhere else in the world. For American corporations launching a new brand, it’s as important as the logo – and it comes with a five-figure budget.

Today, more than ever, it’s important to understand how language works.

If you’re thinking of launching a new brand, we’d be delighted to share our experience in naming.

If you’re not at that stage right now, here’s a quick guide to how different sounds in words can affect what qualities customers might expect from your product.

“Front vowels” (which you form in the front of your mouth and like you hear in ‘beat’, ‘bit’, ‘bet’, or ‘bait’) tend to be associated with lightness and agility. Back vowel sounds, like you hear in ‘but’, ‘put’ or ‘boot’, are associated with greater size, weight and power.

The types of consonants you use can affect people’s perception of your brand’s personality. Hard ‘stops’, such as the ‘k’ and ‘t’ sounds, are associated with masculinity, whereas fricatives like ‘s’ and ‘f’, are associated with femininity.

Would you like your brand to sound more feminine? Begin with a vowel, and end with a vowel: in many Western cultures this is associated with femininity. You can see evidence of this in girls’ names.


As always, we’d love to sit down over a coffee and talk about verbal branding. A smooth Arona Flat White probably.