Insights from 19,000+ Naming and Branding Projects

The Crowded Bar Theory and Why It Matters When Naming Your Business

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You have a great business idea. You even came up with a name. You’re so excited about this idea that you have all of your friends meet you at the local bar on a Friday night. You can’t wait to tell them about your new outdoor egg-tossing game. The conversation goes a little like this:

YOU: I’m coming up with a new game for kids.

FRIEND 1: Oh great, what’s it called?

YOU: Egg Sport.

FRIEND 2: Export?

YOU: Egg Sport.

FRIEND 3: Expert?

Yeah… Maybe that business name needs some work.

Hypothetical situations aside, a good business name is easy to say and hear, even in a crowded bar. This is the Crowded Bar Theory. The basic principle is that your name should still be understood, even if it’s said in a crowded bar. If it cannot pass the crowded bar test, it probably will not hold up in the real world. It will be too difficult for people to share with each other.

Think back to our example. If you were sharing a brand like Tinder, Olive Garden, or Apple, your friends at the bar would have no trouble understanding you. It isn’t only due to the brand-recognition factor of these names, either. All of these names are easy to hear and say.

When you tell your friends about your business name, or if they tell it to anyone else, two things should happen.

  1. The friend should immediately understand what was said.
  2. The friend should be able to repeat it back with ease and in turn share it with their network

What does it mean for a name to be easy to hear?

The true goal is to have a name that does not take work to transfer from one person to the next. The transferring of a name from one mind to another is critical for any business if they want successful marketing, sales, and overall communication.

If a name is difficult to share with another person, then it will cause communication breakdown and result in lost opportunities – which effect the bottom line.

Eliminate the need to repeat yourself again and again when sharing your name in person, over the phone, or even in radio ads, tv commercials, and live press opportunities.

Names that are easy to understand are easy to remember. Why is this?

When you don’t hear a name correctly the first time, then you place two or more concepts in your mind. These concepts now compete with each other for memory. When you remember the instance of sharing a name in a fuzzy way, your are much less likely to plant that name in your long-term memory.

When picking your name, make sure that when you say it outloud, people know what you are saying. This just seems like common sense; however, it actually means that some of the most meaningful and otherwise perfect names become unusable.

Here are some ways a name becomes difficult to hear:

  • Using two words that sound like one word (Egg Sport or Export?)
  • Using one word that sounds like two words (Carrion or Carry On?)
  • Using a blend that sounds like a real word (Groupon does this well, but something like Clorming, a blend of clue and forming, is confusing)
  • Using transmutations (e.g. zap becomes Zappos) that are difficult to understand (Siphy for Siphon)

If you avoid making your name difficult to hear and understand, you will pass the Crowded Bar Test. 

Difficult names are frustrating for everyone involved. Your loyal customers have trouble sharing the name, potential customers can’t understand the name, and you end up a little frustrated and embarrassed that no one seems to catch on. With careful planning and consideration, you can come up with a solid name for your business that passes the Crowded Bar test, and helps you build a strong brand!

About the author

Meghan O'Toole
Insights from 19,000+ Naming and Branding Projects

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