Alexandra Watkins is the Chief Executive Boss Lady at Eat My Words, the only branding firm on the planet that specializes in creating brand names that make people smile instead of scratch their heads. It is a leading and outspoken authority on brand names with buzz.
Since 2005, she and her naming firm, Eat My Words, have created love-at-first-sight brand names for countless startups and clients including Amazon, Coca-Cola, Disney, Google, Twitter, and Colgate.
Her brand name hall of fame includes:
- The Wendy’s Baconator
- Neato robotic vacuum
- Burger King’s – Mac n’ Cheetos.
- Spanish language school – Gringo Lingo.
- Frozen yogurt franchise – Spoon Me.
Alexandra’s breakthrough creativity book, “Hello, My Name is Awesome: How to Create Brand Names That Stick,” was named a Top 10 Marketing Book by Inc. Magazine and was one of only three books shortlisted for the 2019 Outstanding Works of Literature OWL Award in the crowded Sales & Marketing category.
She is a popular guest speaker at tech conferences and MBA programs and is a former NASDAQ Entrepreneurial Center Author in Residence. Currently, she is Author in Residence in her San Diego pool house.
What you will learn
- How to create and register a domain name for your brand when someone else owns it.
- Brand name disasters.
- Where to start with your brand name inspiration.
- Some examples of fun brand names.
- Why memorable beats smart.
- All the reasons you shouldn’t hire left-brain people for right-brained creative projects.
- Why you should keep your brand name simple to spell.
- The most trusted domains.
- The secret to discovering what you should be doing in life and business.
- Why making people smile is better than making them scratch their heads.
Jeff Bullas: Hi everyone, and welcome to the Jeff Bullas Show. Today I want to introduce our guest, Alexandra Watkins. Now Alexandra Watkins is the chief executive and boss lady and outspoken founder of Eat My Words, the only branding firm on the planet that specializes in creating brand names that make people smile instead of scratch their heads.
She has clients including Amazon, Google, Twitter, Disney, Coca Cola and Colgate. And they have left her to come up with creative and engaging names that move people and move products.
Jeff Bullas: A personal name full of fame includes the Wendy Baconator, Neato Robotic Vacuum, Burger King’s Mac n’ Cheetos, Spanish language school Gringo Lingo and frozen yogurt franchise called … And this is one I really love, Spoon Me.
She’s had a breakthrough book, which I helped her launch a few years ago. And it is called “Hello, My Name Is Awesome – How to Create Brand Names That Stick”. It was named a top 10 marketing book by Inc Magazine.
Jeff Bullas: It was one of only three books shortlisted for the 2019 outstanding works of literature award in the crowded sales and marketing category. She is a former Nasdaq entrepreneurial author in residence. Currently she is author in residence in her San Diego pool house. Welcome to the show Alexandra, it’s great to have you here.
Alexandra Watkins: Thank you Jeff. Nice to see you.
Jeff Bullas: So I met you originally when your PR agency reached out to me, it must be … When did you publish, six years ago is that right?
Alexandra Watkins: It was six years ago, yeah.
Jeff Bullas: Okay. So I had this PR agency leap out to me or reach out to me and said, I’ve got this great author. She’s launching a book. You might be a great fit to help her. So consequently we helped her launch her book, which is titled as I mentioned before, “Hello, My Name Is Awesome”. Now this is the old edition. I just want to make sure you know that, but it’s a great book. I actually read it from cover to cover. It doesn’t take long, two or three hours. And it gives you a great insight into how to name your company and make it memorable and fun. And that’s what she does. So Alexandra, how did you get into this naming business because there’s not many naming companies on the planet that I’m aware of?
Alexandra Watkins: There is not. And it really was my dream job to become a namer. Really, somebody’s going to pay me to sit around and dream up names? I didn’t know it was a profession. And so I started my career as an advertising copywriter. And every once in a while I would get thrown a bone and get to name something. And I loved it. But like I said, I didn’t know it was a profession. So when I finally figured that out 15 years later, I switched gears and said, I’m going to be a namer. I’m just going to name things. And people said, you can’t just name things. And I said, yes I can. And look, now I have a book and made a name for myself.
Jeff Bullas: Okay. So and before that what were you doing? So you originally … You’re from New York.
Alexandra Watkins: No, I’m from San Diego.
Jeff Bullas: Originally from San Diego, but you lived in New York.
Alexandra Watkins: Yeah, I grew up here.
Jeff Bullas: Okay. So you grew up in San Diego and you really just come back home because … So you did spend some time in New York didn’t you?
Alexandra Watkins: No. No, my sister lives in New York. There’s nothing about me that I feel is very New York-ish other than I probably talk too fast. I grew up in San Diego. I left when I was 21 and I moved away for 33 years. And spent the last 22 in San Francisco where I of course saw you a number of times. San Francisco got … It’s a little … It changed. And so I wanted to move back to my hometown, be by the beach. And so a couple years ago I moved back here and here I am.
Jeff Bullas: So welcome home to San Diego. It’s a beautiful city.
Alexandra Watkins: Thank you.
Jeff Bullas: I’ve been there a few times for “Social Media Marketing World” and it’s a great city. It’s a harbor city a lot like Sydney, with a lot of great beaches and the weather’s because it’s further south, the weather tends to be very good. So I really enjoyed my trips to San Diego. So how did start this naming business and who was your first client, what was that like?
Alexandra Watkins: Oh my gosh. No one’s ever asked me that question. Oh no, I know what my first client was. It was before I started Eat My Words, which is the name of my company now as you know, Eat My Words. It was The Gap. And The Gap was launching a line of beauty products. And someone I knew, knew that I wanted to be a namer and she had seen some probably little things I had done. And was like, can you come work for us for six weeks naming things? And oh my gosh, I was in heaven. I was so excited to be doing that. And I worked on the Embarcadero down in San Francisco and I had a beautiful office overlooking the water.
Alexandra Watkins: I just fell in love with being a namer and doing all that. So I named one of my favorite names I did for the beauty products was a travel makeup kit. And I named it Dash, like you’re dashing out the door. And the tagline I did was, A Little Color Goes A Long Way.
Jeff Bullas: Right. Okay, I like that already.
Alexandra Watkins: Thank you, yeah. Dash of color, dashing out the door. Yeah, so that was one of my … I would say that was one of my first names.
Jeff Bullas: Okay. So is that product still in use today or not?
Alexandra Watkins: Oh, well in retail, that stuff goes in and out. But I did name … I also had named a startup years ago, probably over 15 years ago. And it was a charity rewards customer relationship management product. And I named it Angel Point because it was all about employees doing good things. And I thought, oh, it’s kind of like getting brownie points. You would get angel points when you did good things. And I did, I named it Angel Points and the tagline was, The Value Of Good Deeds. And they are still around by way of they were sold to another company, but it is still around.
Jeff Bullas: Right.
Alexandra Watkins: A lot of things I’ve named have been around, like Smitten Ice Cream in San Francisco, they probably have I don’t know, seven locations. They’ve been around over 10 years. As you know, my most notorious name is the name of a nail salon that I named Hand Job. And Hand Job’s been around over a dozen years. And they have two locations.
Jeff Bullas: Right, okay. And where are they based, in the San Francisco area?
Alexandra Watkins: They’re in San Francisco, yeah.
Jeff Bullas: Okay.
Alexandra Watkins: Well, of course. I don’t think they could be based anywhere else.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, San Francisco’s got quite a bohemian culture, which I love. So naming becomes your dream job. So can you go a little bit more into detail about how … That wouldn’t even have crossed my mind. So why would you go, naming my dream job? Is that because you love words? Where’d the inspiration come to go, this is obviously why you’re on the planet is actually to do naming for brands and companies and products. So where did the inspiration …
Alexandra Watkins: Yeah. Well, I was lucky. When I was in eighth grade I realized I wanted to be in advertising. So much to my parent’s chagrin, I skipped college and I talked myself into working in advertising. Worked for Ogilvy MA there. I know they’re all over the world. I met some people from the Sydney Ogilvy MA there. Now they’re just Ogilvy. But every once in a while, like I said, when I would work in advertising, every once in a while I would get thrown a bone and get to name something. So if we were working on a car account for instance, oh the client needs a name for this new car. And it was never handled like it was a big deal.
Alexandra Watkins: It was like, yeah, if you have any extra time. And I was so into it. And I remember doing it for a mountain bike company. It wasn’t a real company, it was just for an ad. And they needed for the ad, it needed a fake … They were doing a fake company that needed a name. And I spent more time coming up with names than I did actually coming up with headlines for the ad. So I just knew I loved it. And that’s when you can tell what your passion is. I always tell people, think about days at work that you’ve been the most happy. What were you working on?
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. Yeah, the term I love to use, do what feeds your soul. And is especially important in the current situation because it’s tough at the moment with the whole pandemic. So you’ve named … You started naming … Time’s obviously just flying for you. So you were working for advertising, what was the next step after that?
Alexandra Watkins: Well, after I discovered naming was a profession … Well I had left … I quit during the Dot-com boom. So this was in San Francisco. The Dot-com boom was going strong. And I was working writing content for websites at the time as a copywriter. And then every … I’d do that for six weeks, and then I’d go traveling for a couple weeks in Europe or somewhere and then come back. So back and forth. So I rode that Dot-Com gravy train until it crashed in my backyard. Then I went traveling for a year. I actually, I was in Australia for almost a whole year. So I just went traveling around.
Alexandra Watkins: And when I came back, that’s when I realized I didn’t want to write websites anymore. I wanted to do what I really loved. And that’s how I started to get into naming, and that is when I started Eat My Words because I was doing a lot of food and beverage copywriting. And so that’s how I started there and then kind of got into naming. And then my friend said, hey, if you can name potato chips, you can name microchips. So then I just started naming everything and I kept the name Eat My Words. But a couple of milestones happened. One is, so I started out … I didn’t start by having a naming firm. You can’t just start there.
Alexandra Watkins: So I was doing copywriting and getting into naming. And I started freelancing for all of these big naming and branding firms like Landor, Interbrand. And one of the ones that I worked for … They’re really nice people. They gave me a lot of work, and their name was A Strategic Name Development. And they gave me an assignment to name a new bacon cheeseburger for Wendy’s. And I came up with the name The Baconator. Since that time, the Baconator has sold probably over a hundred million. And I’m not exaggerating. Just in the first few weeks it sold over 25 million. So yeah, easily, probably a billion.
Alexandra Watkins: And so that name, I never used to say it, right? Because I was working for hire. But now when I say it, I give them credit. Great agency, highly recommend them, all that. But that was pretty pivotal because I wasn’t allowed to take credit for it. So that’s when I was like, I really need to go get my own clients. So even though I had freelance clients … And also what I realized working for companies like Landor and Interbrand, they’re … And some of those big, corporate-y type of naming firms, they were employing people that were from academia. They were left-brained, and I’m very right-brained. And I’m sorry, creative people are right-brained. And why would you want to hire left-brained people for a creative project?
Alexandra Watkins: That made no sense to me. So my names were based on concepts just like in advertising. My headlines had to make emotional connections. That’s what I did with my names because to me, a name is like a little headline. We named a GPS for dogs, Retriever, right? People get that, right? And so they get it. It makes people smile, and that’s why my names are all about making people smile instead of scratch their head. And so it’s not based on Latin and linguistics, it’s just a fun name that people get. Or like a … Oh gosh, I’m trying to think, I have so many favorite names.
Alexandra Watkins: You mentioned Spoon Me, but some that I love are we did a … This was a data analytics company, hello, could you be any more boring than data analytics? Seriously. That is … You can find something more boring than data analytics because I can’t.
Jeff Bullas: Good luck, yeah. Yeah. No, I would totally agree with you. I have to pour over the data every week with my team, and yeah, it sort of makes me slightly weep because it is boring, but it’s important in this digital age to go over data analytics, right?
Alexandra Watkins: Yeah. Of course. Well, I have some tech bros that work for me. So one of them, Darth Namer, naming is a side hustle for us. He has a day job as an engineer for a very famous software company that I can’t mention. But I put him on it because whenever we work with clients, I try to put people on the project that actually know their business or have a real interest in it. Or are the target audience. So Darth Namer was working on data analytics. I was like, data, it’s all about looking for patterns. So what are names of patterns, right?
Alexandra Watkins: And he came up with argyle, which is a very masculine pattern, and people in the client’s target audience were mainly men. And so masculine pattern, and it’s a diamond pattern. And so we said, Argyle Data, and it was all about finding diamonds in the data because that’s what you’re looking for. You’re looking for the diamonds. So that’s a name that I’m really proud of.
Jeff Bullas: Okay. Now the thing for you is, can you walk me through the process a little bit here in terms of where do you start … This is the thing too with a lot of companies. They, and even small businesses say, I’m going to start and they agonize over the name don’t they? They’re going, I can’t get it. And this is the other thing that becomes a challenge too is, a lot of the good names, well supposedly good names are taken in the domain name area. So what’s the process for you in doing a name? Can you just give us a bit of a high level view of how you go about the process with a client in doing a name because it’s not just random. You have a very … And the book actually reveals that quite well. So could you give us sort of a quick step through of how that works?
Alexandra Watkins: Sure. Sure. I should start by saying though that people always start in the wrong place, which is on GoDaddy looking for a domain name. Nothing wrong with GoDaddy, love GoDaddy. But you do not want to look for a domain name first. And it’s funny, I’m doing this online course, and for the domain name’s module, I show a skeleton at a computer because that’s how long people spend looking for an available domain name. Don’t even think about the domain name. You want to think about what … You want a good name. You want a good concept. Then worry about the domain name. And I’m just going to give your listeners some examples to set their mind at ease because people aren’t familiar with these.
Alexandra Watkins: And once they hear them, they’re like, oh, okay. For the first 13 years they were in business, Tesla did not own Tesla.com. If you had gone to Tesla.com, you would have been greeted by a very ominous looking website that said, this site is owned by Gandhi Net. Now what would you do? Let’s say you were in the market for a Tesla, would you give up? No. What would you do? You’d just go to Google or type in your browser Tesla cars, right? Test drive a Tesla. And boom, you’d see it. There’s a link, boom you’re there. Have you even noticed what the domain name is? No. Do you not trust this company because they don’t own Tesla.com? No.
Alexandra Watkins: Do you not want to buy a car, give them money because … No. You don’t care, right? So for the first 13 years Tesla was at Teslamotors.com.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, okay.
Alexandra Watkins: Now, Facebook until 2005 was thefacbook.com. DropBox, DropBox had millions of users before they got DropBox. And they were getdropbox.com. A lot of us remember that. BaseCamp, same thing, millions of users, lots of traction, as basecamphq. So Square is Squareup. So a lot of companies don’t get roadblocked. They find a great name like Tesla, I’ve always loved that they came up with that name for an electric company a long time before I’d ever heard of the car company. And Nikola Tesla, the inventor, it’s such a cool name. But they didn’t get hung up, right? And Elon Musk didn’t start Tesla, so that’s why when I say they, I don’t mean Elon Musk. I mean whoever started Tesla. But Mark Zuckerberg didn’t get hung up because it was “The Facebook”. And he had wanted to call it Facebook.
Alexandra Watkins: So don’t get hung up. There are lots of work-arounds. And I think for your audience, it’s important to know what those are. Add a modifier word. So like the get Tesla, Tesla Motor or Get DropBox, Tesla Motors, but be creative. In San Francisco, there’s a luxury apartment building. It’s called Lumina. And it’s dazzling towers, gleaming super high end. And I was walking by one day and I saw this billboard outside and it showed the interior of one of the model units. And it said, “Life at Lumina.com.” I was like, oh, life at Lumina, that sounds good, right? So look at what they just did. They extended their brand by creating this really alluring domain name that makes a super strong emotional connection.
Alexandra Watkins: Another thing you can do … Oh, another one that I love is there’s a peanut butter company called Peanut Butter and Co. And you can go to peanutbutterandco.com, but it will redirect to their other domain name, which is unforgettable, people like me that are nuts about peanut butter, which is, ilovepeanutbutter.com.
Jeff Bullas: Right.
Alexandra Watkins: So if you can’t get a domain that you want, be creative. And one that I absolutely love, there is a smoked turkey company called Greenberg Smoked Turkeys. And there’s nothing particularly exciting about the name. It’s not really memorable. Greenberg could be spelled two different ways. But their domain name is unforgettable. Okay, I want everybody to listen because you will never forget this. Greenberg Smoked Turkeys is at gobblegobble.com.
Jeff Bullas: Right, okay.
Alexandra Watkins: Yeah. So that’s what you can do. And look, if you are … I know you have a lot of entrepreneurs that listen to you. And you’re a big speaker and you probably have speakers that listen to you. There’s a speaker that I know named Patrick. And I cannot for the life of me say his last name. It’s a mile long, it’s lots of consonants. I don’t know how to say it. And so he has that as his domain name. But for meeting planners and the people he meets or see him speak, oh, how can I get you to come speak at our event? He says, go to bookpatrick.com. Bookpatrick, it’s so easy, right? And it’s a call to action.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah.
Alexandra Watkins: So if you can have a domain name that’s a call to action, that’s also very good.
Jeff Bullas: I do like that. That’s very, very good. It’s very simple, and in fact you’re actually including a call to action in a domain name, or advertising digital marketing people would be celebrating on that, that’s for sure. So now you’ve come across some real issues, well fun mistakes by people with names. So can you tell me a little bit about that? You’ve used some examples. It’s very hard to maybe show it because … Not show it because we’re not really showing it here because we’re actually just doing a live podcast. But what are some of the names that were absolutely hilarious mistakes?
Alexandra Watkins: So do you mean where somebody named … Unfortunately they’re all infectious … It’s my infectious disease part of my book that … There’s a company that called itself SARS. Clearly it’s a software company and it clearly didn’t do due diligence in Google, the acronym SARS to see oh, it was a horrible infectious disease that killed lots of people. Oh, then there’s Whole Foods, which is a big grocery store here. It’s owned by Amazon. It’s very whole foods, just like it sounds. They partner with different local restaurants to be part of the community. And they partnered with one, I think in Seattle and I was called Yellow Fever. And Yellow Fever is a racist and kind of a gay slur. So yeah, not a good idea.
Jeff Bullas: Okay.
Alexandra Watkins: I have a client, I’m not going to say who they are, but they are naming a product right now a name that I know as a gay slur. But they were unfamiliar with it as a gay slur.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah.
Alexandra Watkins: And I looked it up on the urban dictionary, the bane of every namer. And it really didn’t have that many votes on it, so that surprised me. So that’s the nice thing about the younger generation, maybe they don’t know some of these words that maybe in older have a negative connotation with. But it is always smart to do due diligence and look things up. Because yeah, there’s a coffee chain named Biggby Coffee, and they had I believe 68 locations under their original name, which is incredibly racist here in San Diego where I grew up. And it was Beaners. And Beaners is like saying the N word about a Mexican. It’s really bad.
Jeff Bullas: Oh right.
Alexandra Watkins: And they knew that their name was bad. They knew. But they’re like, oh, that’s okay, we’re in the Midwest. Not okay. And listen people, listen up, Beaners did that years ago before everybody was on social media. You will be eviscerated on the internet. Oh my God, Whole Foods when they partnered with Yellow Fever, one of the headlines I think it was … Or someone in the Washington Post said, “Come for the racism, stay for the disease.” People … We’ve all seen people get eaten alive on the internet. So you want to be very careful.
Jeff Bullas: Right. So you’re trying to have fun, you’re also memorable. And you’re also trying to do make sure that you’re doing due diligence.
Alexandra Watkins: Yes.
Jeff Bullas: So you’re just trying to protect the brand name I suppose as well.
Alexandra Watkins: Well, protect yourself, right?
Jeff Bullas: Yeah.
Alexandra Watkins: It’s important to protect your brand name and trademark it, but as far as the process, because I know you asked about that a while back. Our process is, we have a client complete a creative brief, our entire brief is in my book. And then we spend a couple weeks coming up with names, come back with a big, fat list of names. Then turn around, do it again. And then help them select the best name, the strongest name. If anyone wants to know, is their name good or bad, where are the weak points? There is a strength test on our website at eatmywords.com, just scroll down the page. You’ll see this little strength meter arrow, back and forth where you can test the strength of a name. And that is 12 questions.
Alexandra Watkins: And it will ask you questions. Is your name easy to spell, or difficult to spell? Is your name difficult for people to pronounce? Is it memorable, meaning is it based in the familiar? So as you take the test and you ask yourself questions about your name, you’ll see things that you might not have noticed just when you were in a hurry to come up with it. And the internet graveyard is full of so many bad names of companies that have gone out of business by doing it wrong. My favorite one to point out, which is troublesome in so many areas was … It was a company spelled X-O-B-N-I. I’ll let you guys write that down, X-O-B-N-I.
Alexandra Watkins: Now think about how you would pronounce that. And what it means. That is pronounced Xobni. It was originally pronounced Xobni, but then they changed the pronunciation of it. And it’s inbox spelled backwards. But how would you know that? So that’s something where it’s meaningful to … It has what I call the curse of knowledge. It’s meaningful to the founders, but it’s not meaningful to anybody else. And human beings don’t spell things backwards. You can’t look at something, like if I said, “Jeff, spell your name backwards right now.” Maybe you could spell your first name, but the whole thing really fast. People don’t intuitively mix things up.
Alexandra Watkins: I have a “namer” friend who has dyslexia. And he does. He’s got that gift where he can move words, put them in the word blender in his brain. But I don’t. So people don’t spell things backwards, so yeah, Xobni, total train wreck. Another one is a company called Bawte. Now when I say Bawte, you can spell “bought” three ways. Well, two ways really, right? Like a robot, like a little chat bot, or you bought something at the store. This company spelled it B-A-W-T-E. And it was a shopping site that bought the farm, pardon the really cheesy pun. But yeah, how would you know that first of all it was pronounced bought, or even what it was? Because people think it’s Bawte. No one can ever pronounce it.
Alexandra Watkins: So this is something to take away. Just because it’s clever, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. So spelling it differently than it sounds doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah.
Alexandra Watkins: Making it backwards, not a good idea.
Jeff Bullas: No. It’s certainly interesting making names up. Now the thing that I also think about especially in a global economy that we’re in, is how do you allow for I suppose lost in translation-type names? Like if you create a name in English, you must have some challenges or you typically just work in the USA market typically? Are there some challenges with names that don’t end up being a good meaning in another country, like in a different language? How do you handle that?
Alexandra Watkins: It happens far less than people think. I think when people are naming something, their biggest fear is will it mean something dirty in French? And it usually doesn’t. Although, there was the toothpaste company that had a toothpaste that they named Cue, C-U-E that ended up being the name of a notorious French porn magazine. But there are language translation services just for naming firms that will do this, or that you can work with that will run your name through all those languages. We work primarily in the states, or with people where English is the language that they want the name to be in.
Alexandra Watkins: And so they’re more willing to make people kind of adopt the English way of saying, or the American English way of saying it I suppose. One story that many of your listeners I imagine will have heard is the Chevy Nova story, which is this famous story. It’s in business books, and business school. I’ve heard people tell this story over and over. And it’s not true. And it’s that when Chevy launched the Nova in Mexico, or sorry in … Yeah, in Latin America that Nova, people thought it meant won’t go, no-va, won’t go. So the car failed. Okay, total BS. Here’s the story.
Alexandra Watkins: Saying Nova meant no go is the same as saying that I was launching a new, or naming a new dinette set Notable, right? And that you thought that meant it had no table, right? You don’t separate the words no table is notable. It’s just notable. Same as with Nova. And also really? You think that Chevrolet would have had the manuals made, the dealers in Mexico, all these people would have just not even thought to say, hey, wait a minute, Nova means won’t go? No. That didn’t happen. Nova meaning won’t go, it was kind of this joke, like I don’t know if you’re ever heard Fiat stands for “Fix it again Tony”. It was like one of those, right? Just a joke.
Alexandra Watkins: And it just became legend, but it’s just not true. And then what’s crazy is, if you read about it and it says, well, but after they changed the name from Nova to the Caribe, the sales skyrocketed. That’s not true either. Chevrolet didn’t have a Caribe. The Caribe was a VW. So these stories just get told as they’re Gospel. And they’re not.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. So urban myths are overrated frankly. So really go and check the veracity of all these. Okay, so you said the place not to start is GoDaddy. And not because we think GoDaddy’s not good, but it didn’t use the domain name company to actually still get the inspiration from. So where do you get the inspiration? Where would you go? I know you’ve talked about using Urban Dictionary to actually make sure that you’re not making little faux pas and creating names that are going to be a problem. So where would you … Where do you start?
Alexandra Watkins: I start … So it depends what I’m naming, but okay, so let’s say I’m naming a frozen yogurt store. And this is an example in my book because everybody can relate to it because we all know what frozen yogurt is. So naming a frozen yogurt store, one thing I do is I would go to a stock image photo library or Google images and just start typing in things that are cold. And then that would get me to winter sports. So I’d start looking at pictures of winter sports. And this particular one by the way that I named was in Utah, which is very big on skiing and snowboarding.
Alexandra Watkins: And then from there I would maybe look at snowboarding, like oh, I’m going to look up a glossary or terms of snowboarding terms. And then from there, I would see a name like chatter … This has happened to me. And chatter is some nocuous snowboarding term. And oh, I could see the kids with the frozen yogurt place chattering with each other. The teens, that’s kind of like your teeth chatter, that could be a fun name. So that’s one thing I would do. I was naming a men’s ath-leisure, like a men’s sportswear brand for young guys. And the founder was really into martial arts. So I looked up action movies. And I looked up the top fight scenes in movies. And top car chase scenes in movies.
Alexandra Watkins: And that, I just started reading, reading, reading to come up with ideas. I just saw a stunt double, and I’m like, that’s the name, Stunt Double. It’s such a good name. So that’s how it happened. And Spoon Me, which is what the frozen yogurt store ended up being called, I just Googled eat frozen yogurt and I saw some spoons, and that just popped into my head. But I do have a linear process for teaching people how to do this. But I’m not doing … A lot of people try to invent words by adding a letter or a bunch of letters and forcing things together, like yogurtology. That’s not a good name.
Alexandra Watkins: So people don’t know the rules or they’re copycats. Pink Berry is a very well-known frozen yogurt store here in the states. I think I’ve seen it overseas as well. And they have all these people copycat them. So there’s Bliss Berry, Yo Berry, Love Berry. It’s like I have this whole collection of berry yogurt names. Don’t be a copycat. So try to be original and metaphors are great. So if you’re naming something fast, so think of running shoes, right? Let’s say the process for them was looking at images. They did an image search for fast. They might see some fast animals and see puma. Boom, there’s your name, Puma. So metaphors are my favorite kind of names. And then clever names too.
Jeff Bullas: Right. So can you give us some examples of clever names that you love?
Alexandra Watkins: Yeah. So a clever name is we named a cupcake store “The Church of Cupcakes”. Right? So that’s fun, right? Combining two things together that you wouldn’t expect. Church and cupcakes. And so with her, the founder, she calls herself the church lady. Her tagline that we did is, Worshiper’s Welcome. And then she has really fun flavor names like Strawberry Sin. The vanilla cupcake is called The Missionary. So there’s a lot of wink-wink fun things going on. Jeff, you and I were introduced by Lynette Hoy. She used to just call her PR firm, Lynnette Hoy PR. And I said, let me rebrand you with a business name.
Alexandra Watkins: So she’s a very fiery woman as you know. So I rebranded her Firetalker PR with the tagline … Her original tagline we did was, Hot on the Press because she was on the press. Let me tell you. She was hot on the press. So she calls herself the fire chief. She works in the firehouse. She has these great package names like Controlled Burn. So she really has fun with that name. She has a theme song. So when she does speaking engagements, she brings a big boombox to play as the Ohio players singing, “Fire.” And so she gets a crowd on their feet dancing.
Jeff Bullas: Right.
Alexandra Watkins: So yeah, you can have fun with a name. That’s a name with legs, what I call legs when your name lends itself to a theme like Firetalker or the Church or Cupcakes or Eat My Words, my firm. Our blog is called The Kitchen Sink. That’s a name with legs.
Jeff Bullas: Right, okay. Right. So there’s much more to the name then isn’t there? [inaudible 00:37:04], but you’re actually saying, well we can actually you said a name with legs. You actually can take that into the whole product naming and packaging. And even for services, not just products themselves. So there’s some services areas that you’ve done that are a bit of fun. In other words you’ve named a services kind of like you mentioned data analytics which you said was as a pretty boring area essentially. So are there any areas in the I suppose digital services space that you’ve had fun with over the years?
Alexandra Watkins: Digital services …
Jeff Bullas: Software.
Alexandra Watkins: Software. They don’t like to have fun in software.
Jeff Bullas: Okay.
Alexandra Watkins: No, the business-to-business people are pretty serious. I can’t think of any in particular, but … Oh, here’s one. Okay, it’s not digital services but it’s robotics, okay? So this company, they were going to be called Bistro Robotics. And they make robotics for washing dishes. And it started out as a small idea. They actually came up with it standing outside of a restaurant. Oh, the woman that founded it was one of the founders of Neato, which I named Neato Robotics years ago. And she was looking for her next venture. And so she’s like, what if we made robotics for restaurants? So it started out small, so Bistro Robotics. But then they realized, hey wait a minute, why don’t we go service restaurants that wash lots of dishes?
Alexandra Watkins: So then they made them for commercial kitchens in Vegas. They were washing 10000 dishes a day. So that name is … So when they would … It’s really hard to explain robotics to anybody if you’re not an engineer from MIT. And most people don’t want to understand. Just like you don’t want to understand how dry cleaning works. I just want to give you my clothes and have them come back without stains in them. That’s the magic, right? So it’s magic. So that’s what it was. It was like … And when they would tell people, we’re going to … Because dish washing is the most hated job in any restaurant. And dishwashers quit all the time.
Alexandra Watkins: It’s demeaning, they hate it. So this is really an amazing thing that they were building. And when they would ask, how do you do that? It’s magic. So I came up with a name that was based on magic. And it’s Dishcraft, which is like witchcraft but a twist on that, Dishcraft. So now they have the theme of magic. I’m not sure what they’ve done with it yet, but that’s where they can take their name that lends itself to a theme and have fun with it.
Jeff Bullas: Right. Yeah, so essentially the underlying I suppose part of what you’re doing is actually just having fun with the name. And make it memorable certainly. So are you the … The challenges … You’re in a very niche business. And how do you scale yourself? How do you find people to help you?
Alexandra Watkins: Oh, that’s so easy. Well, if you have a naming firm, everyone wants to work with you because they all fancy themselves to be good namers. So yeah, on our website eatmywords.com, we have the ultimate naming challenge where people can try to submit some names for a … It’s a fictitious product. And then they submit 20 names. And they come to me and then … Actually, I don’t see them. They go to six of our namers and five out of six have to give it the thumbs up. And then if they all do them, otherwise I would never get anything done.
Alexandra Watkins: But yeah, so it’s easy actually to find people. And I have people all over the place that work for me. I have Caitlin, she’s my momma bear. She’s in Japan right now. Her husband’s in the military, so she’s stationed there. I’ve got Ryan in Puerto Rico. I’ve got people all over the place. So yeah, and like I said, whatever a client wants, if they’re naming some kind of beef product, I’ve got my guy Jeff in Texas. He’s going to be working on that.
Jeff Bullas: Right. So you try and find experts in your area, is that what you try and do?
Alexandra Watkins: They don’t … No, I actually don’t like to hire professional namers because they have … Like I said, they have the background in linguistics, and I don’t want people to know linguistics. I want people that are good with words that are good writers. And creative, and it’s funny, just like writing, you can write anything. Like songwriters, I could never write a song. And a lot of copywriters, I was a copywriter, can’t name things. Some people are good, some people aren’t. So it’s really a gift to be able to name and to come up with things that people can spell and pronounce and that everybody understands when they see it.
Alexandra Watkins: And then I want to just talk for a minute about made-up names because people like to invent these words, right? So a good example of a made-up name is Groupon or Pinterest. Those are good names because when I say Groupon or Pinterest, you know how to spell both of those. You understand what it is, right? Oh, coupons for groups, which is what it started out as. Or, oh, I pin my interest.
Jeff Bullas: Right.
Alexandra Watkins: So they’re easy to spell, easy to pronounce, easy to understand. And they sound like real words.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah.
Alexandra Watkins: Now, the ones that don’t work are when people try to force things together, like the one that just kills me is a group of women professionals and they call themselves Femfessionals. Ew, really would you want to put that on your LinkedIn resume ladies? Another is Perfumology. That tries too hard.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, okay. Yeah.
Alexandra Watkins: And then people are copying trends a lot. The word zen is overused. The word bright is overused. People overuse colors and in my book I have this whole section on copycats. And in the course I’m developing, I have this whole section on copycats are being trendy. Using an -ly in your name or also by the way, I’m not a fan of using dot anything country codes in names, like .ly, which most people don’t know that -ly is for Libia. And I didn’t even know that and I’ve been to Libia. So that was kind of a shocker.
Alexandra Watkins: So yeah, I’d say stick with .com or .net. Those are the two really trusted ones.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah, certainly most people try and get a .com name because it is trusted. It’s seen as an international domain. And that’s certainly when I was looking for … My name is my website name. So obviously I didn’t have to think too long and hard about coming up with a brand name for that. But I have a strange name. I used to get called all sorts of names in the schoolyard. Jeff Bullas was bull ass, bullshit, bulldog. So I was actually able to get my domain named as a .com, which if I was brightonsmith.com, that would’ve been hard to get. But the reality is that jeffbullas.com wasn’t hard to get because there’s not many of us on the planet.
Jeff Bullas: So what was a problem as a kid in the schoolyard ended up being an asset in the digital world later. Which I was rather thankful for really. So, your process is don’t worry about using domain name providers to actually go and think up a brand name. It uses metaphors. So what are the other parts of the process from a high view? You basically go and do a Google search. You make sure you’re not making mistakes by using Urban Dictionary. What’s some of the other parts of the process that you take the client through?
Alexandra Watkins: This is really important. You don’t want to ask everybody what they think of your name because when you ask people, do you like this name? That’s not what they hear? What they hear is, what don’t you like about this name, right? And when you ask somebody for their opinion, it’s an invitation to criticize.
Jeff Bullas: Yes.
Alexandra Watkins: So don’t do that. I tell people, read my book or take my course or hire us. But don’t … The second you start asking people, you’re opening up Pandora’s box and you will never get a name that everybody likes. And I just jumped off a call with a professor from Stanford and was naming something for, and one of the names I came up with she’s like, yeah, I know of someone with that name as a personal name, but it’s also the name of a color. I know someone with that name, and I don’t like [inaudible 00:45:50]. So you’re bringing in personal bias. So when you’re reviewing names, the question to ask yourself is not, do I like it? The question to ask, is it right for the brand? Completely different question.
Jeff Bullas: Okay. And do you then bounce those ideas off your team as well when you’re actually …
Alexandra Watkins: If someone’s in … We were recently naming something that was targeted at young moms. And Katie who works for me is a young mom. So I’m not a young mom, so I said, hey Katie, which of these appeal most to you? Because I knew as a professional namer, she would … Or a professional working for me, she would understand what was a good name and what wasn’t. But clients are always going to have their favorites anyway. It’s so hard to know. And sometimes there is no right answer.
Jeff Bullas: No.
Alexandra Watkins: But it’s more important to eliminate what has pitfalls, right? If it looks like a typo, scratch it off the list. If it’s hard to pronounce, if it can be pronounced two different ways, that’s a problem.
Jeff Bullas: Right. And you would’ve come across all these mistakes over the last 20 odd years any rate, wouldn’t you in terms of these sorts of … Well, and a lot of people if they’re not doing naming all the time would be really difficult for them to I suppose know where whether this possibly is going to be a big mistake because once you start putting a big advertising budget behind a name, you want to make sure you get the things that really could cripple you I suppose.
Alexandra Watkins: Right, but a lot of people … Most people don’t have money for advertising. So that’s why I say, your name needs to work really hard and be like a little ad. Like Neato, the robotic vacuum, or Retriever, the GPS for dogs, those were both like little headlines. And the Church of Cupcakes, names that make people smile are infectious. And something that I would ask people to think about is that your name will get used more and last longer than any other investment you make in your business.
Jeff Bullas: Right, okay.
Alexandra Watkins: Think about your own personal name. How long have you had that, right? However old we are. That’s how long. It’s going to last a long time. So you want your name to … You want to put a lot of thought into it. Don’t just be in a hurry to get an available domain. That’s not going to work for you. It’s better just to spend time on it. We spend weeks coming up with names sometimes. And then once you … Really vet it. Like I said, we have the free test on our site. You can run it through there. And to think about these things that I’ve talked about. And then that’s what you want to … You want to make sure your name is bulletproof.
Jeff Bullas: Yeah. That’s a good point because there’s been some big mistakes over the years. I remember I was walking through Vancouver and I came across … And I think I had known you a couple of years at that stage. And I came across this name that I found almost unpronounceable. I think it was a fashion store or something. And I actually texted you I think and said, and took a photo of the brand and I went, I didn’t even know how to pronounce this. And I went and yeah, so we’ve had a lot of chats over the years regarding sort of fun names, bad names and good names.
Jeff Bullas: So Alexandra it’s been … I know you’ve got an important call coming up. So I don’t want to hold you up. It’s been absolutely fun to actually hear some of your examples. It’s great to see your smiling face again. And it’s always great to catch up. And I look forward to sharing this with my listeners. Now, are there any books that you find inspirational because obviously you love words. What are some books that you love that could maybe inspire people?
Alexandra Watkins: A book that I love is called “Indistractable” by Nir Eyal. It’s a New York Times bestseller. That’s relatively new. He endorsed my book, so I always want to say something nice about his book. But it is a New York Times bestseller for a reason. Also “The Iconist” by Jamie Mustard. That is also a winner in sales and marketing books. Oh, and Nir Eyal’s book also won an award. So those are two books that I highly recommend. And they’re relatively new and full of great content, actionable ideas.
Jeff Bullas: Right, okay. That’s great to hear. For me, books certainly are one of my big inspiration pieces. Are there any mentors along the way that have helped you out?
Alexandra Watkins: I’ve been inspired by a lot of people, but the biggest inspiration has always been my mom. She was and still is a lifelong feminist. She told me that I could be whatever I wanted to be. I was never held back. I was always encouraged, and she’s still my biggest cheerleader. And that’s helped me. I think if I had any doubt, I never would have said, I could be a namer and just name things because if I was ever doubted, but she never doubted me. And that’s how I was able to have the courage and just try it and do it.
Jeff Bullas: Right. There’s nothing like having that support isn’t it, to actually … That believes in you right from day one and nothing like a good mum and dad and family that supports you. Obviously you’ve had that, and we sometimes don’t understand until later in life when we start to appreciate whether you become a parent or not, but to actually understand that, that underlying support, giving you a safe place to thrive and grow is just worth gold. And I certainly have had a great mum and dad who valued education and supported me. And that’s great to hear that mum’s your go-to support. And greatest fan, that’s fantastic.
Jeff Bullas: Thanks Alexandra for sharing your ideas and insights. It’s been great. I’ve learned a lot to do. I’ve actually read the book. So everyone, The book is called “Hello, My Name is Awesome”. It’s fantastic … It’s not a big read.
Alexandra Watkins: This is the new cover. The new cover has a blue label on it. The second edition.
Jeff Bullas: So if you see one with a red cover, don’t buy it, it’s an old one. If you see one with a blue highlight, that’s the new one. So thanks Alexandra.
Alexandra Watkins: Thank you. My pleasure.
Jeff Bullas: Have a great evening because it’s heading towards evening in San Diego. And it’s heading towards lunchtime here in Sydney. Thank you very much Alexandra. Have a great day. Great to chat.
Alexandra Watkins: My pleasure.
This article first appeared in www.jeffbullas.com
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