How do Names Influence Behaviour and Outcomes?

How do Names Influence Behaviour and Outcomes?

Names influence perceptions and outcomes

Names and the psychological associations they hold are so deeply rooted in our psyche that we are magnetically drawn towards the concepts they embody. These associations are so strong that they can result in behaviour that is automatic and totally irrational. As a result names can be used for good effects on websites to engage and motivate people to act in a way that can improve conversion.

Who are we?

As people from separate socio-economic and educational backgrounds have different social connections and cultural influences. They form very distinctive preferences for names to give to their children. This inevitably means that as we grow up we notice these differences and develop strong and lasting associations between names and important demographic and social characteristics.

As a result names become linked to demographic characteristics such as age, gender and race. So much so that insurance companies use the historical popularity of different names as a proxy for age in their direct marketing campaigns to improve their effectiveness. Names make it easy for us to categorise people almost automatically because of the associations we build up over time.

Letters that form our name:

Image of letters of alphabet

People are so strongly emotionally attached to their names that they display a preference for letters that form their name. Surprisingly this can significantly affect our responsiveness to requests for action. Researchers analysed the initials of people donating money for a number of Atlantic Ocean hurricanes that hit the U.S.A between 1998 and 2005. They discovered that people had a significantly higher propensity to donate more frequently and were more generous if the name of the hurricane shared the same initial as their own name.

The last name effect:

Our names also shape our view of the world which creates habits that can drive specific behaviours. For instance school teachers have a tendency to ask students questions based upon the first letter of their surname and usually follow the order of the alphabet. For teachers this seems sensible as it also correlates with the class register.

However, this means that children with surnames that begin with a letter that is not near the beginning of the alphabet are progressively less likely to be asked to call out an answer by their teacher. As a consequence psychologists found that the further down the alphabet a person’s surname appears the quicker they were to respond to a limited offer of free basketball tickets.

Fluency of names halo effect:

Another affect that psychologists have discovered is that people have an inbuilt preference for fluent names of people, companies and objects. Names that are difficult to pronounce can create negative attention and outcomes compared to people with fluent names. This may be due to how cognitive ease or fluency which means we prefer things that are easy to process and avoid things that are more difficult to process.

An aid to your career?

Researchers at the University of Melbourne analysed the career paths of 500 lawyers. Lawyers with fluent names appeared to be significantly more likely to rise up the hierarchy. The effect was most pronounced among mid-career lawyers (4 to 8 years) suggesting that it did not help lawyers with limited experience or those who had over 15 years in the profession.

Stock market investors:

For investors the fluency of a company’s name appears to create a sense of comfort and familiarity that partly counteracts the perception that any company can go bankrupt. Psychologists Danny Oppenheimer and Adam Alter found that the share price of fledgling financial stocks was more likely to rise after floating if their names were easy to pronounce.

This was not related to the stock being foreign owned as they repeated the analysis for American only shares and found the same relationship with fluent named stocks, especially for the first week after floating. The researchers found the relationship also held true for stock tickers which against suggests that it is not related to the name sounding foreign or having some other association that causes people to prefer fluent names.

Implications for website optimization:

  • Ensure you capture customer names when appropriate and test dynamically inserting their name into relevant content at key points in the customer journey. However, be careful not to overuse a customer’s name as people take the use of their name very personally. Always test first to understand if it is beneficial to use a customer’s name.
Image of email from Skyscanner displaying my name
Source: Skyscanner
  • When using videos in email marketing include the customer’s name in the video to improve conversions. Zumba Fitness personalised a video to encourage instructors to register for its annual conference. It embedded a personalised mockup of the recipients’ convention badge with their name displayed on it. Open and click through rates increased significantly as a result.
  • If you want to get feedback from customers or wish to engage with them via Live Chat, try adding the customer’s name to the chat window.
  • If you only hold the name of your visitor you can use it as an indicator of their age and social class. This should allow you to deliver a more personalised experience.

A/B Testing

  • Try recommending new products or games that begin with the same letters as customer initials to see if they are more responsive to such suggestions.
  • See if customers sometimes prefer personalised content with their initials rather than their full name. Try A/B tests where you add the customer’s initials to product pages or images/videos of a product. This could be especially relevant for e-commerce sites that sell clothing items as people often like the idea of displaying initials and names on some fashion items.
  • Consider using and testing more fluent product and brand names to benefit from the tendency of people to prefer names that they can easily spell and pronounce. I notice that some companies like to use exotic sounding names for new games or product offerings, but this should be avoided if it results in names that are difficult to pronounce.
  • Target customers with surnames towards the end of the alphabet with personalised time-sensitive or limited offers to see if they are more responsive due to the last name effect. Be careful to avoid using married women’s last names as unless their maiden name happened to also be towards the back of the alphabet they may not be as impatient as those born with such a name.

Recommended reading:

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