What’s in a Name?

The most effective brands have a strong identity that consumers connect with. Think of some top brands and you immediately know what they promise: UPS, Coca-Cola, Apple. The very definition of branding is the emotional relationship a business has with its customers. It’s the subconscious or semiconscious feeling you get when you think of the company or see the logo.

But advances in technology combined with the surge in eCommerce correlate with a sharp decline in brand loyalty. According to a 2017 Forbes Insight study, only 1 in 4 business leaders believes customers are loyal to brands, while 62% say the concept of loyalty is now close to obsolete.


Customers don’t value the brand; they value the experience they have with the brand. While technology enables countless ways for companies to connect with customers, the bottom line is that a more personalized experience makes the brand more meaningful and memorable. Isn’t that the holy grail of brand identity? Meaningful and memorable?

Dale Carnegie’s sixth principle in “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

Since the initial publication in 1936, we have good hard data to back that statement up. Study after study shows that consumer response rates increase with personalized content.

According to SaleForce’s State of the Connected Consumer report, personalization isn’t nice to have, it’s an essential feature of a good customer experience. 84% of more than 6,700 people surveyed said that being treated like a person, not a number is important to winning their business and customers are 2.1 times more likely to perceive personalized offers as more valuable than non-personalized offers. Customers expect brands to remember their names and preferences throughout their customer journey. Margaret or John is a much more effective way to make that personal connection than order number 684.

Authors, Robert Cialdini, Steve Martin, and Noah Goldstein share another personalization study in their book, The Small BIG. Researchers analyzed a simple change to text message appointment reminders from doctor’s offices. Simply adding the first name to the message cut the no-shows by 57%.
Another experiment showed that adding the recipient’s first name to a text message boosted the response rate for collections, too – an increase of 43%. That simple little change generated a big return.


Starbucks Strikes Gold in the Human Social Experience

If you think that Starbucks’ system of hand-writing customer’s names on the cups and calling them out for pick-up is a result of being technology challenged, think again. Their mobile app is genius – it pokes you when you’re near a store, gently nudging you to c’mon in for what you didn’t even know you were jonesing for a minute ago, and then come back to do it again tomorrow without ever associating the experience with a cost.

Starbucks doesn’t have to track orders “old-school.” Surely, somewhere in their system there is a way to print a sticky ticket and slap it on the cup. But, from a neuroscience perspective, creating a customer experience that identifies the customer by name numerous times – both spoken and hand-written – is pure gold. That tiny little detail checks all the boxes for a satisfying human experience. SCARF is an acronym for five domains of human social experience.

  • Status is about relative importance to others – asking for your name instead of giving you a receipt with an order number immediately raises your status.

  • Certainty concerns being able to predict the future – writing your name on the cup right there in front of you gives you a sense of certainty that a barista is going to prepare your cup of java just how you want it.

  • Autonomy provides a sense of control over events – having the freedom to wander the store while you listen for your name to be called meets your need for autonomy.

  • Relatedness is a sense of safety with others, of friend rather than foe – that smiling employee who delivers a personalized cup of goodness could almost be your friend, right?

  • Fairness is a perception of fair exchanges between people – the experience begins and ends with a personal exchange that involves your name.

Dale Carnegie would be proud, indeed.


Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Dr. Melissa Hughes is a neuroscience geek, keynote speaker, and author. Her latest book, Happier Hour with Einstein: Another Round explores fascinating research about how the brain works and how to make it work better for greater happiness, well-being, and success. Having worked with learners from the classroom to the boardroom, she incorporates brain-based research, humor, and practical strategies to illuminate the powerful forces that influence how we think, learn, communicate and collaborate. Through a practical application of neuroscience in our everyday lives, Melissa shares productive ways to harness the skills, innovation and creativity within each of us in order to contribute the intellectual capital that empowers organizations to succeed with social, financial and cultural health.

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  1. Interesting article. I am not an expert in this sector and I mainly rely on my customer experience.
    Of course the identity in some cases is strong enough to immediately create a link with the product.
    However, I convinced myself that Customer Experience is what really matters, that strictly personal relationship that touches various levels, from the rational to the more emotional one, and which is among the determining factors for the success of the company.
    Consumers have developed an interest in everything that is called the “sharing economy”, to the point of choosing a brand, a product, a service but also a “simple” interaction no longer based on the quality itself (of the product, of the service received, etc.), but on the entity of the experience perceived and lived by other customers even before they themselves. When we talk about experiences we mean both positive and negative ones, emotions, memories, satisfactions and dissatisfactions.
    Emotions help instill trust and make customers experience engaging and memorable experiences, so knowing how to create an emotional connection with the client means building a bond that will bring it back to us.

  2. So naturally I thought of these lines when I read your piece: ”What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” Well, when it comes to our name being spoken or printed, yeah, it matters! I’ve witnessed the new system at S’bucks, and frankly what I see is that calling out my name has become perfunctory. “Jeff?” And the cup is passed along, and the busy Barista goes back to the machine without so much as a glance or a thank you. My guess is that there new system has to do with data capture. They can more easily track what they’re selling, which now is just a product versus an experience.

    Great piece as always.