Harish Bhat

What’s in a customer’s name?

HARISH BHAT | Updated on August 28, 2014 Published on August 28, 2014

Name on a cup: Another interesting use of consumers’ namescan be witnessed at many modern branded cafes across India.   -  L

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Marketers and retailers can use the amazing power of names in many interesting ways





In the summer of 2013, Coca-Cola ran a unique marketing campaign in the UK. It began making and selling Coke cans which carried individual consumers’ names. Each can carried a popular English name, such as Susan, John, Harry or Margaret.

Overall, Coke introduced cans which bore 150 of the UK’s most popular names. And if anyone had a name which was less common, they could easily get a can personalised with their name at one of several designated Coke brand stops, online and offline.

This campaign, titled ‘Share a Coke’, delighted consumers who lined up to buy cans carrying their own name, or perhaps the name of their spouse, partner, mom or dad. A year earlier, the same idea had been a smash hit in Australia where it had first been launched. In Australia, young adult consumption of Coke had increased handsomely by around 7 per cent after the launch of this campaign, and traffic at Coke’s Facebook site had grown dramatically as well.

There were now similarly positive results in the UK too. Consumer perceptions of brand Coke improved on virtually every metric. The buzz around the brand was fabulous, and Coke suddenly appeared to be engaging many more young adults. To thousands of consumers, the mere thought of finding their own names on iconic Coke cans was simply magical.

Innovative use

This novel use of a consumer’s name on a brand pack was not entirely new, though it was not so common either.

In 2010, Heinz Soup had launched “Get Well tins” of its famous tomato and chicken soups. These were personalised tins, which carried labels bearing the line “Get well soon, Ganesh” or “Get well soon, Veena”. Consumers could indicate through the Facebook page of Heinz the exact name they wanted on the can, and they could then gift these tins to the unwell friend or relative whose name had thus been printed.

This was Heinz’s version of chicken soup for the specifically named soul.

Yet another interesting use of consumers’ names can be witnessed at many modern branded cafes across our own country.

When you order a cup of latte or frappuccino at some of these wonderful cafes in Mumbai or Delhi, your name is often written on the cup to identify the order.

Thereafter, when your order is ready, the Barista behind the counter breezily calls out to you by first name.

For instance, “Hey, Rahul, your cafe latte is ready!” A colleague of mine pointed out to me that such an informal address by one’s first name in a café is very impactful and quite unique, particularly in India. And the way the name is shouted out so informally by a young 20-something Barista – “Hey, Rahul!” or “Hey, Shashank!” – makes older consumers feel much younger and hipper on the spot, as they are otherwise normally addressed in our rather formal society as “Mr Sharma” or “Mr Desai.” Overall, this mode of address has proved very popular with most consumers.

People love their own names

The fundamental reason why the use of consumers’ names by Coke, Heinz or café chains has worked so well is that most people love hearing their own names. The motivational author Dale Carnegie, in his bestselling book How to Win Friends and Influence People, which I consider one of the most insightful and useful relationship books ever written, talks about this subject in detail. He asks us to remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language. Therefore, one of his six key recommendations to make people like you is to use their names as often and as meaningfully as possible.

Several scientists, who have worked many years after Carnegie wrote his famous book, have confirmed this hypothesis. In a research article published in 2006 titled Brain Activation When Hearing One’s Own and Others’ Names, the authors Dennis P Carmody and Michael Lewis speak about how functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to study brain activation patterns in response to hearing one’s own name, in contrast to other names.

Their finding: Several regions in the left hemisphere of the brain showed greater activation when the person heard the sound of his or her own name. In simple terms, this means to me that the brain lights up when we hear our own name.

Why does this happen? Most likely, because people always feel good to be acknowledged, in a pleasant sort of way. Some studies have even suggested that people find value and self-worth from hearing their own name. In other words, hearing your own name makes you feel important, though many people may not want to admit this. The exact manner in which your name is used may make you feel respected, or loved, or safe, or young, or even a mini-celebrity.

When your neighbourhood kirana storekeeper calls you by name you feel he knows you well and will therefore also know your exact needs. When the receptionist at a five-star hotel addresses you formally by name, you feel somewhat like a celebrity because you have just been recognised at a grand hotel where great people have stayed. When the flight attendant on an aircraft asks you by name what food you would like to eat, you feel recognised, even if the attendant has merely read your name off a flight manifest.

When you are gifted a personalised T-shirt or mug imprinted with your name, you feel so nice that someone has made a special effort to do this. And when the barista at the café calls out your first name in an informal breezy manner, you suddenly feel younger.

Interesting ways to use names

Given how much people love hearing the sound of their own names, marketers and retailers should consider how they can leverage this human truth powerfully. Some critics may point out that the use of consumers’ names by brands or retail stores amounts to bogus personalisation of an economic relationship, or even intrusion into privacy.

But these observations do not alter the fundamental truth that appropriate use of a consumer’s name is generally a strong positive move, and helps build engagement and a relationship between that person and the brand.

Here are some thought-starters on how marketers or retailers can possibly use consumers’ names: Just like Coca-Cola and Heinz did, can brands develop and market packs that bear consumers’ names or, in some cases, even consumers’ photographs ?

Can brands of personal accessories (watches, shirts, eyewear, belts) consider inscribing consumers’ names on these products, to personalise them? Today, equipment for instant engraving is readily available at affordable cost.

Using modern technologies such as 3-dimensional printing, can gourmet chocolates or cakes be sculpted with consumers’ names on them?

Would it be possible for retailers to address all their customers by name, within the store? Perhaps the customer can initially be asked for his or her name at the point of entry into the store.

Can direct mailers sent by brands to customers refer not merely to their names, but also to the names of their spouse or children, which would make these customers feel doubly acknowledged and important?

Can vehicles, such as cars or motorbikes, be embossed with the name of the buyer, alongside the brand name, at the time of purchase?

If marketers put on their thinking caps, they will surely come up with many more interesting and impactful ideas for incorporating consumers’ names into their products, services, stores or marketing campaigns. Shakespeare once asked us the profound question: “What’s in a name?” Marketers may wish to respond: “Millions of engaged and delighted customers.”



Harish Bhat is the author “Tata Log: Eight Modern Stories from a Timeless Institution”. These are his personal views. >[email protected]

Published on August 28, 2014
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