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Short, easy names are more trustworthy

eBay sellers with short and easy to pronounce names were judged as 31% more trustworthy than those with long and difficult names

Topics: Brand & Strategy
For: B2C, B2B
Research date: December 2017
Universities: University of Cologne, SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities, and University of Southern California.

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📝 Intro

Do we judge how trustworthy a person or company is based on their name?

We certainly do if it’s a familiar name, or the name suggests we should (e.g. Johnny Goodfaith, Thomas McTrustme, Reliable Industries Inc.).

But we also use meaningless and superficial ‘hints’ in a name to decide whether to trust what (or who) is behind it.

Imagine a product you want to buy is sold by two different sellers on Amazon: SIBU and VLEGTIQCLAPL.

Everything else is equal (e.g. price, ratings), and neither name means anything.

Who would you buy from?

📈 Recommendation

Choose a brand name, or at least an online name (e.g. to sell on Amazon), that is easy to pronounce and short.

Potential customers will trust you more and will be more likely to buy from you.

🎓 Findings

  • Previous research found that:

  • This study found that people judge online sellers with easy to pronounce (vs hard) and short names (vs long) as more trustworthy.

  • 10 experiments tested eBay seller profiles with names of different complexity and length and found that:

    • Sellers with easy to pronounce and short names were rated on average 31% (5.1 vs 3.9 on a scale of 10) more trustworthy than ones with difficult to pronounce names

    • Complex names are usually longer, but short names alone (i.e. of the same complexity as long ones) led to a 7% increase in trustworthiness

    • The positive effect worked for both sellers with high ratings (i.e. 5 or 4.5-star ratings) and low ratings (i.e. 3.5 or 3-star ratings)

    • Even when people were warned that they shouldn’t be influenced by a seller’s name they kept having this bias

    • A similar trustworthiness effect also applied to how easy vs hard to read (e.g. by fonts, color contrast) product descriptions were

The trustworthiness ratings that people gave to fictional eBay sellers based on how easy or difficult their name was to pronounce - Click to zoom in

🧠 Why it works

  • Our attitudes are shaped by how easily we are able to mentally process information. The easier something is to process, the better we feel about it. And the better we feel about it, the more we trust it.

  • Trust is key in sales because we know that the seller has more information than we do about the quality of the product, for example. The importance is even higher in an online context where we have fewer information points about the other party than we would in a physical environment.

  • Several studies have found that a good seller reputation increases not only the probability of a sale but also prices. For example, private eBay sellers with an established good reputation can sell for 8.1% higher prices, on average.

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Limitations

  • This study focused on measuring the perceived trustworthiness of sellers. While we know that higher trust drives sales in general, we don’t know exactly when and by how much the effects in this study would translate to higher sales.

🏢 Companies using this

  • In the study, English-speakers rated several real eBay usernames based on how easy or hard to pronounce they were

    • Easy

      • Drivesupply

      • Britishdeals

      • Okspots

    • Hard

      • Torinofotoerre

      • Noidicasa2

      • Teccoltd

  • International sales add another layer of difficulty to finding an ideal brand name for most customers. For example, Peugeot, Tag Heuer, and even Nutella are easy to pronounce in their home markets but not abroad.

  • Ford, Uber, and Coca-Cola are good examples of brand names that are short and easy to pronounce in most languages.

⚡ Steps to implement

  • Use a brand name that is simple to pronounce and short. Try to do the same for your product names.

  • To craft a trustworthy name:

    • Pay attention to your main market language’s use of vowels and consonants. In most languages, pronounceable names are rich in vowels rather than consonants

    • Keep it as short as possible

    • Test it with a group of potential customers how easy people they find it to pronounce (e.g. survey 10-20 people)

  • For added benefit, use a feminine-sounding brand name and write it in UPPERCASE or lowercase based on your brand positioning. You can even use a ‘handwritten’ font, but make sure it’s easy to read.

🔍 Study type

Lab and online experiments.

📖 Research

Silva, R. R., Chrobot, N., Newman, E., Schwarz, N., & Topolinski, S. Make it short and easy: Username complexity determines trustworthiness above and beyond objective reputation. Frontiers in Psychology (December 2017).

🏫 Affiliations

University of Cologne, SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities, and University of Southern California. Germany, Poland, and United States

Remember: This paper could be disproven in the future (although this is rare). It also may not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.

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