By Ilana Greene and Ranjit Suresh
It is the irony of shopping in America today that while women overwhelmingly make the purchasing decisions, men still control the marketing and branding of the products on the shelves. Who, after all, typically decides which groceries to pick up and whether to buy a coffee table? Women are responsible for 85% of all consumer purchases, yet the names and branding of the goods they buy are controlled by male dominated firms. Naming firms, a branch of the branding world that controls the names and taglines products bear, are almost all run by men.
Think back to the elections. It was pale stale male for the Republican Party versus diverse and young Democrats. The naming industry looks all too like a political convention full of old, white guys who are out of touch with not only women, but with what younger people are doing today.
Alexandra Watkins wants to change all that. She’s the founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Eat My Words, a creative naming firm that creates unforgettable names and taglines that make emotional connections with consumers. Their names include Spoon Me (frozen yogurt franchise), Neato (robotic vacuum), and the Church of Cupcakes. Eat My Words has found the secret sauce of connecting with consumers. They know that women, who are the primary shoppers, are the best resources for name ideas. Who better to name a product than a woman who is in the target market? Monica Scalf, a woman on the Eat My Words team, lives in a suburb outside of Cincinnati. She has two kids, drives a minivan, and shops at Wal-Mart. When Eat My Words has a project targeted at “middle American moms,” Monica is the first person they put on it. If Eat My Words is tasked with naming a new line of colorful iPad accessories, they tap the creativity of their team of “gadget girls.” And if they are naming new gourmet salad dressings, Eat My Words turns to their “foodie females.” Eat My Words’ business model is based on talent on demand: they use freelancers on an efficient as needed basis.
So, how did it all begin? Raised by a feminist in the 1970’s, Alexandra was never told there was anything a woman couldn’t do. In eighth grade, she knew she wanted to work in advertising, so she skipped college and talked her way into a copywriting job at advertising giant Ogilvy & Mather. While working at the firm, Alexandra honed her craft of creating conceptual headlines, which was a great foundation for becoming a namer. Years later, as a freelance copywriter, Alexandra realized she was having way more fun (and making way more money) naming things as opposed to writing copy. She dropped copywriting, reinvented herself as a namer, scoffed at those who told her she couldn’t make a living just naming things, and has since then been paid as much as $55,000 for just one name. The business grew around her. Initially, she didn't aspire to have a big agency, swanky offices, or a team of employees. It happened organically. She has grown Eat My Words into a major player in the name game and landed clients including Frito-Lay, Wrigley, Microsoft, and Leap Frog and LPL Financial. And the breathtaking views from her office on San Francisco’s Embarcadero waterfront affirm her belief that if you do what you love, the money will follow.
Her role model is Nell Merlino, Founder, President and CEO of Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, which created the Make Mine a Million $ Business competition. Alexandra was a winner of the competition in 2008. Alexandra explains what it takes to be a successful woman in business, "Women need to believe in themselves first. Nell Merlino’s mantra is ‘believe in you.’ It may sound obvious, but unless you believe in yourself, no one else will buy what you’re selling. I’ve found it’s important to get to know other successful businesswomen. Having a peer group to turn to for answers has been invaluable. For instance, if I needed to know how to start a 401(k) for my employees or put a sales person on commission, I can just reach out to my network of women business owners, and they are more than happy to share their experiences.”