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6 signs your company needs a new name

A company’s name is its first impression. A good name tells your story in an instant. Giving audiences immediate understanding of who you are and what you stand for. That goes for potential investors, employees, and certainly customers.

To be sure, some companies can overcome an imperfect name. With a truly transformative product, few will care if your name was inspired by your college roommate’s pet goldfish. I haven’t the slightest clue what “Spotify” actually means, but I can’t imagine life without it.

The opposite is also true. A slick name won’t fix a crap company. Just ask our fine furry friends at Pets.com: Perfectly logical name. Couldn’t overcome gross mismanagement.

A lucky few achieve full verb status. “Google it.” “Slack me.”  

The vast majority of companies pick a name and it sticks for the long-haul. 

But sometimes a company’s name needs to change. For lots of reasons. Maybe a name that seemed cool as a startup now just seems immature. Maybe meaning gets lost in translation as you pursue global customers. Maybe you didn’t bother to check if another company already owned the trademark.

Business leaders need to be able to recognize the signs of a name that’s outlived its usefulness. Better to nip a name change in the bud than continue to let it chip away at your growth.

So with apologies to Jeff Foxworthy, if any of these apply to you, you might need a new company name.

 

Your name refers to outdated tech

The world of tech is always changing. And not always in directions we expect. One-time household concepts (floppy discs, CD-ROMs, “the web”) can quickly become relics of a bygone era. 

Hitching your company name to today’s tech might come back to bite you tomorrow. 

Granted, for early-stage companies just hoping to establish a foothold, adopting a name that refers to a well-known technology is a perfectly viable strategy. It’s a rocket ship that can help you grow fast. 

You just have to be ready to jettison that rocket before it fizzles out and you burn up on re-entry.

In the age of the cloud, this often means references to physical stuff. 

Take VMware for example. A goliath by any measure, but one that has struggled mightily (and had to pay a pretty steep price) to shed the perception that virtual machines are everything they do. Now they’re in the unenviable position of playing “cloud catchup.”

Would a different name solve all their problems? Of course not. Product decisions made (or not made) a decade ago led them to where they are today. But having a name that’s an ever-present reminder of what they used to do is just an extra bit of headwind I’ll bet they wish they didn’t have to deal with. 

And a final note on cloud: it may be today’s “it” technology, but fast-forward a decade and odds are we’ll move on to whatever the next thing is. At that point, will companies be glad they chose to call themselves Cloud This and Cloud That? Or will their names start to feel a bit… floppy?

 

Your name has become a headwind in sales conversations 

Ask any sales rep: every second counts on a call. 

If your name is so silly, so confusing, or so attention-grabbing that explaining its origin cannibalizes precious minutes at the start of any call, a change may be in order.

If your sales team is dedicating the time they should be using to make a great first impression (or detail your incredible product) to instead explain what your goofy name means… you’re asking your team to drive revenue with one hand tied behind their backs.

Develop a quick, one-sentence explanation of the name. Make it part of the elevator pitch. Then get to the good stuff.

 

Your name’s meaning is getting lost in translation

As companies expand their global footprint, the meaning of a company name can get lost in translation. A product that started in Palo Alto might gain unanticipated popularity in Buenos Aires, and soon marketing efforts may face an uphill battle if your company’s name doesn’t convey the same meaning en español. Worst case: your name, when translated, is downright lewd or offensive. It happens. And it’s no bueno.

Beyond translation, some names include words that might carry unflattering connotations in another culture. 

Designers know this all too well. A yellow logo might seem cheery and warm in one culture, while symbolizing grief and mourning in another. 

The same goes for names. True, companies the size of Red Hat or JetBlue won’t likely change their name any time soon. But knowing how your name and message translates across borders is essential for any global enterprise.

 

Acquisitions have complicated your portfolio

Tech companies buy other tech companies. And when they do, they acquire a lot more than just the technology itself. Names that worked just fine for the acquiree might not gel so well with its new parent company.

Navigating a single acquisition is simple enough in most cases. But many global enterprises make multiple acquisitions in a single year. Each new addition to the brand portfolio may begin to chip away at the equity of the parent brand.

It’s possible the company you acquired enjoys more positive brand recognition than your own. In such cases, it might make sense to adopt its name as your own. 

 

Current events have changed your name’s meaning overnight 

No company exists in a vacuum. Sometimes forces beyond your control will conspire to change what your name means to people almost instantly.

Hurricanes. Insurgent groups. Global pandemics. All impossible to predict. But that doesn’t make them any less troublesome for well-intentioned companies caught in the current events crossfire.

Planning for this edge case is primarily an exercise in crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. But keeping an eye on the headlines will help highlight any potential current events that could affect your brand name. 

 

You don’t have a handle on your handles

Last but not least, consider how your name comes across online. More than a decade into the social media era, many of the best domains, handles, and hashtags are long spoken for.

While far from an outright dealbreaker, you’d be foolish to ignore how a hodgepodge of social handles can muddy your marketing messages.

If social media managers’ efforts are constantly stymied by adjacent usernames owned by other companies, or if you’ve been forced to adopt a few less-than-elegant workarounds (@wearecompanyname, @hellocompanyname, etc.) — your name might be doing more harm than good.

When it comes to getting found online, SEO strategies and paid search campaigns can cure many ills. But why not pick a company name for which you can also register the .com, .io, and .org varieties? Your future self will thank you.


Naming is tough. So many possibilities. So many considerations. So easy to second-guess. 

And as we say at New Kind, the only thing harder than a naming project is a renaming project. But we love a good challenge.

So if any of the symptoms of a much-needed name-change shared in this post apply to you, don’t despair. Following a proven, systematic approach (like the one we employ when B2B tech companies come to us with a naming problem to solve) makes all the difference. 

Need help naming or renaming your company? We’d love to hear from you.

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