6 signs your company needs a new name
NOTE: This post has been updated from the original published in 2020.
A company’s name is its first impression. A good name tells your story in an instant. It gives audiences an 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. We haven’t the slightest clue what “Spotify” actually means, but we can’t imagine life without it.
A perfectly clear name won’t fix a poor company. Pets.com never turned a profit.
A lucky few achieve full verb status. “Google it.” “Slack me.”
Most companies pick a name and it sticks for the long-haul. But sometimes a company’s name needs to change.
It could be 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 check if another company already owned the trademark.
Business leaders need to recognize the signs of a name that’s outlived its usefulness.
Here a few signs we often see:
1. Your name refers to outdated tech
The world of tech is always changing. And not always in directions we expect. One-time everyday concepts (floppy discs, CD-ROMs, “the web”) can quickly become relics of a bygone era.
Tying 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.
Take VMware for example. A goliath by any measure, but one that struggled mightily (and had to pay a pretty steep price) to shed the perception that virtual machines are everything they do. It left them in the unenviable position of playing “cloud catchup.”
Would a different name have solved all their problems? Of course not. Product decisions made (or not made) over 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.
Transformation keeps happening.
Today, tech companies are racing to establish positions around AI. Understandably. Generative AI promises to change everything.
It’s one thing to make AI a core theme of your company’s strategy and story.
But when it’s in your company name, you’re making a bigger bet on what future horizons hold. Today’s “AI” name could be tomorrow’s “.com.”
It may also position you in a crowded pack of companies just trying to join the race.
Maybe your goal horizons are shorter. But just be ready to reinvest down the road.
Also consider the tradeoff: You could be building brand equity now into something more lasting and resilient – and ready for the next transformation.
2. 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, it may be time to change.
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.
3. 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. Knowing how your name and message translates across borders is essential for any global enterprise.
4. 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 even 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.
5. 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.
6. You don’t have a handle on your handles
Last but not least, consider how your name comes across online. Deep 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 URLs? 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, let’s talk. 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.