For many, the future has become a tenuous and precarious thing, but for those just launching a business, your company name doesn’t have to be. While there is no way to completely future-proof your name (as we’ve seen with Corona beer and Arizona electronics manufacturer Covid), here are five forward-looking tips to ensure that your brand resonates for decades to come.
1. Be a Leader, Not a Follower
Does the market leader in your space sport a name that you love? With a style or construction that is hot-hot-hot? A long-time brander’s advice: avoid copycatting—at all costs.
New-to-market companies often mimic the success of established competitors or the hot new naming trend. Twitter sparked a slew of bird-related names (think: Hootsuite) and structurally similar names (think: Yammer), while countless startups jumped on the -ly bandwagon in the early 2010s (from Parse.ly and Optimizely to Bitly and Zaarly). Sounding similar never sets you apart and can often tie you to a specific time period, dating your brand.
2. Don’t Pigeonhole Your Company
You might be starting small, but it’s never too early to think big. Amazon, the giant online retailer, could have selected a more direct name like one-time competitor Books-A-Million, but it opted to think larger than literature. The choice of a metaphoric name—that of the world’s largest rainforest, boasting an incredible array of flora and fauna—allowed the company to later introduce sleep masks, rice cookers, footwear, and more, truly reflecting the Amazon’s heterogeneity. And Amazon is not alone. Businesses like The Honest Company (children’s goods), Asana (work management), FireEye (cybersecurity), Purple (mattresses), and Everlane (clothing) are opting for names not tied to specific products lines, that will carry them into tomorrow.
3. Make It Stick
It may seem obvious, but one of the best ways to future-proof your brand is to create a name with “catch.” A highly memorable and effective name can draw in a customer and make recall easy and effortless, ensuring that your brand endures in hearts and minds.
What can you do to make your name stick? You can create a lasting image (think Sequoia, Apple, or Clover Health), lean into euphony (like Fitbit, SweetGreen, or Mochidoki), or choose names that are edgy (like Virgin) or oxymoronic (like Icy Hot) to make users pause and think. Or, instead of over-indexing on the functional, like the aforementioned Books-A-Million, explore names that remind would-be customers of your emotional end-benefit (think: Calm). Finally, don’t hesitate to look more closely at constructions that help to engender feeling. Two names that fit this bill: Allegra (a rhythmic name with an open “a” ending that works to signal airiness and freedom) and Zynga (a playful coinage with a zippy “z” that emphasizes speed and exuberance).
4. Buck The Trend
Ecover, ECOS, EcoEnergy: three brands that were first of their kind. They were built and positioned as more sustainable alternatives, and their names followed suit, emphasizing their eco-friendliness when it was fashionable. But what happens when the alternative becomes the norm, an industry trend, an industry standard? It’s important to remember that some trends come and go, some trends come and stay, and some exceptional trends become the rule. As such, be sure to educate yourself on current industry and cultural shifts, and avoid selecting a name that might lose relevance with time (as a trend dies) or—in the case of Eco-led names—prove overused and dated in the years to come (as a trend grows or becomes the norm). In short, with some simple desk research, you can opt out of a name like Ecover that may get lost in the crowd over time and instead choose a name like Method that is more nuanced and enduring.
5. Think Globally, Not Locally
More than ever, brands need to be built for a global stage. You may be launching in the US, but what’s to say you won’t expand internationally in the years to come? A recommendation: think like a global brand and citizen. Ensure that the trademark (and even the ccTLD, or country-level domain) looks clear for the countries you see yourself expanding to in the future. And don’t stop there. Conduct linguistic analyses to ensure your name candidates are pronounceable and have neutral or positive meanings abroad. And, finally, test name candidates at home and afar to avoid selecting a brand that is culturally unacceptable. Kim Kardashian’s ill-fated Kimono is just one example of how a lack of due diligence can lead to the quick demise of any brand—regardless of founder or backing.
Stevie Belchak is a Sr. Naming Manager at Catchword, a full-service naming company. A branding professional of 10+ years, she has experience in product and company name development, copywriting, and brand strategy.