How to Name a Company to Succeed in Social Business
As a start-up or social enterprise, you have one advantage over big and well-established brands: You get to start with a clean slate and that includes your company name. Most multi-national corporations and industry monopolies were framed in days when most of their attention and advertising spend was self-directed. Tall buildings were emblazoned with ever-longer lists of founder and partner names, or acronyms that saved on space but did little to add compelling meaning. This presents start-ups with a tantalizing opportunity to establish a competitive advantage by naming their companies in ways better suited to today’s social business marketplace.
Let’s take a look at a few examples and exactly why the positioning improves their chance of connecting with social consumers and accelerating their success. When you look at the wide variety of research that reveals the new expectations of global consumers (Edelman’s ‘GoodPurpose’ and ‘Trust Barometer’ Reports, Cone/Echo’s ‘Global CR Study’, Havas Media’s ‘Meaningful Brands Report’ and TBWA’s ‘The Future of Social Activism’), it quickly becomes apparent that customers want brands to be more socially responsible and are willing to work with a company to support a cause based on shared values.
This research presents young companies with an opportunity that few embrace to select a name for their company that is a value proposition to which their customers can aspire. Take TOM’s for example, the rightful poster child of social entrepreneurship that has popularized the ‘1-for-1 model’ and most recently launched TOM’s Marketplace featuring different brands equally committed to contribution. The name ‘TOMS’ was derived from ‘Shoes for Tomorrow’ later shortened to ‘TOM’s Shoes’ whose values-based business model has propelled the company to popular and business success.
Similarly, Thrive Farmers Coffee is a revolutionary, farmer-direct, sustainability model that returns 50% of the net profits from its retail sales to the farmers. As a business based on a core commitment to farmer well-being, they built this proposition into the company name itself. By engaging customers around this shared mission, by expanding its farmer base to over 5000 small coffee farmers grateful for the support, and by catching the attention of enterprise partners such as Chick-fil-A that recognize the bottom-line value of this values proposition, the company has leveraged its core mission to establish rapid growth and public awareness.
Another great example is B Corps (B stands for Beneficial in contrast to traditional C corporations), that exists to provide a framework and certification for companies wishing to benefit society as well as their shareholders. B Corp certification is to sustainable business as Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA Organic certification is to milk, and today there is a growing community of more than 922 Certified B Corps from 29 countries and 60 industries working together toward one unifying goal: to redefine success in business. Like TOMS and Thrive Farmer’s Coffee, the values proposition of the company is built directly into the name empowering the organization to readily become a movement inspiring engagement around a common purpose. We see this clearly in B Corp’s most recent #BtheChange campaign that rallies new companies and consumers to enlist business in the service of positive change.
This strategy is so important to young companies seeking success in the social business marketplace and the same principle was applied in naming our company. We First is a values proposition framed in opposition to a ‘Me First’ mentality and encourages companies to play a meaningful role in social change while also building their business. Like the examples above, We First as a name served as a platform for a movement that could inspire stakeholders of all types to enlist business in the service of social change.
By building your company’s core values into its name, you position your brand to become a movement that will build your business. Naturally, such efforts must be done with integrity as today’s media-savvy consumers are intolerant of “green washing” or “cause washing”, but when a business and its customers align around a common goal encapsulated in the company name, they can be assured that their own efforts will be met with equal enthusiasm by today’s socially responsible and connected customers.
Simon Mainwaring is the founder of We First, the leading social branding firm that provides consulting and training to help companies tell the story of the good they do to build their reputation, profits and social impact. He is a member of the Sustainable Brands Advisory Board, the Advisory Board of the Center for Public Diplomacy at the USC Annenberg School, the Transformational Leadership ...
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