Owning stocks for many years can pay off handsomely, but only if you figure out which companies can flourish for 10, 15, or 20 years. That isn't easy -- many top stocks you can buy now probably won't be the best stocks to own in the future because of changing consumer tastes and innovation.

To help find stocks that may overcome the odds, we asked three Motley Fool contributors to tell us which of their favorite stocks have what it takes to thrive long term. Read on to see why they recommend owning Estee Lauder (NYSE:EL), Zoom Video Communications (NASDAQ:ZM), and Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) over the next 20 years.

The beauty that never fades 

Tyler Crowe (Estee Lauder): I'm probably the last person you would ask for beauty or personal-care advice (that sound you hear is my wife emphatically nodding in the background). But you would have to be living under a rock to not see the long-term potential of beauty conglomerate Estee Lauder. 

Two men sitting on the floor using laptops. Light bulbs are shining above their heads.

Image source: Getty Images.

Among the things that make Estee Lauder unique are the depth and breadth of its portfolio and its multichannel distribution model. Question: What is one of the most effective ways to reach upper-middle-class clientele in every country? Answer: major international hub airports.

According to Estee Lauder's investor day presentation, global travel retail spending on prestige beauty products totaled $28 billion, and travelers from emerging markets spend two to four times more than their mature-market counterparts. Those statistics are why travel retail has been one of Estee Lauder's core growth channels. Over the past decade, this distribution channel has surpassed North American department stores to become its second-largest sales channel. 

The company knows where its customers are, and delivers products that suit their tastes -- makeups across a broader spectrum of skin tones, for example. And it nurtures a broad portfolio of brands ranging from more-affordable classics like Clinique to trendy high-price offerings like Le Labo. All this has allowed Estee Lauder to grow operating earnings by 360% over the past 10 years. 

You don't have to know beauty to realize this stock's long-term potential. The growth story in reaching the world's upper middle class is one that should have legs for decades. Estee Lauder has shown it knows how to connect with this customer and deliver results to its shareholders. That should translate into great things for its stock over the next couple of decades. 

Millennial workers around a conference table using electronic devices.

Image source: Getty Images.

Disrupting how businesses do business

Todd Campbell (Zoom Video): I'm a huge fan of disruptive growth stocks, especially when they're tapping into massive markets. So it's little wonder that I think Zoom Video is a great stock to stash away for 20 years or more.

In the past, winning new business, expanding existing relationships, handling customer support with key customers, or executing on complex projects meant budget-busting face-to-face time. Nowadays, Zoom Video's technology is allowing businesses to connect faster with stakeholders without travel budgets that break the bank.

Boosting worker productivity and shaving operating costs by shifting business communication to online meeting rooms is a massive opportunity, and Zoom Video is already beginning to benefit from it.

For instance, Zoom's revenue grew 103% year over year to $122 million in the first quarter, as the number of customers spending at least $100,000 during the past 12 months surged 120%, and customers with more than 10 employees using the platform grew 86% year over year. The company's net expansion rate -- a measure of its average customer spending today versus one year ago -- exceeded 130% for its fourth consecutive quarter, too.

Even better, Zoom is already profitable, something many high-growth tech companies can't claim. Its adjusted net income was $8.9 million in Q1  2020.

Granted, it will be tougher to deliver triple-digit growth as it gets bigger, but the company is still a long way from fully penetrating its addressable market. According to researcher IDC, the unified communications and collaboration market segments that Zoom targets will be a $43.1 billion opportunity in 2022. Given that its projected full-year sales will total about $540 million this fiscal year, I don't think it's a stretch to think it could deliver market-beating top-line growth for the foreseeable future. If so, then adding it to long-term portfolios now could be wise.

Tech's cash machine

Travis Hoium (Apple): The iPhone has been a huge part of our lives for more than a decade, and I don't have any doubt it has another decade to run before any kind of disruption comes to the market. Given the company's nearly $60 billion in annual net income, it would take a lot for this not to be a great stock over the next 20 years. 

AAPL Revenue (TTM) Chart

AAPL Revenue (TTM) data by YCharts. TTM = trailing 12 months.

What I like about Apple's strategy today is that it isn't afraid to disrupt successful products. The Apple Watch and AirPods no longer require an iPhone to operate, showing early products that are in a move to more-mobile and wearable devices. Apple is disrupting payment systems with Apple Pay and the Apple credit card, which could make it one of the biggest financial service companies in the world. The company is also moving into media with Apple TV+, coming this fall. 

These new products leverage Apple's massive installed base of products and the popularity of the iPhone. Slowly, the company reaches deeper into people's pockets with subscriptions in music, TV, and the cloud. Given its size, I don't see anything stopping Apple for the foreseeable future, and that makes it a great stock to own for the next couple of decades.