Building a strong brand means starting with a clear vision of where you want your brand to go. This was the key takeaway when Shireen Smith invited Daniel Priestley, owner of Dent and author of Oversubscribed: How To Get People Lining Up To Do Business With You, to join her in a recent podcast.
From Vision to Empire
In less than 10 years Daniel has built an incredibly powerful brand offering training, mentoring and resources for more than 3000 entrepreneurs across the world. Clearly, he’s been very successful in helping his clients stand out in their marketplace, but it hasn’t always been smooth sailing.
Being an entrepreneur himself, Daniel’s core business started from attending training programs. He discovered gaps in the entrepreneurial knowledge market that he could fill with his own expertise and experience. He began writing books, before creating his own training programs.
Along the way, he discovered just how important branding is.
Starting out as an events company known as Triumphant Events, Daniel soon realised that networking events weren’t the be-all and end-all when it came to what entrepreneurs really needed to succeed. He’d also seen the emergence of new entrepreneurial revolution – more people than ever were starting and growing innovative new ventures.
Playing on the words ‘entrepreneur’ and ‘revolution’, Daniel began a new venture named Entrevo. The problem was, as Shireen pointed out, no one was sure how to pronounce, spell, or even write ‘Entrevo’. As a result, the brand simply wasn’t memorable. That’s when he realised it was time to go back to the drawing board and really focus on getting the brand right.
The result was Dent, as in the entrepreneurial theme of ‘making a dent in the universe’.
The Power of Branding
Understanding just how important branding was, a brand strategist was brought in to work on consolidating the imagery around the brand which, up until now, was a convoluted mix of fonts, colour and iconography. This led to a complete rebranding with the in-house design team reducing the corporate identity to a couple of simple fonts and just two colours, yet making sure all the products were identifiable as part of the same family
The company instantly went from looking like a small firm to a big one and this was reflected in a corresponding increase in business. At the same time, the company redefined its values of being brave, having fun and making a ‘dent’. The result was that everyone at the company was re-energised with the rebranded Dent and confident about the future.
This vision extends to recruitment. The brand book is sent to potential employees to highlight company culture. A trial week shadowing other team members is followed by a three month trial, after which new recruits receive a backpack full of goodies.
Interestingly, those that feel the culture isn’t for them, get a bonus on leaving the firm. This is to incentivise people not to stay if it’s not where they want to be. For those that do stay, passing up on this bonus demonstrates commitment and ownership of their role.
As values are a key part of the brand, there are regular meeting to ensure everything is on track in terms of the company vision. A dashboard of metrics, based on a traffic light system of red, yellow and green is used to identify issues and get things back on track, should brand standards slip.
The Entrepreneurial Revolution
The world of marketing is always evolving, which is why Daniel felt the need to do a new edition of his 2015 book, Oversubscribed: How To Get People Lining Up to Do Business With You. He explains that the US presidential election typically tells us what’s coming next from a marketing perspective. From Roosevelt’s fireside chats that changed the focus from print to radio to TV, to more recently, Trump’s election through the use of data and analytics.
Daniel believes that entrepreneurial revolution we are currently experiencing comes down to two successful business models. The first is a ‘lifestyle boutique’ business of two to ten people bringing in around £100,000 each. The size of these gives these businesses the feel of a family-run affair. This is what most entrepreneurs should aspire to initially.
The second model is a ‘performance’ based business with 40 to 150 people on board, typically divided into teams. These are businesses with a strong niche and presence in the marketplace, perhaps with their own proprietary assets and solid, predictable revenues. Valued in excess of five million pounds, these often become targets for buyers, but do well financially either way. The smaller ‘boutique’ businesses typically don’t get bought out unless they scale up to become ‘performance’ businesses.
As we can see from Daniel’s example, even businesses that seem destined for greatness can only do so by focussing on branding from the outset in order to get the right start in life and go on to be truly successful.
Before choosing someone to work with on your brand, it’s important to be clear what you want from brand and branding.
If you believe a brand is essentially a logo, then visual design will be all you want and expect from branding. However, if you believe that a brand is about more than a visual identity – for example, if you want to find your north star so the brand becomes a tool to guide your business journey – then you’re going to need more than just a visual identity.
I have been through a number of branding exercises in my time, which just gave me visual designs, even though the designers talked to me about mission, vision, values and so on. With the benefit of hindsight and experience, I now know that I would avoid embarking on my branding journey with a designer who offers visual identity services if I were in the market for branding services.
If you’re unclear about the difference between a brand strategy and a visual identity exercise, then read on. If what you’re after is a brand that can guide your business journey long term, and help you to win, then you will ultimately not get what you’re after if you start your branding journey with a visual identity designer.
Visual identity should actually be the last part of branding, not the first. However, due to the widespread misunderstanding about what ‘brand’ and ‘branding’ mean, many businesses I come across or who I interview on the podcast have, like me, just had designs created for them in the name of branding.
How can I tell? Well, the brand seems largely irrelevant to how they ran their business after branding. They don’t mention making strategic decisions guided by their brand strategy. It’s all too clear to me that they just got a visual identity rather than a strategy by which to live the brand..
It’s important for businesses to understand their options because the right supplier who is appropriate to their needs and wants will make a huge difference to the outcome from branding.
Why The Widespread Misunderstanding Around Branding Exists
The reason there is this lack of understanding around branding is that in our collective consciousness as a society, we have come to associate brands with designs. What should be the last step in branding has become the first thing we turn to because we are not aware that a brand could be about so much more than visual designs. As I explained in Branding – The Terminology a brand is not a logo. It is much more profound than that.
A comprehensive branding exercise should provide you with a strategy that is a central, unifying idea around which all behaviour, actions and communications of your company can be aligned. Your brand strategy can be a powerful leadership tool.
Brand is a large subject.
Later in this blog, I outline how to develop your brand strategy. Once you’ve done so, it should be clearly incorporated in a brand book that is more substantial than the usual brand guidelines designers provide after they’ve created your visual identity.
What Moves the Needle in Branding?
I have been curious to understand what moves the needle in branding for some time now. What would an improved brand offering look like? I have asked myself whether I could provide such a service affordably to smaller businesses, to the type of businesses that come to us for IP audits or other IP support?
Business success is much more about how effective you are in running your business than it is about your visual designs. Do not get me wrong, the visual dimension matters hugely. It is just that the right time to design the visual appearance of the brand is much later than most people imagine. If what you want is true branding then wait till you have a clear brand strategy before turning to visual identity. Stay with your existing visual identity.
I did not personally know any designers who provide the kind of strategic branding services I was wanting. So to work out my brand strategy to guide our business decisions in the Azrights business, I decided to brand my business myself by plugging the gaps in my own branding.
After working for some time on my brand strategy, by reading books, and doing some Google research, I thought I’d reached the end of the road. So, I wanted to address the visual design side of my brand. I wanted a proper logo rather than to continue with just a word mark. After several designers failed to come up with ideas for an icon, I had to conceive the logo myself.
I came up with the idea of a ram as symbolic of cattle that were burned with a branding iron. Branding has always been a strong focus of the Azrights business, albeit that for many years we only dealt with brand protection. Indeed to symbolise the huge importance of branding in our business we were even using a bull icon to symbolise branding. So, I asked a talented young designer to implement it. She did a brilliant job of it. Here it is:
I thought I was now ready to ask a designer to create my style guide to reflect the changes I had made to the visual identity. However, I was stumped when she said she would need my brand book to do this work. I had already sent her my old brand guidelines so she could adapt the new designs into the style guide. Clearly she needed more than this. So, I realised there was much more work to do on my branding. I had to create a brand book.
That’s when I decided to purchase a few branding courses to learn more about what a brand book should contain. While I am still writing my brand book, I have learnt a huge amount from the exercise, which will feed into the new book I am writing.
In the meantime, I have a pretty good idea of what a full and remarkable branding service should look like.
In previous posts I might have mentioned how branding must be treated as an inter-disciplinary exercise that incorporates intellectual property in the mix. If you’re thinking of rebranding, then it’s doubly important to consider your IP position first, and to hold off on the visual design front till you’ve found someone to work with on your IP and brand strategy. That person should provide you with a comprehensive brand book at the end of the exercise because it supports you to live the brand. At the end of this blog I mention what a brand book would include.
Understanding Your Market and Positioning
Your brand strategy is essentially about creating a way for your business to develop and grow.
A lot of thought goes into it, so that once you emerge from a strategic branding exercise you should be clear about who your brand is to be and where you’re headed in terms of the end goal of your business.
The starting point is to consider your customer and your category. Who is your customer and who competes with you? This is not just about your direct competitors. It’s also about the behaviours and substitutes you compete with from the customer’s point of view.
Understanding your market is not easy to do but is worthwhile so you can assess your customers to know their problems or challenges when they buy from you. You should have a good idea of the alternative options they considered, how they looked for solutions to their problems, what led them to you. What are their hopes and dreams?
Considering your competition involves identifying both your direct competitors, and your indirect competitors. These might have similar offerings or entirely different ones that enable customers to achieve similar outcomes in different ways.
In identifying your audience’s needs, wants and values—and how you factor into them, bear in mind that people are generally looking to make their lives better, so it’s appropriate to talk about those hopes and dreams in your communications.
My Reflection on Understanding the Market
The more I thought about this and observed customers, the more I realised that we do not just compete with intellectual property lawyers or business lawyers. We also compete with designers and marketers who offer branding services.
The customer has a range of problems and is often unclear who to listen to or how to manage their budgets to get their brand in place and to protect it. I realised that we are in a much stronger position to support business owners with their branding than they realise. By incorporating intellectual property in the mix, we can provide them with a full and remarkable solution. That’s when we decided to move into the branding space to offer brand strategy services, referring clients to trusted designers for the brand identity – designers who understand our strategic work and brand book well enough in order to be able to take the work forward from there rather than starting a new and expensive exercise.
Our aim was to make branding affordable, not to add an extra layer of cost. We want clients who start the intellectual property and brand strategy service with us, to get a brand identity (using one of our trusted partners) so that the overall cost to them would be lower than going straight to a visual identity designers, and yet their brand would also be protected by the end of the exercise..
Clarity Around Positioning is Key
Start by considering your category. Then think about what problems you are good at solving and what problems your direct competitors are also really good at solving. That is the category benefit you offer. However, to position yourself in a distinctive way involves solving a problem your competitor is not solving.
In our case that insight led to our decision to offer brand strategy services.
I know how important it is to start any new venture or project in the digital economy by considering the impact of intellectual property. I could see the confused thinking around brand, branding and intellectual property.
Customers were rushing around to deal with their branding at the very same time as they were coming to us to address their IP, often quite unaware of the impact of IP on those separate decisions they were making during branding, such as what name to use.
I had noticed the lack of attention to IP that characterises the branding industry, who often start with design and leave IP for the client to address later. So, I knew we had something unique to bring to customers which other branding strategists could not offer.
This step is the most important one to make for your business before moving on to decide your vision mission and values.
Understanding the customer’s core challenges, pain points, fears and desires enables you to know the emotional messages that will cut through to them.
What Your Brand Strategy Involves
In previous posts I’ve outlined at length that your brand strategy revolves around your overarching ambition and vision for your brand. From there you go on to determine your mission, and values. These underpin your branding and guide your decisions, including what your business will and won’t offer, and how it will approach everything. These fundamentals involve having clear answers to seemingly simple questions such as:
What do you do?
Who do you do it for?
Why does it matter? and
what do you stand for?
Vision, Mission and Values
What you want the future direction of your brand to comprise sets the parameters of your vision. How you define that vision to yourself and to your team, as well as to external audiences enables them to know what your business is all about. It provides a tool for leading the organisation.
Your brand purpose is all about why your brand exists. As I explained in my post How To Consider What Your Brand Purpose Is if your vision is to create a nationwide online flower store enabling customers to subscribe to regular flower deliveries, and your purpose is to spread joy,that purpose should then guide every aspect of your business. Your purpose is about the difference you want to make in the world
Since Simon Sinek wrote his book, Start with Why, people have tended to emphasise the importance of working out their purpose.
You may have personal reasons that matter to you, such as caring for your family, but in terms of branding your reason for being, why you exist as a business, needs to be bigger than your personal why, or your product. If there is one thing you’re trying to accomplish what is it?
Some businesses don’t distinguish between their purpose and their mission. For example, for Airbnb their purpose and mission is one and the same thing, namely to create a sense of belonging.
Your mission is all about what your company aims to do.
Your values on the other hand form the basis of your mission and vision statement. Working out your values involves thinking about your beliefs. What is so important to you that you would never compromise on it to achieve your mission for your business?
These values need to be relevant to the business and meaningful. For example, belief in the importance of trustworthiness is fluff. That’s because nobody would opt for the opposite of trustworthiness as a value in their business. So, think of meaningful values that your business will do its utmost to uphold. Is customer service your highest value? Then you need to ensure that every aspect of your business is created to enable that objective to be met.
Zappos is an example you could look to emulate as their manifesto reflecting their top10 values underpinned how they built up their successful online store for shoes.
The aim is to create a culture where your values are aligned towards your mission or purpose. The way you live your values and work towards your purpose is how you become known for the attributes you want your brand to gain recognition for over time. It’s how you create the whole brand experience, including how your team will strive towards that purpose. Your brand guides everyone in the organisation to know the role they play.
This aspect of brand strategy takes you into a different realm, that of leadership and running an organisation, creating a culture. This is the true value of setting your brand strategy.
Your brand book will articulate these strategic decisions. If the strategy work is done well, and at the right time, the brand could be your north star, navigating your business journey and providing a route map for managing the development of the company.
Strategy is something you use long term to inform your decisions. It’s very important for building a business because internally your vision, mission or purpose and values -those you want the business to live by, are the foundation for motivating and directing your team. Knowing how you want to leave customers feeling equips you to make decisions in recruitment and also in thinking through your customer journey. The ultimate aim of branding is after all to become known for the brand promise you offer your customers, to get the right reputation, and to achieve that involves making ‘on brand’ decisions day to day.
The brand associations you decide to attach to yourself are how you create a mental shortcut to the brand meaning, and to encapsulate the company’s brand promise. They act as a quick reminder of the brand.. Typically, you’d come up with a concept to reinforce with customers, and then work with a creative firm to develop ways to express it. New associations can be added over time, building up a rich set of touchstones to the concepts behind the company’s brand.
Associations include the logo, an icon and other visual signposts that will ensure you are remembered and recognised. So, there is an element of the brand strategy which needs to be dealt with when you commission the visual identity.
The aim is that your visual identity should support the brand you have created and are building, that the mental shortcuts will be useful. Your brand book will have a range of keywords within it, which will make it easier for your designer to design the visual identity.
Benefit of a Brand Book
A comprehensive brand book would drill down into the language you would use, words you would or would not say even. It would include your core messages, so you have a foundation for consistent messaging.
Your messages would speak about the core benefits you offer and what your competition provides in comparison. These messages are founded on your positioning, your vision mission and values, so that you constantly reinforce the difference you make to your audience’s lives, the value you offer.
Your brand book should detail all this work including your key competitors, your positioning and messaging, and also your own brand archetype and personality, as well as your audience’s archetype too.
Your communications need to reinforce the outcomes you bring to people, and to communicate with your audience in appropriate ways, such as talking about what your product or service will do for the customer. What it will make them feel.
You would also have your brand story, which is actually not your story as such. It is your customer’s story, their fears and dreams, the obstacles they face, and the guidance that you provide. It is not about your reasons for setting up your business, which I had wrongly assumed was what the brand story needed to focus on. This is a widespread area of misunderstanding in branding.
Knowing how to talk to your audience from the perspective of the value your product or service brings to their lives, the outcomes they can expect from using your product or service gives you a framework of consistency and cohesion to your messaging.
By recording this information in your brand book, you have a valuable tool to ensure your company’s personality is conveyed in a way that will always be recognizable and distinctly attributable to your brand.
This should help in driving sales and make your brand more valuable. Byron Sharp in his book How Brands Grow, highlights the importance of a brand being available to buy wherever your customer is looking to make a purchase, and being remembered from past interactions they may have had with your brand. That is the reason to strive for consistent use of brand elements.
To get cut through for your business bear in mind the limitations of the human mind for taking in more and more information.
Our minds just can’t cope unless the messages we receive are simple ones that fit with what our minds already know and accept. Therefore, we have to simplify our messages, and then simplify them some more if we want to be heard. It is also important to repeat messages in various different ways, such as customer testimonials, case studies and other updates so that the material that has the best chance of getting through to your audience is seen by them.
For similar reasons it’s important to make sure your brand elements are all recognisable across different platforms and activities.
What a Brand Book Should Include
A brand book should include
a brand style sheet section that is purely focused on the visual aspects of the brand, so you use the brand identity consistently. This should include use of logo, colour palette, and anything core to the identity, as well as guidelines for how to use brand elements consistently on social media.
everything else that you decide upon as part of your brand strategy.
My experience with brand guidelines is that are not always comprehensive enough in scope to guide others in all the different situations when the brand need to be used in a consistent way.
As well as detailing how to use the logo and typography, you would expect to also see photos, illustrations, graphics, templates incorporating use of imagery, and explanations as to when and how to use them, edit them, which colours to place them with on social media or in campaigns for Facebook or other Ads.
In conclusion, the brand book should help you to use your strategic thinking to drive your business and to do so by achieving brand consistency. Among other things, the brand book should help you to write your communications, be it press releases, email, blog posts, or advertising campaigns. and provide guidance to your marketers, sales teams and any other departments that will be involved in messaging and communications. You’ll then have a road map to inform your business decisions day to day.
Business has changed radically since 1962 when Milton Freidman wrote in Capitalism and Freedom, that there is “one and only one social responsibility of business – to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits, so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud.“
The new digital environment has changed the forces that drive business. The economic changes, new technologies, increased globalisation and radical socio-political shifts, and now the Coronavirus epidemic, mean that organisations are moving away from pure profit-focused business towards business being a force for good. Aligning yourself to worthwhile causes or focusing your brand around a purpose is the holy grail of branding nowadays
If you’re in an industry which intrinsically has a social impact so that you can do what you do in a more sustainable way you can readily demonstrate purpose. It is clearly going to be easier for such a business to find a purpose in its business model.
Greenwashing, that is, making unsubstantiated claims to deceive consumers into believing that a company’s products are environmentally friendly will do more harm than good for a business though. It goes without saying that in looking to find a purpose for what you do it is essential to be authentic.
It is a bad idea to build in a purpose if it just isn’t there because it’s not going to be enough to just state your purpose – you have to prove you mean it in everything you do and say. Your words and actions must align with your purpose, and that’s the hard part. So, it’s best to just not use purpose in your business unless you can be completely wholehearted about your choice.
So, with that caveat that being purpose driven, let’s consider why it matters to find a purpose behind what you do, and how to go about doing it.
This emphasis on purpose has something to do with the millennial generation. They see corporations as less permanent and reliable than their predecessors because they came of working age during the financial crisis of 2008 and its aftermath and grew up in an era in which start-ups have gone from nothing to valuations in the billions seemingly overnight. So they have new attitudes towards work. They expect more flexibility in the workplace, to progress faster in their careers and to be able to switch jobs more regularly.
C-suites find themselves caught between shareholders wanting them to adapt quickly to maximize profits and head off the competition, and employees who no longer see themselves as in a job for life and customers whose expectations have shifted.
Study after study urges companies to be purpose-driven. For example, according to a report by Ernest & Young, businesses today are finding that doing good also means doing well. Apparently, companies with an established sense of purpose – one that’s measured in terms of social impact, such as community growth, and not a given bottom-line figure – outperformed the S&P 500 by 10 times between 1996 and 2011.”
Therefore, given that there is all this evidence that a business with purpose is more successful stakeholders in organisations want to identify a purpose beyond the balance sheet: one that contributes a positive impact in the wider world.
So, purpose has become one of the major planks to think about when establishing your brand strategy. Yet it is a very difficult exercise to do. I have a few thoughts to guide your thinking on how to tackle this for your business.
Simon Sinek picked up on this theme of purpose in his best-selling book Start with Why which sets out to demonstrate that a purpose-driven team achieves so much more.
In the book he explains that most people know what an organization does, but few know why they do it. Sinek’s Golden Circle envisages starting from “Why” before moving on to the “How” and “What”.
So it has become de riguer in business circles to identify your ‘why’. Identifying a purpose or cause is important so it can motivate team members who are involved in the business, and also move customers to choose you over your competitors
A purpose that your team members can get behind needs to be a high-level aspirational reason for existing and acting in your business. Purpose is different from your mission in that the mission is all about what you’re trying to do with this business. Your values and beliefs influence the way you do everything, they’re your worldview. Values impact the approach you take to what you do. They’re also relevant to your purpose, but your purpose for existing is something separate.
Most purpose-driven leaders can articulate their mission– but many mission-driven leaders cannot articulate their purpose. Purpose is different from mission in the sense that it is the meaning behind your existence, the reason you do what you do.
Knowing and communicating “the why behind the what” in everything you do, not only creates higher motivation and engagement in your team members but also buy-in from your customers. apparently
Your values are bedded in after the purpose – values are how you behave to achieve your why according to Simon Sinek’s ted talk. Values are the how you achieve your mission.
Purpose-driven organisations stay core to their mission by always keeping the “why” in mind. They keep their company’s purpose at the centre by communicating a message of how they add value and enhance the lives of others.
The way this works for example, if you’re a florist whose purpose is to spread joy, is that flowers are just one of the ways you might do that. If the world around you is changing and impacting flowers, then you could consider how else you can spread joy. So, it’s very valuable on a personal level to work out your purpose, what drives you, why you do what you do.
I have personally found it quite an elusive exercise to identify my purpose. Sometimes I have thought I’ve identified my purpose only to find that what I thought was my purpose, was more like my mission. Rather than explaining my reason for being, the WHY we exist as a business, it really only reinforced WHAT we focus on as a business. The reason wasn’t the equivalent to a florist discovering that their purpose is to spread joy.
Looking at Well-known Brands
I’ve tried looking at well-known brands for inspiration.
Nike’s purpose is to bring inspiration to every athlete in the world. They say, if you have a body you’re an athlete. In other words, we are all athletes. Nike’s purpose says nothing about their product. Their slogan Just do it, is a great way to instil this inspiration. Their purpose is much bigger than their products.
Ted’s purpose is to spread ideas. They look for ways to make this purpose come to life.
Mayo’s purpose is to inspire hope and contribute to health – this is much bigger than the services they offer.
Coke’s purpose is to inspire moments of optimism and happiness.
How to inject purpose into an organisation is key because the next generation of millennials want to join a purpose. They’re not just looking for financial rewards. They want social and emotional rewards from the work they do. They want to work for companies whose purpose they believe in.
Only 15% of employees have an emotional connection to the company they work for. In small companies most are focused on the business problem – and are passionate about solving the problem. They have a founders’ mindset. It’s easier to have that in a smaller organisation than in a big company.
While we are led to believe that consumers also want to see a purpose-driven enterprise in order to buy, Byron Sharp’s work, How Brands Grow doesn’t support this view. People are busy, their reasons for buying a brand are varied, and more likely to be based on what is in front of them at the moment when they’re looking to buy, and whether they remember your brand. They are not going to take the time to look into your purpose and mission because they don’t care that much about the meaning that brands try to inject. Or rather they probably don’t notice unless your product has an obvious social impact which a particular buyer is particularly focused on seeing before they will buy.
This makes logical sense to me, because when clients chose us as to do an intellectual property audit, or to register a trade mark for them, I doubt very much they’re influenced by whether we have a purpose or whether we are contributing to charitable causes. Instead they’re primarily concerned to see that we have the right expertise for their needs.
If we identified a social cause that can be activated in an authentic way to manifest that the purpose of our service goes deeper than solely generating sales, I really doubt it would motivate buyers to choose us.
But apparently research exists to show that consumers value brands that support charitable causes. It seems 39% of consumers buy into integrated cause strategies such as “sell one, donate one” of brands such as TOMS shoes.
This takes me back to the importance of only choosing a purpose that is authentic to you. If you decide to run with a cause bear in mind that it’s unlikely to inspire your team or your buyers if you just use this as a marketing stunt.
When and if you identify your purpose or a cause you can get behind, then find a way to implement it internally so you build the brand from the inside of the organisation out to the external world. That entails fleshing out your purpose in longer explanatory narratives, along with your values statements so that people within the organisation can get a good understanding of what you stand for and believe in and what conduct is appropriate for them to demonstrate when they represent the brand.
If you can’t identify a purpose yet, then my suggestion is to just use mission and purpose as interchangeable terms. Then one day if you do identify a separate purpose you can add it into your brand book. Certainly, Airbnb has made its brand purpose/mission that of belonging. They don’t distinguish between their mission and purpose.
Personally, I have been interested to try to identify my purpose, what fulfils me, out of sheer curiosity. For example, I know that I never intend to retire. I can’t think of anything worse than stopping work. I’m driven to do what I do by something, so I try to understand what this it, to know my purpose. Purpose Is Innate to The Human Condition.
Studies have shown that living a life of purpose leads to better health, overall happiness, and enjoyment in life.
We all want to dedicate ourselves to a cause greater than ourselves. Doing so contributes to our need for significance and meaning, so it is satisfying to work out your purpose, regardless whether it’s going to increase the sales of your business to have a purpose you can articulate. It might just help in getting greater clarity about what you can uniquely deliver in the world.
So I have been curious to learn what drives me to continue to want to work forever. Looking at others, it’s clear that I’m not alone. Something is driving many people to work, beyond making money.
For example, Warren Buffet’s business is investment management so of course it’s about making money. But that doesn’t mean he’s continuing his work because he wants to make more money. Indeed, he is giving away at least half his wealth to the Bill Gates Foundation. There is clearly a purpose behind why he does what he does, otherwise he would retire instead of continuing to work in his 90s. He clearly loves what he does.
As Steve Jobs put it, doing work you love is important.
You’ve got to find what you love . . . Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work”..”the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”
Finding out what you love to do is part and parcel of getting really clear about your purpose and is the reason it takes quite a lot of introspection to think through.
One way I approached purpose when I was thinking through the Azrights brand was to look at the UN’s global goals for sustainability.
That’s because Daniel Priestley’s Key Person of Influence Program supports the Global Goals by encouraging the businesses that pass through the program to choose 2 Global Goals that they can get behind and support.
The UN Global Goals were set in September 2015 when the General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which build on the principle of “leaving no one behind”. That Agenda emphasizes a holistic approach to achieving sustainable development.
The 17 sustainable development goals to transform the world are as follows:
The 2 goals that naturally align to what my business does would be Goals 9 and 16, innovation (which Intellectual property is all about) and justice which fits with us being lawyers. However, for a long time, I didn’t follow Daniel Priestley’s suggestion because I just couldn’t choose these 2 goals over other goals, such as no poverty, no hunger, and climate change which are hugely important. I just couldn’t opt for Goals 9 and 16 over these other problems, but on the other hand, solving these problems is not what my business is all about so having those as my purpose just wouldn’t fit. I could have simply chosen some causes to contribute to financially and approached the exercise as a Social Corporate Responsibility exercise. But I wanted more, I wanted to understand what drives me.
The thing with a lot of the exercises you need to do as part of your branding, is that you tend to progress them incrementally. Your best thinking at one moment in time, such as when you undergo your visual identity, is not set in stone. You need to keep thinking about your brand beyond branding in order to make the best use of the concepts of branding.
So, I kept revisiting my brand strategy, and recently when I was thinking about my purpose again, I had a flash of inspiration.
It dawned on me that everything I’m about as a person, what drives me, and which drives my business is education and learning. As a business we have always created a lot of content, team members contributed to our blogs, did the research for the 2 books I’ve written. I’m now writing another one which is all about branding rather than purely about IP, all in the quest to learn more, and then to educate the market so businesses don’t make some of the disastrous mistakes I’ve known them to make. Essentially I want to help them to be more successful in their businesses, to be smarter about branding, and take IP into account during branding so they make better choices. Indeed I want the brand to act as a road map in their business journey.
That points to putting the purpose of the business as education and learning. It’s aligned with Goal #4. I can get behind Goal #4 because in many ways education is the key to addressing other problems including hunger, poverty and climate change which matter to me a lot. If everyone had access to education and learning, it would enable them to lift themselves out of their circumstances.
Education as a Driver of the Azrights Business
In my business educating the market is not necessarily the best idea from a pure self-interest perspective because when we handled disputes in law courts, the fees we got far exceeded what we get from work like IP audits, or international trade mark registration or oppositions in the EU or IPO offices, or drafting legal agreements. So, in many ways you could say that educating the world about IP pitfalls to enable business owners to avoid making mistakes that could lead to court disputes, was not really in my self-interest. But I was driven to do it, primarily because that’s my purpose. I have an innate need to learn and educate.
I didn’t actually feel inspired by litigation work. I much preferred supporting clients to think about their IP and brand strategically, and set up their businesses on strong foundations. That’s why we took advantage of the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s rule changes around what solicitors can and can’t do in November 2019. We ceased to be a regulated law firm in March 2020, and are now an ordinary business. We also offer various branding services dealing with the design side of the work by partnering with creative agencies.
This insight gave me my an aha moment for the brand purpose of Azrights.
The UN goal #4 seeks access to education for all. They focus on inclusive and equitable quality education and promotion of life-long learning opportunities for all, eliminating gender disparities in education and ensuring equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable, including persons with disabilities. In addition, the proposal calls for building and upgrading education facilities that are child, disability and gender sensitive and also provide safe, non-violent, inclusive and effective learning environments for all.
So, the next step for us is to embed this purpose into everything we do as a business.
Having spent the last few years immersing myself in books about brands and branding, listening to podcasts and audio books, writing and broadcasting on the subject and offering introductory courses on branding, I’ve identified 2 fundamental issues in this area that I’m keen to address.
These issues led to my realisation that there is a need for valuable educational content in the form of online courses. At the end of this blog there is a form you can complete if you are interested.
#1 Issue: The Branding Industry Encompasses a Wide Range of Service Providers
While I have previously referred to the “branding industry” as if it comprises a cohesive whole, the fact is that “branding” as a service is offered by many different types of business.
Branding service providers could include web developers, web designers, graphic designers, marketers, advertising and PR businesses, social media providers, funding advisers to mention but a few.
Being an industry that is relatively new, and which encompasses both traditional Adman branding agencies which existed pre internet, and new media disciplines that have been spawned by the internet, such as web design, web development, social media marketing, and digital marketing as a whole, the industry is fast evolving.
Unsurprisingly, these disparate types of business are often turned to by their clients for support with branding.
The quality of branding on offer out there is highly variable, possibly because some businesses offering branding services might just be providing the service for the first time, and therefore may be on a steep learning curve.
Certainly, many designers and other businesses offering branding services that I’ve come across in the last 15 years have not be aware what is involved to create a brand for their clients that take account of intellectual property. IP decisions have long term consequences on a business, so need to be more carefully considered.
The Need for Education
During my years in business I have come across many service providers, few of whom understand the role of IP in branding before I met them.
It seemed sometimes that designers just found it convenient to believe that intellectual property could be ignored in brand creation and left to their clients to address with their own lawyers as and when they were ready to do so.
However, I gradually realised that a huge range of businesses offer branding services. The problem is not that the industry does not want to learn. It’s more that there is a wide variety of individual businesses providing branding services, some of whom know little about the services they’re offering, while others are highly experienced and knowledgeable.
Those that are making fundamental errors often don’t know what they don’t know, and therefore can’t see what they need to do to plug the gap in their knowledge. Who after all, wants to provide an inadequate service to their clients? If it happens it’s hardly deliberate.
I then realised that the people I need to focus on helping are the branding industry because they can make the most impact with the knowledge, they can get from me. They can benefit the most from the insights I can provide them so they excel at what they do, get a competitive advantage in their businesses, and can provide additional services that they’re not now able to offer their clients.
#2 Issue – Brand Manager/Advisory Role Lacking in Small Business Sector
Related to the rapid rise in the branding industry’s composition which has been caused by the internet, there is the issue that it has become very easy to start a business.
You can form a company, register your domain, buy templates for your business, hire freelancers on sites like people per hour and away you go with your business idea. Start-ups might typically turn to a web developer as their first port of call. The web developer is then thrust into a position of offering branding services.
The drawback to the ease with which people can start in business nowadays, is that legal advice is often missed.
Consequently, I’ve come across business owners who have suffered as a result of not seeking legal advice before embarking on their entrepreneurial journey.
For example, in one case, an entrepreneur had spent £100,000 of his own money creating a new online business. He had a fantastic visual identity and website created for his new business by a marketing agency and was spending thousands of pounds monthly on social media marketing and ads, to get traction for his new venture. Then he hit a problem.
The market leader in his industry initiated a domain dispute on the grounds that the domain name he was using was similar to their name. The upshot was that his domains were permanently confiscated, and he had to start over with a new name. All the money he had spent getting search engine recognition for this domain was lost. Unsurprisingly, his business never recovered from this set back and folded shortly afterwards.
I tell you this story not to frighten or worry you, but to open your eyes to the problems that can arise.
For a business to achieve its vision for the business without the dramatic problems that this entrepreneur faced involves getting some basic knowledge about what is involved to create a business and brand that’s fit for purpose. You can safely invest your life’s savings in promoting your brand name only after taking the steps to protect yourself.
The business name you use is how you associate your brand in customers’ minds.
Similar Names are a Problem
The reason this entrepreneur suffered so needlessly is that he did not realise that using a similar name to a competitor is a complete ‘no no’. There is a common misconception that you can simply add a descriptor to a name or change it slightly in order to co-exist with another brand.
Why this misconception exists is unclear to me because surely everyone would agree that if another business came along and offered luxury watches and called itself ROLAXES instead of ROLEX or some similar alteration to the basic name, they would be confused, and would wonder if both businesses emanated from the same source. But for some reason people assume a different rule applies to them when they’re choosing a name.
The fact that none of the service providers this entrepreneur used thought to suggest he check the name is because they themselves were probably unaware of the importance of doing so.
If branding were a regulated business, then anyone trained to offer branding services would know to alert their clients to the need to get professional help with the name before investing in it. However, it isn’t regulated, and therefore the next best thing is to raise the level of knowledge in the industry. That’s why it’s important to me to offer a training course to teach the essentials of branding, and related intellectual property, so it’s easy for businesses offering branding services to manage the legal dimension when offering branding services.
There is a lot of misinformation and confusion even among people who should know about naming. That is why my course for web developers, designers, PR professionals, marketers, and anyone else whose business offers branding services will offer some clarity in an area that is full of confusion – branding and intellectual property.
One reason the service providers probably didn’t mention the need for this entrepreneur to check the name out is that they had not chosen the name for him. If they had done so, it’s likely many providers would at least know to protect themselves from liability by advising their client to consult with their own lawyers about their name.
Providing a name for someone to use without doing some basic clearance searches does not provide them with a name that’s fit for purpose though.
An example of the lack of understanding of naming is the common view that the availability of a domain and company name is sufficient sign that a name is available.
This is all the “clearance” many agencies offer before suggesting to their clients to consult their own lawyers on the name. Their clients often do not bother to do so because they don’t appreciate the importance of such checks. They assume the agency is just being over cautious.
So, if the entrepreneur’s advisers had helped him to choose the name, they would have made the same mistake as he made. They would have assumed the availability of the domain name was a good enough indicator that the name could be used.
In any event, the entrepreneur had already chosen the name, so it was not their responsibility.
Branding is About Uniqueness
As the objective of branding is to enable a business to be uniquely associated with a name, the law does not allow confusion to arise. Once a name is in use in the market, then newcomers are presumed to know of the brand’s existence, and to avoid choosing a similar name.
In this example, nobody knew that the name the entrepreneur was using was similar to the market leader’s in his industry as that company was not a household name. Perhaps if he had been using a similar name to a household brand like Apple, someone might have raised a question mark. However, the lack of any outward sign that the choice of name was problematic was an added reason nobody noticed the problem.
Brand Manager Role
Founders don’t readily recognise what they need to do. They are not well placed to know what really matters to their bottom line when it comes to establishing their brand. They are unclear how the various disciplines involved in branding impact their results and part of their confusion is due to the lack of clarity about what “brand” really means. It’s hardly surprising therefore that they assume that any service provider they happen to be using is well placed to support them with branding
By contrast larger businesses have brand managers with responsibility for ensuring sales of a brand, and discretion to do whatever is necessary to secure sales, whether that involves changes to the product itself, its price, the places where the product is sold, how it is promoted, packaged and generally the entire brand proposition. Small businesses however lack this essential function
In large businesses the brand manager co-ordinates with various teams across the organisation to implement their strategy and promote more sales. Whether the task involves packaging changes, creative designs, marketing campaigns, IT to enhance the website, legal for regulatory or intellectual property issues such as brand name or proposed icon clearances, the brand manager knows how to draw in the necessary skills to achieve their goals.
The brand manager’s job involves understanding what each department does. If, for example, the brand manager decides to alter aspects of the brand, such as its name or visual identity to achieve the desired outcome of increased sales, the manager is not going to take risks such as of the product infringing on existing trade mark rights. It would be an embarrassing and costly mistake to allow the brand to suffer by ignoring basics of trademark law.
That’s how the brand is cared for and nurtured to success in large organisations.
Brand Managers for Small Business?
When it comes to the small business end of the market, the business owner needs to fill the role of the brand manager and herein lies the problem. The business owner invariably lacks an understanding of branding, intellectual property and the many other disciplines that play a critical part in ensuring the success of their business.
They need to learn more about branding and related disciplines, including about intellectual property.
They need to understand what each type of expert can and can’t do for them. For example, people commonly assume web designers and web developers are the same. As they are hazy about the different job roles and expertise involved, they have inappropriate expectations.
Many business owners assume their creative agencies know everything pertinent to branding, including the law. But it is not part of a designer’s skillset to know intellectual property law, just as it’s not an intellectual property lawyer’s skillset to understand how to create a brand. Unless someone puts in years to learn the other discipline, which I’ve done, they will not know.
The disciplines of brand creation and brand protection are separate.
IP isn’t something designers or marketers are qualified to advise on, and indeed many of them have a poor knowledge of IP. I have come across a designer categorically advising people in a Facebook group that it is not possible to use a single word for a brand name. She seemed to believe that you needed two words. She was giving her clients wrong information about what can and can’t be created as a brand name.
Many marketers choose descriptions instead of names without realising the serious consequences this will have for the business down the line when it comes to brand protection. The business owner will not be able to stop “me-too” competitors.
Founders need the equivalent of a brand management advisory service to help them when branding their business and developing their brand as the business grows.
In the past lawyers have traditionally occupied the role of trusted adviser to new and established businesses alike. Perhaps it is down to the impression people have that they only need a lawyer to draft documents for them, or to register their rights. They certainly don’t tend to turn to lawyers as their first port of call for advice.
So it would be good to see the emergence of a new breed of IP lawyer who can take on a brand management role for small businesses. This is another area where I feel I can offer training to IP lawyers to become brand managers.
The best results in branding are achieved when you bring various disciplines together when creating a brand: IP is the foundation, and other disciplines that are key are PR, and marketing. By taking account of the IP dimension or what would be involved to promote or market what you’re intending to brand, the designers are much more likely to pre-empt problems with their thinking, and to create a stand-out brand that meets a market need.
It’s possible there would be fewer business failures and false starts in business if more branding agencies were trained to understand the fundamentals of branding and IP. Similarly, if more IP lawyers were trained in branding and IP, it’s possible they could become the equivalent of brand managers for their small business clients and their advice might just prevent so many businesses failing simply due to fundamental mistakes which could so easily be avoided.
A brand is about a lot more than just about how it looks. “Brand” can be an important business tool if used well.
Yet “brand” and “branding” are terms that mystify many business owners. Even those who go through a branding process often emerge without a clear idea of the meaning of these words, and the value of using the brand strategy work they did during branding to guide their business journey.
It’s clear that to most people a brand is a logo. They associate branding with graphic design work, and as a rule, most businesses that I interview on my podcast don’t appear to have been guided by their brand strategy in their subsequent journey to success. Instead branding was an exercise they went through to get to their brand designs and that’s the sum total of its impact on their business subsequently.
A business’ logo and designs are not going to determine the reputation the brand builds, so it’s too narrow as a definition of a brand.
What Brand Means
If you ask people who believe that a brand is more than a logo to define what it is, you will often get definitions like ‘everything you do is your brand’, or people will quote Jeff Bezos saying that ‘your brand is what people say when you’re not in the room’.
However, such statements do more to confuse and obfuscate than to clarify what a brand is.
The picture is further complicated because branding and marketing are used interchangeably as if they mean one and the same thing.
When I wrote my first book ‘Legally Branded’ in 2012, I was mystified by the meaning of the word and consulted authoritative texts such as The New Strategic Brand Management (Kogan Page, 2011) by J. N. Kapferer. Apparently the internationally agreed legal definition of a brand is ‘a sign or set of signs certifying the origin of a product or service and differentiating it from the competition’.
This is the essence of branding – its origins as a way of burning an identifying mark on livestock with a branding iron to distinguish the ownership of cattle. Branding is fundamentally about creating a visual identity to stand out and be uniquely identified as your brand.
The identifying marks applied to cattle soon evolved into a stamp of approval, and source of origin.
While with cattle applying a logo was all there was to it, for a business branding involves more than stamping it with a logo, and other visual designs. After all, you need to first decide what look to stamp it with.
So, in practice, branding is as much about how you design your business as it is about your visual designs.
This definition of branding, doesn’t give founders of small businesses an accessible way to understand the meaning of the term “brand” so in my blog What is a Brand? Essential Reading For Every Business I used a practical approach to convey what brand and branding mean.
Instead of trying to define the terms in a succinct sentence or two, I drew an analogy to the personality and reputation of an individual.
To properly understand what brand means, think of an individual’s personality. When we talk about people, we say we like their personality, we don’t tend to say we like someone’s brand. I think it helps to make the word ‘brand’ more relatable, less obscure, to think of it as interchangeable with personality and reputation.
Gradually as we get to know a real person, we see different sides to them, and form a sense of who they are. We might even be able to predict how they will respond in certain situations, whether they can be trusted to see something through, or are likely to give up half-way, and so on.
Brand: Sum Total of Impressions
We form a mental picture, and associations when a person’s name is mentioned. What we think about them derives from a mixture of our past experiences of them, the impression they made on us, their appearance, our sense of who they are, what makes them tick, how they make us feel. That is their reputation or brand in our mind’s eye.
What we think of them is coloured by our own personalities and worldview. Our values, beliefs, preferences, and our past experiences of them will all impact our perceptions. This means there won’t be a universal view of a given person.
However, there will be some commonalities that appear again and again when people talk about someone. Certain objective facts about an individual that won’t be disputed by most people. For example, someone may have a bubbly personality, or seem grumpy. These are objective facets of people, that are likely to be noticed and accepted by nearly everyone who has contact with them depending on how core that behaviour is to their personality.
Similarly, as your business is also a separate person legally with an identity of its own that evolves over time it creates an impression on others through their experiences of your business. Gradually over time, when people hear your company’s name certain associations come to mind. It might encompass how your company has communicated with them, your products and services, any memory of your customer service, or handling of their initial enquiries and so on.
What you say as a business on your website, in your content on blogs, videos and social media, and how you run the business in terms of the quality of your products and services and customer service, all go to create an overall impression about your business. These gradually reflect on how you come across to others as a business.
That’s what people mean when they say everything you do is your brand or that every business has a brand whether they know it or not.
With time your business will evoke a certain response in others. Certain key aspects of your brand and reputation will be noticed more universally by others.
Setting your brand strategy as part of branding is how you can decide how to influence the perceptions about your business. That’s when you decide what you want your business to be known for, what qualities you will try to promote in your business so its identity, that is, its brand can develop over time and acquire the reputation you would want it to have.
A newly created business has no background or history. It will develop a reputation (that is, a brand) which you can control. The name you choose, what the business does, how the business becomes known, what your business aspires to do, all these details and more determine the brand it will develop.
Rather than letting it evolve haphazardly you can influence the direction of its brand by designing the business intentionally.
And if you’re rebranding, then that’s the time to rethink the branding you started out with, to refine your thinking for the business, perhaps set a new vision for it.
Some business owners believe that brand is not applicable to them because they are small. That it only applies to well-known household name businesses.
While there is undoubtedly a difference between a brand that is well known such as the Apples of this world, and one that is still relatively unknown, it’s nevertheless the case that every business, and indeed every person is a brand in the sense of evoking a reaction and making an impression on others. Some brands are just less well known than others. Some may be well-known to a micro community and others may not be known yet because they’re just be getting started.
So, there exists an axis ranging from a brand that’s not known or understood in the market, to one that has become known by a sufficient size of the market to be a “brand”, a household name in their market possibly, in the sense of a brand that has succeeded, and has real traction in a community.
Design is Not Just How a Brand Looks
Design is about how your business works, not just how it looks. Just as an individual’s looks matter, and impact the impression we form of them, so your business’ visual appearance matters of course. In fact, the evidence-based research from the Ehrenberg Bass institute indicates the visual dimension matters a lot.
Creating the visual identity of your business is an enjoyable aspect of branding or rebranding because you get a transformation of your ideas into appealing visual designs which can be very exciting.
However, to get a worthwhile result leave the designs till you have worked on your brand strategy and got as far as you can with it on your own.
By deciding the brand you want to create strategically, and determining the reputation you want the business to develop you will have a much better chance of influencing the way you build the brand. You need not risk it getting a reputation randomly over time, and most importantly you can ensure the visual identity designs support the overall impression and feelings you want your brand to evoke and convey.
Get Started Using low-cost Designs
Clearly a new business needs some designs to get started. If you’re just starting out, then depending on your business model and intentions for your business, I recommend you get going and prove the concept while using low-cost designs, and even a temporary name. Think through your brand strategy about the brand you want to build as you get market feedback. That process is bound to impact your vision for your business, and result in decisions about the brand you want to build.
Then with the concept proven, the next step is to engage in more expensive design work for your business, and possibly a new name, and website to properly launch your business. These decisions involve fundamental intellectual property considerations which are foundational for your business. I’ve written many blogs about what intellectual property means, such as Is a Brand Intellectual Property? Definition of Brand and Intellectual Property.
Although I use the word brand and business interchangeably the term “brand” or “business” mean different things. Your “business” is your company—the organization that produces your products or offers your services. Your “brand”, on the other hand, is the image or identity or reputation that your business projects—the way that consumers perceive your business.
Designing the business includes deciding what products or services you will sell, what barriers to entry you will erect, how you will turn your knowledge, skills and insights into a new concept and business.
Bear in mind that if you don’t create a successful business that meets a market need, then no amount of ‘visual identity branding’ will turn your business into your desired type of brand. This leads into the second word I want to define, namely, branding.
What Branding Means
Branding is the activity of creating the visual identity for your brand. It’s the process by which you put your best strategic thinking for developing your business into a visual identity. It involves turning your business philosophy, and how you intend it to function as a business into visual designs.
In order to determine who your brand is, you first need to have asked yourself some searching questions, and done some deep thinking about the business you want to build, the brand you want it to have so it is reliably known for delivering a specific promise.
Branding gives your business a visual identity. It gives consumers something to relate to and connect with. Branding makes your business memorable. It’s the face of your company and helps consumers distinguish your business from others.
Your branding supports your marketing and advertising efforts It helps consumers to recognise you again if they’ve come across your brand in the past.
Marketing is often used interchangeably with branding but is quite different. It’s the activity you engage in to bring a product or service to market. Sending out branded messages and communications to make sure your product gets out to market and gets sold. It overlaps with branding but is distinct.
Branding determines what your product looks like, and what kind of vibe it gives. Marketing is about bringing those efforts out there in the world.
To conclude your brand is primarily about how you are known. With time a strong brand becomes associated with a specific promise.
The world has changed, and nowadays the personal brand must be part and parcel of the promotional mix. Even if it’s your intention to one day sell your business it’s a mistake to put all your efforts into simply promoting your business or product brand names.
People usually associate brands with companies and products. Consider household name brands like Apple. They have products which include the iPhone, and Mac computers among others, or Microsoft the company has its products OneDrive, Outlook, Word, Excel and more. It’s easy to assume that the focus should be purely on getting name recognition for the company and product brands.
However, both these companies also have dominant personal brands associated with them: Steve Jobs (now replaced with Tim Cook) and Bill Gates (now supplemented by Satya Nadella).
Building a Business Brand
While individuals come with their own personal styles and approaches, business brands have to be specifically created to have a personality and comprehensive messages. The business needs to stand for something and hold out a promise. Branding actively creates the business you want to be known for, and the perception you hope consumers will have when coming into contact with your company, product or service. A business or product brand is essentially comprised of names, logos, any icons, slogans, copy and other collateral.
Most businesses that don’t use the founder’s own name will have the company name to promote as well as one or more products. That is already quite challenging for a small business to deal with so adding the personal brand to the mix might seem a stretch too far.
Certainly, it is much simpler on all counts if you’re just using your personal name for everything. That’s probably why so many coaches and mentors out there do this. Names that come to mind as examples of this include Tony Robbins, Brendon Burchard, Jeff Walker, Marie Forleo and more. Indeed, it seems to be the norm in the personal development industry for thought leaders to be the brand.
There is undoubtedly a marketing efficiency these businesses have of using fewer brands or a singular brand. They have an advantage in brand building and customer communication because they just put all their branding and marketing efforts into promoting one name.
This means they get name recognition more rapidly. It’s like ploughing all your marketing efforts into a single domain. You’re much more likely to rank in the search engines if you are using a single domain name rather than spreading your budget across 2 or 3 domains.
However, unless your focus is on a speaking career, and selling digital courses as part of that, it might not work for you to use your own name as the business’ name despite the undoubted advantage in doing so.
In practice, most businesses will have several brands, and the personal brand will sit alongside them. Examples that come to mind, apart from Apple and Microsoft, include, Elon Musk and Tesla, Richard Branson and Virgin, Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook.
When you have 3 or more brand names, it can nevertheless be quite powerful because it’s possible that one brand will resonate more with someone than the others and they will therefore remember it.
For example, some people may not have a clue who Shireen Smith is, but they have heard of Azrights, or vice versa. Similarly, if people hear the podcast or come across the Brand Tuned branding product, they may not be aware that Brand Tuned is a product that belongs to Azrights.
As Chrissie Lightfoot discussed in the recent podcast interview over on Brand Tuned, having three brands, your company, product or book title and you the person, provides a powerful triage of brands for people to come across.
How 3 or More Brands Can Prove Powerful
Many corporates or blue-chip companies will probably feature in the news or other publications. Other corporates seeing their names in publications might recognise that the company has a strong brand that is known for a specific product or service. Or it may be that your business brand comes up prominently in the search results for specific products and services and carries weight searchers looking for a business to consult.
Most members of the public won’t have a clue about the companies that are written about or that appear in the search engines, because they may not be reading those publications or media or searching for a particular solution. They may not really care about a company brand. But they will have seen some person from that company online on LinkedIn, or wherever they hang out, and they’ve got to know the person.
So there’s a strong personal brand there because there’s a personal presence. Or, some people might have had a third party recommendation when they’re playing on Facebook one day, and seeing somebody recommend a book that they’re reading, such as Legally Branded, and won’t have heard of Azrights the company, but they’ll have remembered the name of the book. So, when you say, have you heard of such and such company, they’ll say no, I haven’t got a clue, what’s Azrights? If you say well, have you heard of Legally Branded, they will say, oh yes. Legally Branded.
These different ways in which people can come across your brand mean that you might be recommended or remembered in a variety of different ways.
Failing to use your personal brand is a mistake because it is a useful way to promote the business brand.
The Need to Be Strategic With Resources
However, it is undoubtedly a mammoth task to try to promote 3 or more brands on social media platforms, and with their own websites. So, you need to be very strategic to use your resources to best effect.
Through my own experience of working this out, I believe that on platforms such as LinkedIn where people are essentially looking to connect with others, rather than with companies, it makes sense to focus on your personal brand. Indeed, on most of the social media platforms people will be wanting to follow other people, rather than logos, so you could just maintain a minor presence for your business or product brands on social media, and put your efforts into promoting your own personal profile instead.
As long as you own the social media handles for your business name and products, you don’t necessarily need to post a lot of content on them. The handles will be available to be used by anyone who may buy the business or product down the line.
Whether you should have a personal, business and product Facebook page, or a YouTube channel for all of these and websites is something you will need to think through as part of your strategy. I’ve certainly made the mistake of having YouTube channels for both my business and personally, and it’s simply too difficult to try to keep both updated. However, now that I have them, they stay, but it’s not necessarily how I would have dealt with it strategically, based on my aspirations for the business.
Once your business has a few people working within it, then the people in your team are all personal brands that have the potential to increase awareness of your business and product brands.
You will therefore have increased ways to be discovered and approached. So, don’t overlook the personal brands of yourself and your team members when you are planning how to promote your brand.
People often have a vague idea that they will grow their business and sell it one day, or perhaps they start out with a specific plan to exit within 5 or 6 years.
This is rarely thought through in detail as there is a dearth of information in startup books about what the end of the business journey might look like.
Exit is generally an end that isn’t well understood so it can be hard to plan with the end in mind.
In this piece, I want to consider what’s involved to sell a business or build a business to sell.
Books to Read
If your ambition is to build a business to sell, Shoe Dog the book written by the founder of Nike gives a good idea of what the journey might involve. Imagine yourself running such a business, with all the uncertainties that this might entail financially and emotionally. Does that appeal to you?
Another book that details the struggles that a household name business went through to emerge victorious at the other end is Dyson.
Realise that for every success there will be many businesses that don’t make it to the other side.
Many founders are likely to want to one day sell their business so the first question is why you hope to one day sell the business. Is it that you want to get a lump sum pay off to reward you for the long years you will put into creating the business?
Methods of Valuing a Business
EBITDA is the traditional method of valuing a business used by accountants, namely earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation.
There are relatively easy ways to value certain parts of the business – such as stock, fixed assets (land, machinery, equipment etc.).
There will very probably be a sizeable intangible element to the value of a business. Intangible elements would include “goodwill” – this could encompass trademarks, and the reputation of the company – ie the brand. Such assets are notoriously difficult to value, and in many cases will come down to how keen a potential buyer is to acquire the business in question. If there is a strategic fit, a buyer might pay a significant premium to acquire a business.
Therefore, in practice, exiting a business comes down to focusing on increasing revenues so that you have recurring income (preferably on contract). Other value drivers include IP, technology or media doing the work (to produce predictable and high margin revenues). It is also necessary to have scale such as a minimum of £5M or more in revenue.
In the book, Agglomeration by Jeremy Harbour and Callum Laing set out a vision for small businesses to be able to exit. However, even that strategy relies upon having at least £500K of EBITDA. A number most businesses don’t have as top line revenue let alone bottom-line profit.
When EBITDA is Not the Yardstick
In some cases, the yardstick by which a business is valued is not EBITDA but something else. That’s because there is no single formula to valuing a company on exit that can be used to precisely value every private business. The seller will want to drive the price up, and potential buyers will want the opposite. Stephen Robertson gave some useful insights on this topic in episode 18 of the Brand Tuned podcast
These examples demonstrate that synergies within businesses can result in a valuation which is far higher than the company turnover or traditional methods of valuation might suggest. There is an element of the qualitative, rather than the quantitative, when assessing a company’s sale prospects, and if there is a competitive bid (as in the Whatsapp scenario) this tends to push the valuation even higher.
Maybe you are a local business serving a loyal customer base, or you are not in the technology space but rather selling goods and services. Whilst the examples I’ve alluded to of a strong valuation, not based on turnover, involve technology companies, most companies now interface with technology at some point. We are living at a time when any company, even your small business, could learn from these examples, and be savvy about how to increase its value.
At the very least you will have a website to promote your business and all businesses increasingly have an online dimension. Many businesses become successful by offering an effective way of enabling consumers to buy from them online. In the blog post I referenced just now, I mentioned how Victoria Plum made bathrooms available to order on the web, and in less than 15 years built up a business worth millions of pounds. I also cited Skyscanner as an example of a website that has become successful.
Aiming to Succeed Using Technology
As the web and technology become more important in our lives, it means intellectual property is inevitably critical to businesses aiming to succeed in some way using technology.
Opening your eyes to what is involved to sell a business, and what type of business to build to be able to achieve a sale that gives you enough money to retire on is important if that’s your dream. What you don’t want to do is to chase an unrealistic dream just because it’s the holy grail of entrepreneurship that’s dangled in front of new businesses.
In many ways it’s the big lie in business that you create a business you’re going to potentially exit for a big pay out. That’s simply is not true for the majority of service based non tech businesses. Indeed, for a law firm you don’t get a big pay off as is clear from Lynn Burdon’s book Lynn’s Laws of Leadership (Practical Inspiration Publishing)
If you’re thinking big, take some time or advice, to understand whether you’re being realistic, and what’s involved to sell the type of business you’re building so that if a time comes when you get tired or ill, or your priorities change, and you want to exit, you know what to expect.
According to Daniel Priestley, some small businesses reach a stage where they need to sell their business and find few takers. It could be that the spouse of the owner wants to hold the owner to their stated agreement of retiring. Or it’s possible that the business isn’t fun anymore. The owner may be bored, tired of it, is sick of the industry etc.
The business may need some work, but the owner doesn’t have fresh energy for it. They have paid off their house and have other assets that produce more than enough income to live happily. The business simply isn’t adding anything to their life but it’s taking precious time or location freedom.
Daniel Priestley believes that one problem business owners have is that they don’t believe their business would operate without them. They go in every day, or the owner is energetically tied into the business and even when they aren’t physically there, they can’t fully switch off. When such an owner comes to sell the business, even though the business is healthy and profitable, there isn’t an available buyer to take it off their hands. Many end up looking for ways to literally give their business away.
That’s one scenario where a business looks to exit. It’s remarkably common for many businesses to find they can’t sell their business when they want to sell it.
When You Want to Sell
If by the time you’re ready to sell your business, you find that there happens to be someone interested to buy it from you for the right price, then you’re very lucky and will be able to sell your business without difficulty (assuming you’ve got your affairs in order so that it will pass the due diligence stage without difficulty).
Due diligence is an exercise involving lawyers who will pour over your legal agreements, review your contracts, and look into the intellectual property and other aspects of your business).
However, in practice selling a business usually involves preparing for a sale at least 2 years in advance. It’s about identifying potential buyers, creating competition between them, making the business the best it can be in terms of EBITDA, and being ready for the sale so that nothing holds you up when a buyer for the business is available.
The reality is that the big payoff the owner assumed would be around the corner when they were ready to sell their business just doesn’t exist.
What the End for Many Businesses Looks Like
The end for many businesses may not involve selling the business as a going concern. When the owner wants to stop working, be that due to ill health or because they want to retire or indeed if the business owner dies leaving the business behind, the end will probably involve winding up the business and selling off its assets. These assets might comprise machinery, website, domain names, customer lists and any other intangible assets.
If you decide that you want to work till you drop then perhaps your exit planning should involve identifying a few competitors your executors could approach when the time comes. It’s likely they would be interested in buying your customer list at the very least.
In conclusion, most entrepreneurs go into business because they want more time, more freedom and more money. Certainly, more freedom and control over their lives is a key driver for many founders. So, if you’re not in business to achieve an exit, it’s worth knowing this at the outset, so that you can build the right business to match your aspirations.
If there is any type of agreement that should not be grabbed online and used it’s a licensing agreement.
A while back I came across someone who had used an agreement that was appropriate to another country, and in that agreement he had effectively given away all his rights to exploit his intellectual property because the terms of the licence he had granted said that the other party would have “sole and exclusive” rights to use the IP in question. None of the traditional provisions that would safeguard the licensor that one would expect such a licence to include were present either.
In this post, which I’ll discuss shortly, I’ve explained the variety of different transactions that a licence can cover. Therefore, it is particularly inappropriate to find a licence agreement that was drafted for a different arrangement and purpose and use it to license your IP. Get legal help for any licence agreement.
To explain why the post I’ve just linked you to bears a date 2014, it’s necessary to explain that I recently came across a piece by Neil Patel which ultimately led me to a content marketing site: Animalz. To my surprise, I discovered that content decays. I had always assumed that once you put good content online it stays relevant forever unless by its very nature that content dates. So, I ended up at this free resource from Animalz and entered my details.
Licensing and Franchising Blog
They sent me a report after looking at my Google Analytics and analysing traffic to the Azrights site over the last 12 months. This identified 9 articles that have lost 3171 views combined, which means we are missing out on a lot of traffic. So I added the posts they highlighted to my editorial calendar in order to refresh them.
I already knew that a huge portion of the traffic to the Azrights site came from this article Licensing And Franchising, What Is The Difference And Does It Matter? which I had written in 2014 and which ranked on Google. I’d noticed that my article had been knocked off its top spot by an article that was misleading in its information so I was keen to update the blog and set the record straight on this point of confusion that the other article was perpetuating.
So, I have completely updated that 2014 blog in order to more fully explain the difference between licensing and franchising, and in particular to explain the difference between UK and US franchising laws which mean that licensing business formats is possible in the UK but is subject to hefty fine in the USA.
Working Towards Franchising
At Azrights we recommend working towards franchising by testing licensing first. That’s because most of the preparatory actions you need to take to get your business licensing-ready, are actually beneficial in running a better business. So, you would not be wasting time and focus if you take the actions that we recommend to license your business format.
A good starting point if you’re considering licensing or franchising is to consider your brand and IP strategy.
Once you have you’ve got your business ready, found one or two licensees, and tested the concept, you could go all the way and franchise your business if you still think that is the right step to take.
Visit the 2014 blog which, despite bearing the date it was originally written, has in fact been completely updated and refreshed in July 2020, to get the full details for how to do this.
And whatever type of licensing you’re considering, be it brand, or merchandising or simply to license your know-how, bear in mind that the laws in the UK, Australia, USA and other countries differ. That means any type of licensing agreement that you use must be appropriate to the law of the country in which you’re located. Even though you may find plenty of licensing document templates online, do not just download one and use it.
Are you thinking about how to scale your business? Would you like to consider your brand strategy, then attend our upcoming webinar which is provided as a gift – and nothing is being sold on the webinar. It is totally free content.
Over the last few years, I have really enjoyed creating content to share my thoughts about brands and IP because that is how I refine my thinking and develop new ideas. In the process, I have come up with a framework that moves the needle for business owners. It’s a product called Brand Tuned, which my next book will cover.
Yet in consistently putting out content on a range of social media platforms I have sometimes wondered whether there is any point in continuing these marketing efforts given that I do not get a lot of engagement on any of the platforms. There is the odd hit piece of content, but as a rule, I might typically get 4 or 5 likes on a LinkedIn update for example.
Is it worth continuing is something I ask myself a lot?
Although they say not to compare yourself to others, it is difficult not to do so, and to feel you are lacking in some way. Inevitably I have found myself wondering what content would have more impact.
I know Gary Vaynerchuk’s advice is to engage more with others’ content if you want engagement with your content. He should know. He runs a 1000-person social media agency. So, that’s something I definitely intend to try, but so far I’ve not made time for it because there are so many other priorities, such as running my business, producing the content I’m putting out on social, overseeing the delivery of client projects, writing my new book, creating my new product – Brand Tuned, and a myriad of other things, such as doing a marketing plan for my upcoming book as my publisher expects a really robust one.
Overcoming the Temptation to Give Up
I have often been tempted to give up. Why not save my time, and just not do any social media marketing? This was my thought when a video guy once remarked to me that my content was not getting much engagement. At the time I thought, ‘if he’s judging my content in this way maybe others are too’? So, am I doing myself more harm than good putting out content that is seen to not be engaged with? Should I continue? Is this person’s judgement an indication of what everyone else is thinking? Is there any point to my providing education and information for the world to freely take and use?’
You may wonder why I continue to put out a weekly video, a weekly blog, get my team to create content from it to share on all social media platforms given that it feels like nobody cares about what I’m putting out if you measure it by the number of likes and comments.
It is because I know this is a long-term game, and deep down I am confident the lack of massive engagement does not really matter, that I continue.
Likes and comments aren’t the right metrics to focus on for anyone. Anyway, I feel I can plug some of the gaps down the line once I double down on one or two channels. I am still developing my ideas and working out what I can do to really move the needle for entrepreneurs and business owners when it comes to supporting their business journeys. I feel I am nearly there.
In the meantime, what gives me the courage to continue is that I get plenty of work coming through which I attribute to my blogging and social media efforts. These put me top of mind for people who know me from other areas of business life. They notice my content even though they do not necessarily do anything to engage with it. However, they turn to me when they need IP support because in their minds I am associated with IP and brands. Given that I am everywhere online, I am there in front of their noses wherever they hang out, so that when they have a need for services that I can help with, they contact me.
Often someone will tell me they noticed a video I had put out, or that my content is amazing. You could knock me down with a feather is my thought when anyone says this to me because they have never once liked or commented on my stuff anywhere on social media.
In my quest to be omnipresent, I have gone on to produce a podcast Brand Tuned – Successful Brand, Successful Business. It does not get massive numbers of downloads judging from the download figures other podcasters occasionally mention getting. So, I know there’s room for improvement. I should be featured on other people’s podcasts, improving my interviewing skills, and taking other actions.
However, I try to focus on the positive, that I’ve got a podcast out there, that it’s gradually getting more known, that it brings me to the attention of people who would otherwise not notice my content.
The thing is you cannot do everything well from the get-go. We have all got strengths and weaknesses and can grow and learn until the day we die. Continuous improvement is something to strive for in every facet of the business, if not in life.
While there are different schools of thought about the right way to approach social media marketing, I have my own views.
Some say you should just focus on the most important social media channels for your business and double down all your efforts there. For me, that would probably be LinkedIn and Twitter.
Apart from the low engagement levels, I seem to be doing well enough on LinkedIn judging from the fact that my Social Selling Index Score is in the 80s. I have even been granted access to LinkedIn live which I’ve not yet used because I really can’t find time to think what a good approach to use for LinkedIn lives would be. I do not prioritise it because I do not see the point of doing a live video when I might, at most get a handful of live listeners. Why not just record a video instead? Why do all these social media platforms get us running around doing live videos? Haven’t people got better things to do than to watch live videos?
Approach to Social Media
On balance, although it is sound advice to double down your efforts to one or two platforms, I do believe it is more important to be everywhere first. I guess I prefer to build an omnipresent brand, while gradually focusing on one or two platforms more because if things were to suddenly change so that your preferred platform disappeared, I wouldn’t want to start from scratch on a new platform. Better to keep a presence on them all and then home in on improving your presence on your one or two platforms of choice in due course.
From time to time I buy books on how to increase LinkedIn effectiveness, and I implement one or two ideas. However, I have learnt that there are no silver bullets. I suspect the answer to getting engagement is exactly what Gary Vaynerchuk outlines in his video This requires a lot of time because you have to identify posts to engage with on 10 different hashtags and leave thoughtful comments, several times a day for 3 months. I’m still trying to find a way to implement this that gets my team doing some of the heavy lifting but so far, it’s not been successful, probably because I’ve been half hearted about it.
This is partly because I am aware that the nature of people’s content does impact the engagement they might expect. My content is probably not built for massive engagement compared with someone who is selling something that people are struggling to do, such as to get more traction on LinkedIn, or to learn how to invest in property without having a large sum to put down as a deposit or the like.
Much of the content that I have traditionally put out has focussed on how the law impacts people. This means people will either unfollow me if what I say makes them uncomfortable (because they learn that what they’re doing is not correct for example), or they’ll take note but not necessarily engage to indicate that they’ve taken note. At some point down the line when they see a need for it, they’ll reach out to me.
As mentioned, I have already concluded from what people say to me, that there are a lot of silent listeners out there. They are paying attention, but they are busy thinking about other things, it is a noisy world, and people are only half seeing all the content out there.
At the same time, I am constantly exploring putting out different types of content to assess what content gets the most interest.
Why Am I Writing This?
You may be wondering why an intellectual property lawyer is creating content around how to promote your business online. Well, that’s because the brand building is very much part of what I seek to help my clients to do. My new book will discuss this aspect of my work in more detail.
It is not generally well known that intellectual property refers to many different assets, not just to patents and inventions. In fact, the most relevant form of intellectual property to every business is their brand. The brand is entwined with copyright, trademarks and building your presence online. My approach to IP sits very close to marketing and advertising.
You see the name you use to identify your products and services is the lynchpin to your marketing activities. If you are not using a name that works from an intellectual property perspective, it is like having a colander instead of a container supporting your marketing. You would be pouring time and money straight down the drain if you are using the wrong type of name. A large portion of your marketing time and money will feed your competitors marketing budget instead of putting your business at centre stage.
Also, you need clarity to build your brand, and brand strategy is something I very much help my clients with using our Brand Tuned offering.
Small businesses do not have resources to waste so before you consider how to market your business make sure the IP fundamentals are in place. In this post, I do not discuss these but there are posts on the Azrights site that point you in the right direction such as
The world of content is getting noisier and noisier. It can be difficult to make an impact, but it will be doubly difficult to do so if your brand is hard to find once people become aware of you.
That is why sorting out your brand name and strategy is so important. You also need to address how to combine your business, product, and personal brand to best effect, and get all your social profiles set up in a consistent way before getting started. When your resources are limited, it is even more important to be strategic, so you make the most of your content.
Although Interbrand’s ‘10 most common naming mistakes’ article is featured by Google as a top resource, it is more about getting the reader to think that naming is too difficult to do, so they’ll engage a specialist branding agency to help them to choose a name, than guidance for people looking to make a better choice of name themselves. Here is a list of the 10 Mistakes the Interbrand article mentions
Treating Naming as an afterthought
Forgetting that Naming is as strategic as it is creative
Underestimating the importance of a good creative brief
Confusing the need for information with the need for differentiation
Overlooking complex trademark issues
Ignoring global implications
Thinking everything needs a name
Making it emotional
Underestimating the story you need to tell at launch
Ending the verbal identity process at a name
Interbrand is a respected marketing consultancy, specializing in brands and branding management, and operates out of 24 offices in 17 countries. Although it won’t be obvious just from reading their list what the article has to say about these mistakes, the references to brand strategy and story, are not likely to be helpful to a small business owner aiming to choose a name, without the help of an agency.
Many Agencies Make These Mistakes
Interestingly, some of the mistakes the article highlights around trademarks and checking the meaning of the name in other languages are mistakes many branding agencies make when choosing a name for their clients. They invariably leave the legal dimension till the end of the project which is a clear sign that they don’t understand the entwined nature of names and legal availability.
Otherwise, they would do trademark checks on names before handing over to their clients. But they don’t do the most basic trademark checks. I can understand that they’d leave more extensive searching for the client to arrange themselves. However, most agencies hand over a name they’ve only checked out on Google, domain and company registers. It happens all too often that as soon we run checks on the trademark registers the names put forward by the agency for their clients are immediately knocked out. So instead of getting 5 or 6 names, they end up with just one name that merits a full search.
Interbrand is a worldwide agency. It was founded by John Murphy, who pioneered the art of brand valuation, that is, measuring the accounting value of a company’s brands as assets. He stimulated the development of branding as an aspect of business, and the agency has traditionally combined branding with intellectual property because they clearly understood the connection between the two. This understanding is sadly lacking in the small business sector in most parts of the world today.
It’s to address the gap that exists between brand creation and brand protection that I’ve introduced a new product, Brand Tuned, to support the small business end of the market to access IP expertise during the branding process.
For most business owners that don’t want to hand over a naming brief to an agency, and want instead to tackle the naming project themselves, it may be useful to attend my upcoming Name it Right! webinar.
Three Most Common Naming Mistakes
The 3 most common mistakes people make when it comes to choosing names which are noteworthy to mention here are:
Firstly, not giving yourself enough time to choose a name. The Interbrand article refers to this as treating naming as an afterthought. However, the problem isn’t so much that people treat naming as an afterthought as that they often need a name in a hurry because until they have a name, they can’t get on and implement their plans and set up that new business, or embark on that project. So, my advice is to either give yourself more time and focus on other aspects of your projects that don’t rely on you having the name sorted. If it’s possible in light of your business model, go with a temporary descriptive name while you test your concept. Then if it succeeds, rebrand. That might give you a year or more in which to come up with a good name to suit your business.
The second major mistake people make which the Interbrand article doesn’t highlight at all, is that they fall in love with a name and persist with it, despite the name not being available because someone else has already trademarked it. I’ve come across business owners who persisted with a name despite being made aware that someone else had already registered the same name as a trademark. In such cases I suggest the business owner sets aside a sizeable budget for future litigation, or for trying to buy the brand from the current owners, or for rebranding if all else fails.
And last but by no means least, the third most common mistake is to choose a name that’s too descriptive to function as a trademark. Descriptive names describe the goods or services too blatantly to be capable of being trademarked. Clubcard is an example of a name that was developed for Tesco’s loyalty card program by a big agency which they have not been able to trademark.
Descriptive names include British Telecom, Business Networking International, World Wide Fund, Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank etc. These businesses with descriptive names had to rebrand to find a name that was ownable. In such cases, businesses either have to choose a totally new name, or, sometimes they might be able to use initials. BNI, BT, and HSBC are examples of this. However, initials are not a good choice of name, except perhaps for the large well known household name brands like the ones in this example. Also, problems arise when the initials you want to use are owned by another brand. This happened when both the World Wide Fund and the World Wrestling Federation wanted to rebrand to WWF. It resulted in decades of disputes between the two entities until eventually, the World Wrestling Federation rebranded to WWE.
Descriptive names cause huge problems when it comes to naming and is one strong reason agencies should involve a trademark lawyer on their team if they’re picking new names.
The reason problems arise around such names is that most people believe that the more a name says on the tin what it is that their product or service does, the better. So they try to choose descriptive names.
However, if you choose utterly banal non-distinct names that are not ownable you miss the single biggest opportunity that is available to a brand to stand out.
Descriptive names are weak because they are not ownable. That means they are generic terms that everyone else who offers similar products and services need to use.
Such names don’t challenge, excite, or mentally stimulate us. They require little imagination. And they reveal nothing about the personality of your brand (other than exposing your lack of creativity). When you draw from a limited pool of descriptive words, you sound like everyone else, making your name blend in with competitors’ names.
Examples Hotels.com and Booking.com
Hotels.com spent a fortune trying in vain to register hotels.com as a word trademark. Recently, the US Supreme court has muddied the waters by allowing Booking.com to trademark its name. The court overruled the US Patent and Trademark Office’s finding that the .com name was too generic to merit protection.
The general rule in trademark law is that “generic” words that refer to an entire category of goods or services, like “car” or “computer,” cannot be protected under the law because that would give an unfair advantage to the trademark holder.
So, even though Booking.com has secured trademark protection, it is still much more difficult to enforce your trademark rights when you have a name that is borderline descriptive. They may not be able to trademark the name in other jurisdictions, so, your brand protection costs are going to be a lot higher than if your name was totally distinctive like, for example, Google.
If you’re choosing a name then sign up to my webinar where I’ll be explaining how to go about picking a name for your brand.