The third costly mistake people make is Not having a clear brand strategy before getting a visual brand identity
Wally Olins, a thought leader in brands and branding says:
‘A brand is simply an organisation, or a product, or a service with a personality … Branding can encapsulate both big and important and apparently superficial and trivial issues simultaneously … Branding is not only a design and marketing tool, but it should also influence everybody in your company; it’s a coordinating resource because it makes the corporation’s activities coherent and above all, it makes the strategy of the organisation visible and palpable for all audiences to see’.
To think through your brand strategy involves deciding how to create a good business that’s reliable and known for delivering on a specific promise. How will your business idea work? Who will buy from you? What promises will you be known for?
Every brand has its own distinct ‘promise’. It’s due to this promise that we know to expect something completely different if we buy a Rolex watch rather than a Swatch.
Working out your brand strategy is essential if you want to get your business off to a successful start. Thinking through how you want your business to be known isn’t easy, but this is important work. You need to fine tune your brand strategy before you can be ready to brief designers to give your concept a visual identity.
Consider what quality or outcome you want to deliver consistently and reliably. How will customers know what to expect if they use your product or service so that there’s little risk of an unpleasant surprise? Buying a product or service from a business whose brand is not yet known is risky because it represents something untried and untested.
As my first efforts with branding were somewhat unsuccessful, I decided to rebrand a few years ago. This time I knew better than to start off the process by visiting a designer. Instead, I did a lot of introspective thinking, and worked with other professionals to fine tune my brand strategy.
I had to decide what unique angle I was bringing to the market, and how to communicate that message in a way that evoked a response in the minds of customers.
What work was my law firm focusing on? Apart from the fact that we specialised in brand and trademarks, I realised we were very technology and online business focused in everything we did.
Having done my homework and soul searching first, and really considered the business’ mission, values, purpose, and more, I turned to a designer for the visual identity work.
As I had fine-tuned my brand strategy, the rebranding exercise was a great success. We decided to use the tagline, Lawyers for the Digital World. This time the logo was designed to look more IBM like rather than an old fashioned “creative” looking script.
Some of our essential values are encapsulated in our ethos Easy Legal Not Legalese. Another important value is to be forward-thinking and to provide the solutions the market needs. Hence why we’ve developed BrandTuned, a “done with you” style service that combines branding with IP. It ends with designs. We can either do the designs for you using our own creatives, or we give you a design brief that makes it easy for your own chosen designer to translate your brand strategy into visual designs.
The Second Costly Mistake people make is to assume “brand” means a logo or other visual design.
Due to the widespread confusion about branding: what it is, and what you need to do to get a brand, people tend to start by getting a logo and other visual designs, assuming this is what’s involved to “brand” their business.
It’s essential to understand what “brand” means. You don’t need to be a household name for “brand” to apply to you and your business. Brand applies to everyone whether large or small business because we all have a brand whether we know it or not.
What’s involved to create a brand nowadays is much more than the visual identity. That’s enormously important, of course, but before you can get a logo and other visual designs that reflect your business, it’s vital to first work out what you want them to communicate. Who are you? What are you all about? What is your brand promise going to be?
The designer will need some essential information from you about your values and what you stand for to guide the visual identity work. Thinking this through can take months. It’s important to have meaningful answers before engaging a designer. Otherwise, you will make hasty decisions during the branding process, as I did, which will give you an unwanted “branding” outcome.
When I first set up my business back in 2005, the words ‘brand’ and ‘branding’ were confused in my mind. I spent thousands on “branding” without getting anything more than expensive design work. The designs didn’t help me attract the right sort of clients either.
The creative agency I used had a process to help their clients work out what their brand was all about. This involved completing a questionnaire and having a meeting.
I really didn’t understand their questions. For example, when they asked me about my values, I wondered what values they had in mind. Values about what? The designers were also trying to understand what intellectual property meant!
Based on that meeting they sent me a variety of logo designs. I picked one I liked – it had an old fashioned distinctive-looking font. And that was it. My brand identity was created around that logo.
The website they designed for me featured many pictures of musical instruments, including violins and pianos.
At the time being new to the world of business, I was quite clueless about all things branding. So, this is the brand I got. The visuals gave a cliché impression about the work of an intellectual property law firm.
I wasn’t a music lawyer, but due to all the musical instruments featured on the website, I kept getting enquiries from musicians who couldn’t afford our services.
This is a mistake I see many businesses making in that they hand over to designers to brand their business before they’ve thoroughly thought through their business idea for themselves. It’s important to think about the type of client you want to attract.
I should have started the branding process somewhere else. I needed help to understand what “brand” meant and what type of client I wanted to attract. This is something that requires business and marketing thinking. Developing your brand strategy is essential before thinking about visual identity.
Far better to start with temporary, low cost designs. There’s nothing wrong with that. Many of the clients I support have generally spent a year or two getting started with a temporary name and low-cost designs. They’ve tested the market, understood what works, who their ideal client is, and then they’re ready to identify a good name and get a visual identity.
Your brand is the reputation and identity by which you and your business are known. How do you want the world to think about your offerings? What do you stand for? The answer to such questions impacts your choice of brand “signs”, ie, your name and logo and other designs that reflect your brand.
The word “branding” derives from the identifying mark that was burned on livestock with a branding iron when farmers branded their livestock. It was done not only to enable identification but also to make a certain ranch’s cattle unique.
Sometimes the brand mark told you the name or the symbol of the ranch or owner of the cattle. If any rustlers stole the cattle, the evidence was right there that they were stolen. In this way, branding served as
(1) a legal mark of identification
(2) a physical mark of identification
(3) a way of linking the cattle to the owner
(4) a way to stand out from other cattle
(5) a source of prestige for the ranch.
Just looking at the branded livestock enabled people to distinguish them from other cattle. You were also able to see the connection between them and the farmer or the ranch. If the cattle were very strong, numerous and healthy, people knew who they belonged to. “Those are Mr. Miller’s cattle. He owns five thousand cattle and one of the biggest ranches around. See how healthy his cattle are? That must be a big ranch to own all that livestock.”
A brand mark discouraged cattle thieves. It’s like stealing a company car with the logo and company name on it.
For business today, branding has moved on as a concept from its roots in visual imagery. Although the visual element plays an important part in the long-term growth and prosperity of your business, what you first need to do is to sort out what you stand for, in other words, your brand strategy.
Eureka! You have hit on an idea that you believe is a spectacular business idea.
Or you have joined the league of inventors with one breathtaking invention of your own. You can hardly wait to launch it and let everybody know what they have been missing.
Or maybe you have come up with a winning idea for a new business or product, or you simply have an idea you want to turn into a business.
Whatever the idea, unless you know how to hit the ground running with it, you’re wide open to copycats and thieves and fundamental mistakes.
Many otherwise sophisticated CEOs and corporate managers essentially leave a significant portion of value on the table by failing to develop and execute on a brand strategy directed to capturing and maximizing intangible assets, or intellectual property (IP) to be more precise.
Over the coming weeks I will be releasing 7 blogs to help you to understand how to avoid some of the costliest mistakes people tend to make with their big idea.
The key moments these mistakes happen is when you have a new idea to turn into a business or charity or product etc.
Another common time when you’re susceptible to making serious mistakes is when you’re rebranding an existing business or concept.
To make sure you’re on a strong footing when turning an idea you’re excited about into a business or charity or when rebranding, be sure to check out the blogs so you avoid the 7 mistakes.
The First Costly Mistake People Make When Branding their Big Idea or Rebranding Their Business
Is that they don’t start with Intellectual Property.
Thinking about Intellectual Property (IP) the instant you have a new idea or project is the best way to protect an idea. Why? Because ideas alone have no protection under the law.
The fact that you thought of something first, or that an idea is yours means nothing in the world. The minute you reveal your idea anyone may freely use it. Writing down your idea and giving it to someone to hold as proof that you had the idea first does nothing to protect the idea either. Nor does using Non-Disclosure Agreements indiscriminately help much.
It is surprisingly easy to overlook the importance of IP in the early stages when developing your ideas. The internet has changed the rules. The assets of a successful business tend to be intangibles like names, websites, designs, trade secrets and the like. Do bear this in mind when embarking on new projects or creating your brand.
One good reason to think about IP first is so you can understand how to protect the idea as you give it a commercial form, who to reveal it to, how much to reveal, when to be secretive, and when to freely spread your idea. You don’t want to be all paranoid about revealing the idea otherwise you wouldn’t get anywhere with it. On the other hand, you need a good commercial understanding of the world, business and IP, in order to know how much to reveal and when.
Intellectual Property is an umbrella term that refers to the 5 legal disciplines that protect and govern creations originating from the mind – that is intangible assets. These creations might take the form of inventions, designs, art, written materials such as blog posts, music, secret recipes, brand names, etc. These IP laws are known as patents, trademarks, copyrights, designs, and confidential information or trade secrets to use a common term that describes a type of confidential information.
How it works is that one or more of these laws protect a given subject matter. For example, music is protected by copyright. Names are protected by trademarks, and inventions are protected by patents. Some things are protected by more than one type of law. For example, logos are protected by copyright, designs, and trademarks.
You could end up wasting a lot of time and money unnecessarily, all because of some easily avoidable IP mistake.
An extreme example of how failure to understand IP can result in loss is the Karaoke machine. Mr. Daisuke Inoue, the inventor, earned nothing from the billion-dollar industry that the invention spawned. He never thought of patenting his invention until it was too late. Had he done so, it could have made him millions. Reflecting on his experience, one can’t help feeling that it’s unfair that it was the multinationals and not him who made massive financial gains from the invention.
However, the law is clear. As soon as you reveal your ideas, you lose the possibility of patenting if the idea was for an invention. In a world where opportunists are waiting to pounce on the latest new idea, you need to understand the role of IP in protecting the idea. As soon as ideas are in the public domain you can no longer patent them, and others are able to freely make use of them.
But it’s not just if you have an invention that you could lose out by not looking at IP first.
Turning an idea into a business or product and brand involves knowing how to make the idea spread, how to help it to stand out and be memorable.
How ambitious are you for your idea? How much would it matter to you if you made wrong IP decisions? IP is property just like the land is property. It’s the most valuable property your business or idea can be turned into if you get it right.
Whatever you do, don’t start by going to designers for “branding”, such as to get a logo or website. Designers won’t be able to help you with IP. That’s not their expertise. Most of them might know just a little bit more about IP than the general public, but not nearly enough to help you protect your ideas.
To discuss trade mark use let’s start by taking a couple of steps back to understand a bit more about trade marks.
Trade marks are the way to protect your ‘brand”. This word is overused to mean almost whatever a writer wants it to mean, but for current purposes suffice to say “brand” originates from the days when animals were burned with a branding iron to indicate ownership of them.
So to indicate our ownership of our business, or products and services we use various types of “sign”, the most universal one being a name.
The law protects certain names through intellectual property rights known as trademarks.
One major advantage a business has over an individual is in getting to choose its own name. However, the subject of names is surprisingly complex, and poorly understood, even within the branding industry. The upshot is that many businesses do not give the choice sufficient time, and consideration and get into difficulties later on. They might then have to rebrand to either adjust the name or change it altogether.
Some of the complexity arises because there are various places where people may register names. It’s possible to register domain names, company names, or to simply adopt a trading name and use it without taking any further action.
Trade marks are more remote to small businesses due to the higher official fees payable to register them. This makes them less accessible than domain and company names. Trade marks also have complexities that make them less suitable to just go register without taking advice.
The upshot is that fewer people tend to register trade marks than register company or domain names.
In this post, I’m not going to cover what types of name are capable of being owned because that’s a large subject. Instead, I want to focus on trade mark use because people are often confused as to what they may or may not do if a name is trade marked.
For example, can they register a similar name? Is it acceptable to refer to a business by its name on your blog? When may you use a hashtag of a brand name? What if someone registers the ‘domain.sucks’ a version of your brand name? What actions might you take?
Such questions all turn on what amounts to trade mark use. There are more questions than space allows for me to answer them but if you’re wondering about use of others’ trade marks in Google Ads then a good starting point for your research are some posts I’ve written such as Should Google be prevented from profiting from cybersquatting?, Louis Vuitton v Google – The AG’s Opinion and Adwords Trademark Policy – Using Competitors’ Names In Adwords
Function of a Trade Mark
A trade mark acts as a ‘container” in which the brand value generated in the business is captured. Although it is possible to have trade mark rights without registering a trade mark, unregistered rights are very weak. Unless you have a significant budget to enforce your unregistered rights you effectively don’t have any rights in a name you’re using if you haven’t registered it as a trade mark. It’s less expensive to enforce your rights in a name you have registered.
A trade mark ring fences an area of business in which you have exclusive rights to use your brand name. Competitors can be stopped from using any name that is similar in sound, concept, or visually as they may effectively then be “free riding” on your brand.
This is a big trap for the unwary who think they can just make a slight change of spelling in order to use a similar name. Trade marks give wide protection against confusingly similar names which is why it makes sense to ensure you have a name you can own, that is not descriptive, and that nobody else already owns.
A trade mark is the closest you get to having exclusive rights to use the name for your goods and services. If the name of your business is not capable of being protected through a trade mark registration then it will be very expensive, if not impossible to protect your business name and build up goodwill under that name.
The use of a trade mark in connection with goods and/or services in a manner that is likely to cause confusion, deception, or mistake about the source of the goods and/or services is what the law prevents other people doing.
So how might third parties legitimately use your trade mark?
As I mentioned in How To Blog Safely And Avoid Infringement of Intellectual Property the mere reference in your blog to a word trade mark – such as “BARCLAYS BANK” or “GAP” will not amount to trade mark infringement because names are not protected by copyright law, and trade mark infringement is based on consumer confusion. So, a mere reference to someone’s brand name in your blog is not going to lead to such confusion. The only exception to this is if your use is such that the relevant consumer might be led to believe that your blog is somehow connected to or supported by Barclays Bank.
And as mentioned in this blog about the use of #Hashtags and trade mark infringement, “If a hashtag name constitutes or includes a registered trademark, at first glance it may be sufficient (without registration of a hashtag itself) to bring an infringement claim and establish consumer confusion of a competing use.”… however, the courts tend to attribute a degree of consumer sophistication to internet users which makes it less rather than more likely that mere use of a hashtag would amount to trade mark infringement. (See Public Impact v Boston Consulting )
And as for using a trade mark name within a domain name such as .sucks as I mentioned in my blog Buying the Suckscom Version of Your Brand where there is simply non-commercial use, then ‘gripe sites’ or protest sites as they are often called, are unlikely to be making trade mark use of a brand. Therefore, there would be no risk of customer confusion. In such situations, it is possible to argue there is a ‘legitimate interest’ in using the brand name.
The law aims to keep trade marks free for others to use. Therefore, if you own a mark and do not genuinely make commercial use of it in the country in which your mark is registered for a five year period you will not be able to enforce your rights in that trade mark.
It is not sufficient to just say that the mark has been used, or to just produce a catalogue or a price list showing your mark. There needs to be a clear chain of documentation showing use of the mark in relation to the goods / services for which the mark is registered. So, you might be able to prove use for some goods and services in which you’ve registered your mark but not all of them in which case you will lose your rights over part of your mark.
If you’re considering a rebrand or are setting up a new venture start by taking this post on board as it could help you avoid many mistakes people commonly make.
That’s because society hasn’t yet caught up with the huge changes the internet has caused. The way you go about rebranding needs rethinking, yet most people don’t realise this.
I remember hearing about the internet for the first time in the mid-90s during my intellectual property masters’ degree studies. My mind was completely blown away by Professor Chris Reed’s IT law lectures at QMW, London University. Back then the internet was still very much about Janet an academic network. Professor Reed’s lectures were so inspiring in terms of the significant role the internet would play in our lives, that I was compelled to enlist my husband’s support- he is an IT professional – to get us a dial-up internet connection.
Over the ensuing years the internet has evolved to become what it is today – an essential part of all our lives and businesses.
What This Means for Business
It is still hard to believe that in such a short space of time the internet has evolved to radically change the rules. Its thrown many industries into chaos, and in other cases, the internet has subtly, and forever altered how we need to approach things, including branding.
The upshot of these changes, as highlighted in my two books, Legally Branded and Intellectual Property Revolution mean that IP now needs to be one of the first considerations when there is a new project or brand to create.
IP is Part and Parcel of Business
So many people I come across say: “What is IP?” And those who are aware of it, assume it’s to be dealt with in the same way as in pre-internet days. Largely, IP is considered to be something you might want to consider if you’re wildly successful or if you prefer to protect your IP rather than just using it. It’s perhaps unsurprising that society hasn’t yet caught up with the changes, given that it’s still just 20 years or so that the internet has been around.
More than 70 % of corporate value today comprises intangible assets. Intangibles are governed by intellectual property law. Without question intellectual property in the form of patents, trade secrets, copyright, trade marks, contractual relationships, and know-how comprises a significant portion of some of this value.
What is less well appreciated is that these assets do not automatically just exist. Some steps often need to be taken to turn ideas into IP. IP could be lost if not identified, captured, and secured, or if the wrong choices are made – such as of the name for a business or product. The wrong name really can make business so much more of a struggle. The name is the most important way to make a business distinctive and must be chosen with the involvement of trade mark experts.
Leveraging IP is how value embedded in it is realized. An awareness of intangible assets is the way to manage them, and preserve the investment a business makes in its brands
How Aware Are You of Critical IP Issues Affecting Your Business?
Thinking about IP first when you have an idea or project, is a good way to start managing and protecting IP. Have a strategy for handling your IP.
Why is failing to capture your Intellectual Property a costly problem?
It is surprisingly easy to overlook the importance of IP at the early stages of developing your ideas, and to lose the entire value of your business in the process, simply because of a lack of awareness of IP.
Inventors and entrepreneurs often believe that simple tasks like choosing a name for a new product do not involve particular legal consideration. This is not true. The name is too important to choose without reference to trade mark expertise.
For example, you could lose everything overnight as Scrabulous found out. The business was unaware that using a name that was similar to someone else’s trade mark would be a problem. Two Indian brothers developed an app that allowed people to play a word game online with friends anywhere in the world. It was a huge success. Hasbro, the owner of the Scrabble trade mark, found out about the company and had no trouble getting Facebook to pull the app. So the business vanished from one day to the next.
Had the two brothers realised that their choice of name could shut them down they would have chosen a different name for their online game. But they didn’t take advice from trade mark experts.
Not Realising You’re Making IP Mistakes
But this isn’t the only way names can cause problems. People are often unaware that it’s their keyword rich name that blatantly describes their business services that’s the cause of their lack of success. This is something difficult to understand because from a search engine and marketing point of view descriptiveness is no bad thing. But to name your brand with a descriptive term is plain wrong. This is one of the biggest mistakes I see people make and what’s worse they may never realise that the reason business is a struggle is precisely because of their name.
Another example of how failure to understand IP can result in loss is the Karaoke machine.
Mr. Daisuke Inoue, the inventor, earned nothing from the billion-dollar industry that the invention spawned. He never thought of patenting his invention until it was too late. Had he done so it could have made him millions.
Reflecting on their experiences, one can’t help feeling ‘it’s not fair!’ that it was the multinationals and not them who made massive financial gains from these inventions. However, their case is not unusual and even now many inventors know little about their intellectual property rights.
The lesson is simple – if you are an inventor, or entrepreneur you need to know about IP.
Business and IP are intertwined. Don’t think of embarking on branding without first looking at IP. Use a trade mark lawyer who “gets” branding to support you in any naming exercise. Why? Because IP and trademarks are one of those subjects where a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
Your brand name should be a “barrier to entry” – protecting you against the threats that competitors potentially present. Just as patenting an invention gives you a monopoly right over your invention and acts as a barrier to entry against competitors, so names are also important barriers to entry provided they are well chosen. Not any name will cut it. It’s important to take advice on your business or brand name before adopting it.
Your Brand Name Is Like A Physical Plot of Land
Intellectual property rights such as trademarks give you property rights similar to the ownership of physical property. Just as you wouldn’t develop land without first making sure you owned it, so you need to own a name if you’re going to build your brand around it.
There is a similar system in place to that of the land registry, so that you can check ownership rights in a name and register it as a trademark. Although trademarks differ from physical property. They involve complexities. For example, using a similar name is a problem as Scrabulous discovered when it received a cease and desist letter from Scrabble and lost its market leading online word game overnight.
The other day someone said to me, but Shireen we should deal with so many things that we don’t – for example, we should have a shareholder agreement, or we should have a will, we should have employment contracts. He was implying that IP was no different. However, IP like trademarks are completely different. It’s completely wrong to lump trademarking with other legal actions you might put off till it’s convenient. Nor is IP an “insurance” thing either.
IP underpins your very business, and disregarding it is to gamble with your entire business. Would you put off getting title to a piece of land that you were developing by building properties on it? Would you just rely on squatting rights while you developed it? I doubt it. Your brand is no less important.
Don’t Just Use a Name Without Registering it
It’s vital to register a trademark as soon as possible to protect your legal identity before you move on to creating your visual identity.
If there’s a name I myself want to use I won’t even reveal it publicly till I’ve filed an application to register it as a trade mark. I know what can go wrong. So, if you’re testing an idea and are not ready to spend money on trademarking, I recommend using a temporary name rather than a name you love and which you’ve not protected.
With one of my trademarks, I discovered that a bigger business was using the same name and had even registered it as an EU trade mark. I challenged them on this. And because I had right on my side, I prevailed. In that case, I agreed to sell them my trademark for a 5-figure sum because they really needed to use the name. I wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on if I had simply used the name first without registering it as a trademark. In practice, my only option would have been to rebrand given that they’d registered an EU trade mark. I’d have had no financial support for the costs involved in the rebranding. But when you have legal title to a name you have a strong bargaining position.
Registering Trademarks in The Brexit Era
With Brexit having been in the air these past few years and potentially likely to happen in 2020, it makes more sense for people to apply to register a UK trademark than an EU one.
A UK trademark is a solid foundation for extending your trademark protection to other countries worldwide using the Madrid Protocol system. You could specify the EU in such an application and secure protection in the 27 countries.
Since the UK voted to leave the European Union, it’s become more common for brand owners to use the Madrid Protocol system rather than European Union trademarks. These used to be very popular given that a single application enabled you to protect your mark across the EU’s 28 member states (which includes the UK). But Brexit makes an EU trademark less appealing.
The Madrid Protocol system is the way we extend our clients’ UK trademarks to secure protection for their brand in the EU market, as well as the USA – which is one of the other popular jurisdictions.
If you need help to protect your brand then we are well placed to support you.
As Steve Jobs noted, design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.
Designing your business brand, methodology or process is therefore about a lot more than getting a visual identity for it. So, learn to leave Visual Identity Till Much Later Don’t assume branding is synonymous with getting a visual identity.
Mistaking what brand means
I myself made that mistake when I first set up my business in the mid-2000s.
The words ‘brand’ and ‘branding’ were very confused in my mind because I was a new business, and a less experienced entrepreneur back then. So, I spent thousands on “branding” without getting anything more than expensive design work.
Your brand is more about the way you design your business than designs you get for your business to use.
Although, the visual element does play an important part in the long-term growth and prosperity of a business, it’s all too easy to turn to a visual brand identity, when what you actually first need is to sort out your brand strategy.
I’ve explained in other posts why you need to go to different providers of services to get your brand strategy and brand identity, and then your visual identity.
Clarity About Your Business Brand
Only once you’re clear on your business brand would it be appropriate to turn to a designer for a visual identity. You could brief the designer properly, avoiding the need for them to spend hours and hours trying to understand your business, mission and values – which they, of course, need to know, in order to be able to deliver your visual identity.
A brand is much more than a logo, and branding is about a lot more than visual designs.
Just because you need some sort of visual identity to start your venture, doesn’t mean you should undergo a costly branding visual design exercise. You could just use some basic designs more affordably so as to get started testing your business concept, leaving the more comprehensive visual identity work till much later.
Once you’ve thought through and tested your positioning, name, niche, and business model, and identified a winning formula, protected your intellectual property – THAT’s when the time would be right to engage designers to create a visual identity to reflect your brand brief.
Until then, something temporary – or your existing visual identity (if you’re rebranding) will be just fine.
Confusion About Branding
As mentioned, I myself was confused about what branding meant when I started my business some 14 years ago.
I made the mistake of paying for expensive “branding” for my business by engaging some designers who provided “branding” services. They had a process to help work out what my brand was, which involved completing a questionnaire, having a meeting and some discussions which I don’t remember at all, nor did I really understand what they meant by their questions. I know they were also trying to understand what intellectual property meant!
They sent me some logo designs afterwards and I picked one I really liked – it had an old fashioned distinctive looking font. And that was it. My brand identity was created around that logo. I had picked brand colours that I liked before they created the logo, so that was my brand identity work completed.
Why the Brand was Unsuitable
The website they designed for me featured many pictures of musical instruments, including violins and pianos.
At the time being new to business I was quite clueless about all things branding. So, this is the brand I got. It gave a cliché impression about what an intellectual property law firm was all about. The trouble was that I wasn’t a music lawyer, but due to all the musical instruments featured on my site, I kept getting enquiries from musicians who couldn’t afford our services.
This is a mistake I see many businesses making, because they assume branding is about getting a logo and other designs. They hand themselves over to designers to brand their business and remain clueless about what brand really means.
I should add that the designers were lovely people, and very keen to do their best for me. The problem wasn’t with them. It was simply that I wasn’t ready for the branding process at that time and should have started with someone else who could help me understand what a brand is, and to provide guidance so I could develop my business brand strategy before visiting the design agency for the visual identity work.
How different it was for me second time around, a few years ago.
I decided it was time to rebrand and get a visual identity that was more reflective of our focus as a law firm – namely technology and online business.
This time, I did my homework on my business, mission, values, purpose, positioning and more – as well as some of the research I advocate everyone should do before launching their positioning. I then only opted for the visual identity work AFTER getting clarity on my brand strategy on my own (with the help of a marketer). Therefore, the exercise resulted in a more successful outcome.
Every single business, charity or entity has a ‘brand’ in the sense that they all have an identity rather like you or I have an identity as people. To work out the details so that what you say, how you operate and what you promise reflect the way you want to be known as a business and brand takes time to think through.
Values and Beliefs
It involves working out which values of founder are to be paramount in establishing what the brand of the business or charity represents. What its personality is, and what it wants to stand for – it needs to be something that resonates with its customers or those they serve.
Working out what you want to uniquely provide to the market, and your marketing messages to evoke a desired response in the minds of your customers through your brand promise is the first step involved to brand your business. Until your business can consistently deliver that, you will not have a brand
Wally Olins, a thought leader in brands and branding says
‘A brand is simply an organisation, or a product, or a service with a personality … Branding can encapsulate both big and important and apparently superficial and trivial issues simultaneously … Branding is not only a design and marketing tool, it should influence everybody in your company, it’s a coordinating resource because it makes the corporation’s activities coherent and above all it makes the strategy of the organisation visible and palpable for all audiences to see’.
While design helps support the overall impression and feelings a brand wants to evoke and convey, if you don’t first work out your brand strategy for creating a successful business that meets a market need, then no amount of ‘visual identity branding’ will make your business into a successful, coherent brand.
An important point to note is that the good associations that customers have with a brand are, for the most part, transferred to the brand’s name. Just as individuals are identified by their name, so we identify a business primarily by its name.
The name plays a very significant part in the way the law protects a brand. Even if a business has many other symbols, like Coca-Cola has with its distinctive logo or bottle shape, the name is still the most critical component of its identity. This is why you need to work with a trade mark lawyer who “gets” branding for the initial first phase of your branding exercise when you’re developing your brand strategy, and identifying suitable names.
More than 70% of the value in businesses in our digital economy comprises intangible assets. These intangibles include your brand name, logo, website, brochures, and more. They’re impacted by intellectual property laws the world over. Income follows assets. If you own physical property it can generate rental or other income for you. This is well understood in relation to physical property but not so well appreciated when it comes to business assets, such as a brand name or a piece of software. These assets underpinned with IP protection are where the value in your business will lie as you succeed and grow.
So, start your brand thinking by consulting an IP lawyer, that focuses on trademarks and has a deep understanding and interest in what brands are all about.
This is a question I used to wonder about. Deep down I believed ‘brand’ and ‘branding’ to be essentially a surface, cosmetic exercise.
As for ‘personal branding’ the activity had connotations of people learning to be false and less than real. After all, if they spent time thinking about how they wanted to come across, surely that meant they would be artificial rather than authentic? Such people would be too focused on creating the ‘right’ impression rather than being themselves. This is what I used to think. I doubt I’m the only person who has thought in this way about a brand.
Where do prejudices like this come from?
I was wondering where such prejudices about ‘branding’ came from, and whether others share them.
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that there was a time when brand was all about image. Did the hangover of that era create this impression of brand being superficial surface stuff, I wonder?
Now that my views have changed I don’t like to admit how I thought about branding. However, I think there is a benefit to examining such prejudices to see whether they are widespread and shared by others.
Meaning of design
As Steve Jobs put it “Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works”.
In brand creation, the link between design and branding may be one reason the activity is perceived to be about surface veneer.
I remember a few years ago many of the big law firms were all undergoing rebranding exercises. Invariably this involved shortening of their names, unveiling new logos, colours, and slogans – but for all one could tell it was just new visual designs and business as usual. The businesses didn’t seem altered in any substantive way after their rebrands.
I could understand it more when a company like Norwich Union rebranded by changing its name and becoming AVIVA. Its old name was parochial and limiting. If the business wanted to be perceived as more international it definitely needed a name change and new identity.
Then there was BP rebranding from British Petroleum to BP, adopting the green colouring everywhere.
Yet that business seemed to lack an effective belief system to respond appropriately in the face of the oil spill disaster.
Their rebrand seemed to have been a surface exercise in design work. For all the information they put out about their values, none of these seemed to drive the business’ behaviour and response, and therefore seemed to be a surface, superficial exercise.
I have read hundreds of books on branding, and now that I understand the anthropological and social basis of it I know it’s a really important tool in business if properly dealt with.
Clarifying your philosophy and how you mean to function as a business when setting up or rethinking any venture, be it a commercial undertaking or a charity, is crucial to success, provided those decisions are embedded within the business appropriately so that they determine how the business behaves and reaches decisions.
The trouble is that many people invariably assume this branding exercise involves working with designers to get a new visual identity. This is wrong thinking that needs to be debunked.
Branding is not just about the visual identity
The prominent association some people have with the brand and visual identity may explain why I and others have perceived the branding exercise to be cosmetic and surface, rather than having any deep meaning.
My own experiences of branding never allowed the amount of time and space one needs in which to think through the brand philosophy. The branding experiences were invariably spaced out over 3-4 weeks – which is insufficient time in which to make fundamental, profound decisions about your purpose and mission, values, and what brand promise you want to be known for etc.
A Design Brief
For a designer faced with a client that hasn’t done the work on their brand yet, the problem is how to deliver a visual brand identity. So, I totally get why the designer can’t just create a visual identity without knowing what the business is all about and wants to communicate.
The problem is that clients go to designers with no real design brief. So, designers invariably and necessarily need to ask questions and delve as deeply as it’s possible to do in the time available, in order to find out about the business, and its values.
That is the way to arrive at a brief from which to design the visual identity needs to change.
The fact that businesses have done inadequate thinking about their brand strategy before they turn to a designer is the root cause of the problem. It leaves it to the designer to tease out this information so that they can do their job.
Naming calls for different skills
It’s expecting too much of designers, who also have to come up with new names and slogans too to help their clients to embed their philosophy into the business.
The naming side of a brand is really an exercise that calls for completely different skills and shouldn’t be left to designers to deal with.
For naming and slogans, you need trade mark lawyers who could involve a copywriter or linguist to help brainstorm name ideas if necessary. Designers don’t need to be involved at this stage of the process. When you’re finding out who you are, why others should care, how you will operate and so on, you just need to work with a brand strategist that understands trade mark and other IP laws, and the marketing and other aspects of branding.
It’s only when that is all clarified that you need a designer to give visual expression to the brand.
You should choose a name once you’ve understood your target market and what resonates with that market. You don’t choose the name because of what it will look like in a logo. That would be rather superficial in my view, when naming something, to be worrying about its visual manifestation as a logo.
The ideal branding exercise to give a business a brand that will be its central core and soul is one where you spend many months working out your business brand, and brand strategy, including your positioning. Only once that stage is completed would you be ready to identify a name and slogan.
This is why we have created a brand strategy offering for our clients. We can then give guidance to clients on names. I have spent years studying and understand brands – having realised it’s the optimum way forward to give clients the best possible outcome for their brand work.
Not all trademark lawyers can offer such a service yet because the lawyers would first need to thoroughly understand what’s involved in a branding exercise so they can help you create a suitable name and tagline.
So, I want to emphasise that the expertise that’s needed during this first phase is NOT design related. You’re thinking through things like what marketing messages will resonate with the target customer. Is the chosen name or slogan one that the customer would respond to? Is it capable of functioning as a trade mark? Is it available? Does it reflect the positioning without actually describing the activity? Who better to work with at this stage of brand thinking than a trade mark lawyer who has undergone a solid training in brand?
Your brand is what drives your business, a set of promises and assurances that customers should think of when they see or hear your name. It is your unique identity that resonates with your target audience and differentiates you from your competitors. The name and slogan are the root of that identity.
When it’s Appropriate to Seek Designs
Once this first stage of the brand work is completed, and appropriate legal checks have been carried out, and trade marks registered, it would be appropriate to turn to designers to create the visual brand identity.
The exercise that began with IP first to assess which IP rights are most important to the business model, and concluded with legal protection of the brand identity, would mean the legal identity would be firmly and correctly sorted out and locked down. So, a detailed brief could be produced for designers to create the visual identity.
Given this level of detail, the designers would at the very most need a one-hour meeting with the client to get the information they need to produce the visual identity.
Approach to Branding
This approach to branding should be what small businesses do, because it brings down the overall costs for the client. The visual identity costs will be a fraction of the price designers now need to charge. The visual design price would therefore drop because designers no longer need to spend time learning about the business and teasing out its mission, values and so on. Nor would they need to do work that they’re not well placed to do, such as devising new names and slogans.
As such the client is the winner. They have much greater clarity about their brand when constructing their business model and I suspect this would impact their success rate in business because they could design the business correctly and be better placed to build on solid foundations.
So, I advocate separating the legal identity and brand strategy from the visual identity. They need different advisers. Azrights supports clients with brand strategy and naming, while the visual identity is then undertaken by designers who we can introduce, or you can find yourself.
Another difference in the outcome is that instead of the brand guidelines being focused purely on the visual dimension – the logo and colours, the client would get two sets of brand guideline – one focused on the brand strategy, covering issues such as communications and embedding the brand into the culture of the business, while the visual brand guidelines would focus on use of logos and colours, as they do now.
With the correct strategy, your brand will gain in value over time. This value will come from the positive reputation your business develops. For more information read my earlier blog on how to establish your brand.
Brand strategy is one of the most important issues to deal with if you want to create a business that grows in brand value and delivers more leads and opportunities.
We’re developing a methodology to support our clients to create their brand strategy and it’s important to take a fresh look at what you think “brand” means when considering this piece and the videos here.
Brand, branding, intellectual property, trade mark, business design – these are all very much misunderstood as terms, or people don’t even know what they mean. Yet these are really important issues for a business to take on board whether it’s starting up, scaling or looking to exit.
In the blog post and first video, I explain what is involved in working out your brand strategy.
Don’t assume bigger businesses all have brand strategies because many of them don’t have one – particularly tech companies as they focus all their attention on the product.
Uber is an example of what happens when you don’t have a brand strategy. While the business is a success and has even reached unicorn status, its lack of attention to brand has caused numerous problems. In the second video, I go into Uber’s case in more depth.
If you want support to craft your brand strategy so as to build brand value, and attract more leads and opportunities then do get in touch. We can help you whether you’re a start up, scale up or a business looking to plan your exit.
Here is how I see it changing the branding industry, at least as regards the branding of service-based businesses.
Branding Industry Approach
The branding industry has traditionally left IP to be dealt with by lawyers later once the brand has already been created.
The approach is to design the brand, and then go to lawyers to protect the new brand. Sometimes the designer even suggests names and then checks them out on Google and on company and domain sites.
The trouble with this approach is that you need to check the name properly whether you are choosing the name for the client or the client has found its own name. Many problems have arisen for businesses that failed to do this fundamental checking. By leaving it to the client to seek out legal advice, it’s potentially setting the client up for difficulties because in many cases people don’t bother to seek protection at all or if they look for help they get it from a business lawyer rather than from a trade mark expert. So the business misses out on important advice.
This approach was viable in a pre-internet world where there were fewer brands and less visibility if you were using a name that belonged to someone else.
In an internet environment where virtually all assets of a business are intangibles, it becomes foolhardy to leave IP like trade marks till later. IP plays such a central role in business that it must be the starting point when planning any project or venture.
Some of the intangible assets that businesses own, or which benefit them nowadays are things like data, processes, relationships, networks, culture etc. These may have always existed in the past but now that most assets are intangible, they have taken on greater significance.
Many of these assets don’t neatly fall within the traditional definition of intellectual property – that is, patents, designs, trade marks, copyright, and confidential information.
They are intellectual capital though and you need to understand IP even more deeply to know how best to protect and deploy this newer form of asset within your business.
I use IP here in its widest sense, to refer to all the knowledge and skills a business might use in order to succeed.
IP Risks and Opportunities
IP risks and opportunities impact the way you create a brand strategy and design the structure of a business. For this reason, where in the past I would describe myself as an intellectual property lawyer, now I see myself as an Intellectual Property lawyer with a difference. That’s because I integrate IP, brand, and marketing to support startups, scale ups, and those exiting their businesses to design a business that builds in value and attracts more leads and opportunities.
I’ve spent years studying brands and marketing closely. I’ve read hundreds of books, attended dozens of courses, been through a couple of branding exercises and am so interested in the topic that I am a constant student in this area of business.
I foresee that in future we will see more and more intellectual property lawyers integrating IP, brand, and marketing, to ensure their clients businesses are built for success.
In larger businesses, different departments are currently involved in issues relating to the brand– IT, marketing, PR, design, and legal. In the future, they will be more multidisciplinary in approach. Every team will involve a trade mark lawyer who “gets” branding and therefore can advise on brand from a legal dimension as well as from a business perspective.
The legal services industry is undergoing fundamental challenges and transformations and will continue to do so in the coming years. Many lawyers will realise that they are in a wider business than their current narrow focus on pure law.
Trade mark lawyers need to focus more on the brand and become the business advisers of choice for organizations that are formulating their brand strategy. They could give so much more value than simply being asked to search names for availability. But for them to deliver more value involves a sea change in training and education.
One significant advantage these professionals currently have is their depth of understanding of the legal aspects of the brand. As such they are better placed than people from other disciplines such as design or marketing to advise on brand. Many designers and marketers come to branding with no understanding of IP law at all.
While they are suitable for creating the visual identity, or marketing plan, they have a huge learning curve to advise on the IP aspects of branding, which are of central relevance when you’re designing a business.
The methodology I’ve developed to support my clients ensures they choose names that are in line with their positioning and by working with us they have the added benefit of very cost effective IP protection that’s thrown in as part of the work. It requires very little effort to support them on the copyright or to draft an effective trade mark application when you’re working closely with them and understand their business intimately.
Our process also focuses on designing the business correctly to ensure it attracts leads and opportunities as a starting point for working out its positioning and name.
The creation of a visual identity is postponed till much later.
In my new book, I’ll be explaining why I think it’s essential in the new world we live in to separate brand strategy and business identity, from visual identity creation. The two disciplines really should be kept separate.
The word brand and branding is much misused and misunderstood.
The shift that has happened in society due to the internet is being felt in every area of life, and it’s important that businesses understand why their first port of call when looking to brand their business should not be a designer.
Last week I explained in my blog Why is a good name important to a company just how important names are to a company. Do read it to understand this important topic which may seem quite minor but actually plays a central part in the success of a business.