Tag Archives: Brands and Trademarks

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How to Get What You Want and Need Out of Branding

how to gBefore 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:

  1. What do you do?
  2. Who do you do it for?
  3. Why does it matter? and
  4. 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.

Brand Associations

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.

Simply Messages

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Brands Grow

How Brands Grow – A book by Byron Sharp

Brands GrowBack in 2011 when I began writing my book Legally Branded I realised that despite spending years focused on brand protection, I didn’t really know what the word ‘brand’ meant and what was involved to create one.

Having joined BNI soon after starting my business in 2006 I kept hearing the designer in the chapter referring to how everything you do is your brand, or that it was important to stand out. Intrigued, I had become a client of the agency and undergone “branding”. Yet here I was a few years later unsure what ‘brand’ meant. I asked a group of entrepreneurs in a Facebook group what they understood by the word, and got a host of different responses. I also sought out definitions in respected textbooks.

Over the years, I’ve read many books on branding and heard many people refer to it. The word is bandied around quite a lot, and yet most people are largely unaware of what it actually means.

A brand is actually one of the most valuable intellectual property rights a successful business can have. In fact, most business assets such as the brand are largely digital and intangible in the 21st century. Much of the work that a creative agency does when “branding” a business involves creating intellectual property assets which the business should own. However, unless there is the right written agreement between an agency and its clients the client will not own the IP assets.

It makes sense that a 21st century approach to branding should be an IP led activity so a lawyer can, among other things, ensure the agreement with the design agency protects the client. Brand creation should not be a design led activity.

I’ve decided to write a book on the subject, but I don’t want to just add to the noise around brand and branding. I want to discover what really moves the needle in branding, so that my book can truly enlighten readers and act as a guide for them. My starting point for this, has been Byron Sharp’s research, which is all about evidence-based marketing, as detailed in his book  How Brands Grow.


Scientific discoveries

The result of research conducted by Byron Sharp and his team with the world’s top brands at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, University of South Australia indicates that our existing preconceptions about increasing the loyalty to our brands is misguided. He found that all brands have a lot of buyers who only buy them infrequently. Even the Apples and Harley Davidsons have a lot of light users who buy other brands more than they buy them.

Those brands with a smaller market share have less market share, largely because fewer people know about them to buy them. The people who do buy them are less loyal and buy them less often. They devote less of their whole category buying to them. Consequently, the brand has fewer loyal customers.

The normal assumptions are that niche brands have a very loyal customer base, albeit small.  However, it seems from the research that you can’t grow by selling to your existing customer base. You need to find new customers.

I’m still working out how to apply the research to service businesses, but the implication seems to be that branding is terribly important – not for building deep emotional connections with consumers, as is generally thought, but in the battle for attention. Consumers are very busy with other things, which is why they don’t fall in love with brands. They’re very happy to be loyal to a repertoire of brands. Even heavy category buyers don’t buy all the brands that are on the market. They keep returning to some favourites. They’re happy to be loyal. To do that they have to recognise the brand, notice the brand. The key in other words, is that brand has to be present wherever the consumer is looking to buy.


Implications for Branding

The implications of these fundamental scientific discoveries and findings about what marketing works are huge.

Another book that has emerged from that institute is Building Distinctive Brand Assets by Jenni Romaniuk, and the combination of the two books blows away some of the big myths in marketing.

My conclusion from the books, and what my own TUNED framework stresses, is that branding is largely about setting yourself apart. You need to look like you, not looking like your competitors.

If you can do that you can build a loyal customer base. You don’t have to get people to fall in love with your brand. You just need to get into your consumers’ heads.

Subway is an example Byron Sharp gives of a brand that has managed to get our collective attention.  Sandwiches are a big category. There was no branded sandwich before Subway. Subway came up with a brand that has got into everyone’s heads. People know they can get sandwiches there. It’s not built the business on the quality of its sandwiches.

The battle for mental availability is a hard barrier to push through.

The Subway name is a good one because it’s distinctive and that is another reason why the brand has been able to stick in our minds. The company didn’t try to use a name like Big Sandwich to describe its sandwich, which is just a quick example of some of the less distinctive naming approaches that might have the benefit of communicating what you you’re all about, but don’t help you to truly stand out longer term. Descriptive names that are not truly inventive can simply make a brand generic, and therefore blend in among all their competitors.

All Brands Face the Same Challenges

All brands are smaller than they want to be, so they face the same challenges. A new brand has the challenge to implant memory structures, to build mental availability amongst a big population of potential buyers.

The real advantage that big brands have, is that their mental availability overlaps with their physical availability. What that means is that any store they’re in, that physical availability works harder because anyone who comes into the store is more likely to notice the brand. The brand is in their head as well. It means the brand’s marketing works more effectively because anyone they reach with their advertising also shops in places where they are present. So, this creates a virtuous circle.

The bigger you get the more your mental and physical availability overlap so that everything works better for you and you’re more visible.

A small brand has to build mental and physical availability. Sharp suggests focusing on getting the mental and physical availability to overlap.  Consumers are in all channels so if you’re only in one channel you’re going to be smaller, and your advertising isn’t going to work so well because it benefits some people but not others who predominantly go to other channels. These challenges are exactly the same for all brands, but for a small brand it looms larger due to its lesser resources.

However, all brands start out small. Some manage to make the transition to being big.


What it Means for B2B Brands

For B2B businesses the takeaway message from this is to be present on all social media platforms, even if you double down on one or two more than on others. The notion that you don’t need to be on all the platforms is misguided in my view.

If you’re a new brand, the challenge of building a customer base is really stark. According to Byron Sharp the danger is that small brands fall for old marketing myths that if they start really small hopefully, they’ll go viral – that if they focus on people who really love them, they will somehow magically infect all the other people. In his view this is wishful thinking.

How brands grow is about how buyers buy, and how brands compete. What is branding hasn’t changed. Brands are constantly competing head on. That makes marketing and branding very important. You can’t build mental availability and get into people’s heads without a brand.

However, the emphasis needs to be less on creating “meaningful” brands and typefaces and other issues that people currently focus on. What matters is the distinctiveness of your brand so that people realise who you are, and that they’re not seeing someone else. One of his conclusions is that branding is largely meaning free.

We use brands to simplify our lives. To be a little box so we store memories. McDonalds has done amazingly well to get into people’s minds. We all know what they sell. There are millions of cafes where we don’t know what they serve.

One implication from this, in my view, is that lawyers need to work alongside branding agencies to advise on what can be protected, because there is no point placing a huge emphasis on a branding element that you can’t uniquely own.  Instead, you need to make sure you’re creating distinctive brand assets that are ownable. If the distinctiveness can’t be protected then the brand isn’t going to be able to prevent competitors copying.


The New Era of Marketing

From books like Building Distinctive Brand Assets by Jenni Romaniuk it is clear that the new era of marketing will emphasise distinctive assets and will be guided by this insight in the branding process.

Tropicana is an example of a brand that didn’t understand what made it distinctive, how they featured in people’s minds. They decided to make their packaging more premium, and in the process took the orange off the pack. Sales dropped dramatically.

Sharp and Romaniuk point out that consistency is very important in branding. So, a rebrand is risky. It’s a bit like starting again. Their advice is to do careful research before making a change to avoid disaster like the Tropicana experience.  Use the research to give the creative team a framework within which to be creative.

Marlboro cigarettes were unsuccessful with their brand which at one time targeted women. So that was a good reason to rebrand, to search for something better that might work. They started again, and that led to the hugely successful Marlboro brand using a Cowboy.

Sharp and Romaniuk suggest it’s hard to think of a brand where you’re succeeding and would make a change. Unless there are overwhelming reasons to change things stick with your existing branding and if you must make changes then do some research first to work out which assets are distinctive in order to understand what you can and can’t touch in any brand refresh.

For new brands who do not yet have distinctive assets it’s worth thinking about the future at the start to decide what assets to create and build recognition for. This is where being informed by intellectual property law would really help.

People often focus on consistently using the same colours in order to stand out and be memorable. However, Romaniuk’s research found that colour was not such a recognisable asset for brands. And for most practical purposes it’s safe to say you can’t own a colour trade mark either. It would take a lot of time and a huge marketing budget to reach people’s consciousness with your brand colours such that you could claim rights over a colour on its own.

Careful thought will need to be given to such issues in branding, and this will be one of the focal points of my book, focusing on elements that can be uniquely owned, and can’t very easily be copied by competitors.

For branding that will really move the needle for you, it’s vital to have a distinctive name. Register for my upcoming webinar to learn more about how to approach naming or rebranding your business.

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how. to design your brand

How to Design Your Brand

how. to design your brandThe silo approach to branding whereby creatives produce brand designs and names without any reference to Intellectual Property lawyers, while IP lawyers protect IP that they’ve had no part in advising upon, does not give business the best outcome either from a branding perspective or from an IP one.

The separation between the worlds of branding and IP protection is a hangover from the 20th century and has no place in the fast-paced digital world we now live in, and into which we have been catapulted more completely by the Coronavirus.

A 21st century approach to branding needs to emulate the likes of Google who understand that achieving a strong brand requires an inter-disciplinary approach. They break down the silos in their organisations to enable powerful brand creation.

The small business end of the market is not even aware of the problem that the silo approach entails. The upshot is that founders of businesses undergoing branding get poor value for money.


Why I Decided to Develop Expertise in Branding

As a specialist in trademarks and brands, and business owner, I was always highly interested in marketing and branding, so decided to study the subject for myself in order to help clients in a more holistic way.

I have spent many years educating myself, observing, and supporting clients, such that I’m now writing my new book – BrandTuned, How to Perfect, Protect and Promote your Brand. All the subject areas involved to ensure founders get a good outcome are brought together in my TUNED process which stands for:

Think IP First!

Understand your ideal client!

Name it right!

Establish your Brand Strategy!

Driving the brand strategy!

Once clients have been through my TUNED process, they are clear on their business vision, mission and values, and have their positioning and stories ready to establish their brand strategy. They can then achieve the best outcome from their branding, and hence, increase their chances of success in business. It’s then possible to engage the right designer to work with to achieve a stunning visual identity.

The visual dimension is hugely important and you’re much more likely to get a stand-out visual identity if you bring it into focus at the right time, which is after you’ve given your brand some deep thought.

In the 21st century branding is no longer a design-led activity, it is an IP, marketing and business led activity with the visual dimension coming in at the end, not at the beginning.

IP has to be taken on board first and throughout brand creation – it should not be left till the end of the process if you want to create a powerful brand.



Symbols are how we communicate. For example, the letters T-I-G-E-R are a symbol that an English- speaking individual will understand as a word that evokes a tiger.

Our ability to visually communicate a story depends on the use of the right symbols for the right audience. This might involve the use of new symbols to replace existing ones

Semiotics is all about the person looking at a symbol – what it evokes for them. A symbol that works for one group does not work for another. For example, in Silicon Valley, the hoodie is a symbol of status (being too busy to go shopping) whereas in a different context, such as in East London, a hoodie is a sinister symbol

Air bnb’s new belo logo is a good example of a brand creating a new symbol to evoke its brand.

How to Approach Visual Identity to Get The Best Results

In her book Visual Hammer Laura Ries points out that the role of a brand is to establish a unique or dominant position in the mind of its customers. The book clearly conveys the dynamics of branding, and why it’s so important to start with the brand strategy to get a sense of your story and positioning before turning to visual identity.

The objective of positioning is to put a word or a verbal concept into consumers’ minds. For example, take Volvo. Years ago, when there was an array of cars for consumers to choose between, the company latched onto “safety” as its positioning. That became the verbal nail to use Laura Ries’ words. They then hammered the idea with dramatic television commercials featuring crash tests.

So, the task in branding is to find a way to position what we do that makes it easier for the customer to find what we uniquely provide. Positioning is a service to the customer because it gives them a shorthand way to make their choice. In the car example, by knowing that Volvo stands for safety, customers for whom safety is a key attribute, immediately have a way to identify the right car to buy.

The “position,” that is, your verbal concept, is the nail. The tool that hammers the positioning nail into consumers’ minds is the visual hammer according to Laura Ries.

Visual Hammer is one of those books that makes effective marketing sound like common sense. Its basic idea is that a strong visual will emphasise an effective positioning. However, not any visual will do. You need a “visual hammer” that hammers a verbal nail. The Marlboro cowboy. Coca-Cola’s contour bottle. Corona’s lime.

The cowboy hammers “masculinity.” The contour bottle hammers “authenticity.” The lime hammers “genuine Mexican beer.”


Bridging the Brand Gap

During the visual identity stage you’re reassessing whether the positioning idea you’ve arrived at, and your brand stories, are capable of being conveyed with a visual signpost. Is the concept too abstract? Does it need tweaking?

We all have two brains, one verbal and one visual, and the way to bring the two together is through the visual. The visual attracts the attention of the right side of the brain which sends a message to the left side of the brain to read or listen to the words associated with the visual.

If you, as founder of your business make it your business to understand what the challenges are you are more likely to find a designer who can help you achieve the right outcome. But stay involved all the way. Avoid letting your lack of design background exclude you from the process of bridging the gap between strategy and design.

Invariably positioning statements are expressed verbally. The trick is to find a word that can be expressed visually so that you can make an impact in people’s minds.

Not any visual will do though.  You need to be quite clear about what you need the visual to do before you engage a creative team. If you have done your own work to arrive at the best possible verbal positioning ideas, story lines, names and taglines you will have the wherewithal to fuel the visual identity work.

Be ready to adapt the strategy when working with creatives as it’s important to identify a suitable verbal basis for the visual hammer to be created. It sets you at a huge advantage and much more likely to get an effective visual hammer if you’ve thoroughly thought through your brand strategy. A designer can only work their magic if you’re clear about your brand before you engage them.

You stand a chance of creating a visual hammer that’s true to what you stand for when you’ve put the work into your brand. It can’t be achieved in a few weeks or even months. I’d suggest allowing 6 months to a year to deeply think through your brand strategy


Emotional appeal

The best way to drive home your positioning is with a visual that has emotional appeal, one that reinforces the verbal positioning concept.

In the noisy world we live in consumers will remember very few positioning slogans. They won’t remember your message. Emotion is the verbal glue that holds some concepts in a consumer’s mind. Visuals have an emotional power that printed words do not.

The designer’s role is to inject emotion, to draw attention to the brand, and to use colour, shapes and icons to help you to stand out among the competition and to be memorable. It’s well worth understanding what the designer is doing though because you can’t assume the designer is conveying the best images. I’d recommend reading Laura Ries’ book.


In conclusion, a brand is a shorthand for the customer’s expectations. What promise do they think you’re making? What do they expect when they buy from you or meet with you or hire you? That promise is what you want to communicate in your positioning, and to ensure that your brand designs communicate in a visceral way.

An icon such as the Airbnb Belo acts as a mental shorthand for the promise that you make, a visual hammer as Laura Ries puts it. Without a brand a logo is meaningless as is a visual hammer, so the two need to combine.

Having clarity about what you stand for, why you’re different and why people want your brand is the way to begin the process.

My gift to you during these challenging times is a way to reinvent and think through your brand during these challenging times so that when we emerge from the Corona Virus crisis, hopefully by mid 2021, your business can soar.

Join the BrandTuned Facebook group where I will be announcing the details of how you can start my TUNED process.

JOIN BrandTuned Facebook Group

Third Costly Mistake

The Third Costly Mistake People Make When Branding or Rebranding

Third Costly MistakeThe 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.

branding or rebranding

The Second Costly Mistake People Make When Branding or Rebranding

branding or rebrandingThe 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.

The First Costly Mistake People Make When Branding their Big Idea or Rebranding Their Business

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.

trademark use

Trade Mark Use – When May You Legitimately Use Someone Else’s Trade Mark?

trademark useTo 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.

As they say in trade mark law, Use it or Lose it

Are You Looking to Brand or Rebrand Your Business?

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.


What Does It Mean When You Trademark A Name?

trademarkYour 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.


Design Your Business Brand

brandAs 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. 


Brand Name

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.