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How Not To Brand Your Business

How Not to Brand Your Business in the 21st century

How Not To Brand Your BusinessThe internet has radically changed the rules for most industries, be it news, music, PR, retail or any other you may care to think about. That’s not surprising given the rapid pace of technological development the internet has spawned. Society as a whole is being transformed radically, especially in the wake of the Coronavirus.

And yet many industries are plodding along much as they did in the 20th century, that is, if they can get away with carrying on as usual. They are adapting somewhat slowly to the shifts in the world that the digital landscape entails.


Lack of awareness of IP

In the years I’ve been supporting businesses with their trade mark and brand related needs at Azrights, I’ve been struck by the widespread lack of awareness about intellectual property (IP).

In today’s world where most assets of a business are creations of the mind – intangibles – that are governed by intellectual property laws, it is striking that people create businesses without first taking advice on IP laws.

It’s like not bothering to get any legal help when opening a physical shop or taking on an office lease.

The problem is that while everyone understands there are legal implications in the actions they take in their businesses which have real world signs, they’re largely unaware that actions such as choosing a name, or an image, or developing an idea have legal consequences, and therefore that  IP is intrinsically relevant to their projects.

The core 3 IP rights of copyright, trade marks and confidentiality are relevant to every single business. Every founder needs a basic grasp of IP in the 21st century.

Even if people are aware of IP, they’re often not aware of the need to take it into account at the right time, which is at the start of projects or new campaigns. This can cause serious problems for some businesses.

People know that tangible property like land requires professional searches and a buying process before developing the land. However, they don’t appreciate that IP such as names or logos or websites are also property so that their ownership needs to be addressed first.

People commonly assume that protection of IP is something you can safely leave till your business has taken off and is wildly successful, or at least until you have something worth protecting. This is possibly how the assumption has arisen in the world of branding that protection comes after branding and visual identity creation, rather than before.

This notion that IP comes last is completely misguided, and inappropriate in the 21st century when the assets of most businesses are largely comprised of intangibles.

The fact that the internet makes business global, and visible means that IP actions we take are out there for all to see, and if we’re infringing on someone else’s rights, it’s likely to be found out in a way which just didn’t happen pre internet, and in the days when there were fewer businesses out there.

Think of IP such as a brand name as you would a plot of land that you are going to develop. While with physical property you might understand how to assess its quality, and suitability for your purposes, with intangibles like names, you may not realise that the same considerations apply as with land, that it’s possible for an experienced trade mark lawyer to conduct searches, and advise on the suitability of a name for the brand you are intending to build.


Brand names

Whether people choose their brand name themselves or have help from a service provider during branding, one common mistake is to use non-distinctive names that are difficult to protect. The purpose of a name and its role in business is to stand out and protect you against competitor actions that very likely to arise if your business succeeds.

IP is how you protect yourself against various realities of business life, such as copying, and trying to steal market share from those who are successful. When choosing names, people are purely focused on whether their name communicates what it is that the business offers, what services it carries out and the like.

If you want to communicate what the business does then unless you can do it in a very clever way, you would do better to use the tagline for that purpose, rather than the name itself.

Clubcard which I’ve previously highlighted such as in the first episode of the Brand Tuned podcast, is an example of a non-distinctive name. It was developed for Tesco’s loyalty card scheme. The name proved not to be a good container of the value the business generates.

Tesco spent millions promoting the Clubcard name, only to discover it couldn’t be secured as a word trade mark for loyalty card schemes. When a word is deemed insufficiently distinctive to function as a trade mark, it means everyone else can also call their loyalty card schemes Clubcard in this example. Effectively Tesco wasted their marketing budget developing recognition in a generic term that is freely usable by its competitors.

The Tesco example illustrates what happens all too often when brand creation is separated from brand protection.

Agencies that provide naming services tend not to involve lawyers in the project. They create the name, and leave the final stage, that is the trade mark clearance searches and registration for the client to address themselves with their own lawyers. That approach comes fraught with problems – for one thing it relegates a very minor role to the lawyer, who is the most experienced in trade marks and names.

Also, it means that a trade mark lawyer is never consulted on the name because most businesses don’t have a trade mark lawyer on their team, whereas they will have a general business lawyer they will likely turn to for help. Their general commercial lawyers are not experts in names but can search the trade mark registers. However, their lack of experience in trade marks means they won’t be able to advise on the international dimension and on the suitability of the name for the client’s long term plans. They also won’t always be able to identify names that can’t function as a trade mark.

The upshot is that the client does not receive the best advice on one of the most important assets their business will use and build value around.  This can have serious consequences for the business in terms of the revenues it generates and its ability to protect itself against competitors.

Branding agencies really should bring the right expertise on board upfront during the branding process. At the very least they should bear a small portion of the legal fees out of their own budgets if they are offering a naming service even if their client doesn’t want to incur the extra cost of legal fees.

Leaving the legal dimension till the end in the way it’s currently done in the industry means it can be too late for lawyers to impact the choice of name and advise on how to make the name more distinctive for the business. Ultimately the client loses out because if the name or other assets are weak or can’t be readily defended or extended to other countries, the client’s business suffers. It will have a limit on its revenues.

A search and opinion on a name is not a big expense, and could easily be absorbed in the budget of the agency itself, because it’s an intrinsic part of identifying a name to ensure it’s fit for purpose. How can you do that if you don’t have any legal input for the agency itself?

Silo approach

This silo approach in branding whereby brand creation and brand protection are separated doesn’t give founders the best outcome from their branding ventures. To choose brand elements like names that stand out should involve people who understand IP, that is lawyers experienced in copyright and trade marks, who “get” branding and know what the creatives are trying to accomplish.

Clients need to understand the pros and cons of using a particular name before adopting it. At its most basic, if a name is incapable of being owned or would be very difficult to defend, you would be building your business on weak foundations to use it.

I firmly believe that an inter-disciplinary approach to brand creation is essential when a new brand is being designed for small businesses because they will be largely unaware of the significance of IP.

In many ways, IP is all about the inner workings of a business. Discussing the details of IP, can be the equivalent of trying to interest a car driver in how their car engine works. They just want to drive the car they don’t want to learn about the engine.

Agencies providing naming services would be doing their clients a huge favour to find a way to involve lawyers in the branding process. There is a lot more value that the right lawyer can add to the branding project than trade mark availability searches. They can advise on names, and also on how to create other distinctive brand assets for the business to consistently use. For example, colour tends to be emphasised a lot, but it’s not easily protectable. Perhaps the business would do well to develop other assets and focus more on consistently using those on social media and the like, rather than this emphasis they place on colour.

It presents a serious risk to the client if the agency hasn’t at the least had a lawyer conduct searches on the final name the client adopts. It’s like giving someone a dodgy car to drive and telling them to check with their own mechanics that the engine is in good working order.

As clients are unaware of the significance of IP they might well assume the name is good to go, and that the agency is being over cautious in counselling them to consult lawyers. Many of them can and do simply start using the name without consulting a lawyer, so if the agency hasn’t conducted trade mark searches on the name then it really is a defective name they’re potentially giving the client to use.

Company, domain and google checks are simply not enough. There are a host of reasons why a name would not show up in these checks. For example, it might be a product name that’s sold offline. Or someone may have registered the name while they get ready to launch their new business. So, it’s fraught with risk for agencies to offer naming services without doing what’s known as an identical trade mark search on the name themselves before handing it over to their client.

Otherwise they could be laying themselves open to litigation, and it’s not doing the best for the client. By all means further searching and registration can be left to the client, but handing over a name that hasn’t had the most basic trade mark clearance checks is untenable, even if the agency warns the client that they should have their own legal checks to protect the name.

So, I strongly advise agencies to get some identical legal searching in place for names they select for clients and to pay for the checks out of their own budgets. It doesn’t need to be a large expense, but it’s essential to have done these checks before warning the client to run their own checks.

One option is for creatives to learn to do their own trade mark searches, which involves also learning how to find the right trade mark classifications in which to search. I have an online course that teaches all that. It’s an introduction to IP. So, if agencies dealt with their own searches, that could be a way for them to hand over a name more safely to their clients, and they wouldn’t then need to bear the cost of legal searching out of their own budgets unless it was a particularly complex search in which case they could then take advice on an ad hoc basis.


Skillset of Creatives Does not extend to IP

What clients of branding agencies don’t realise is that even if designers or creatives regularly choose names, they are not experienced in IP and trade mark law. It’s not their skillset. IP and trade marks are complex.

Designers and creatives who create intellectual property for their clients don’t know what is involved to protect the brand, while trade mark lawyers don’t get involved in brand creation and wouldn’t know what’s involved to create a brand anyway.

The two worlds are completely separate. There is a huge gulf between them.

The fact that the two disciplines are so far apart is going to be increasingly untenable as we move further into the 21st century.

I reckon agencies will increasingly see the need to combine both skillsets so that their clients can end up with a stand out brand, using an ownable name and other distinctive assets. The brand name is, after all, a hugely important choice and using the right lawyer on their team means they get a lot more than just trade mark register searching.

The fact that brand creation is a design led activity is a hangover from the 20th century. When the assets of businesses are largely comprised of IP, they will soon realise that brand creation needs to be an IP led activity.


Combining Both Disciplines

As a business owner and trade mark solicitor dealing with all things brand related, I became keenly interested in marketing and branding a number of years ago.

Even before I began writing my first book Legally Branded in 2011, I was reading a lot of business books on marketing, branding, sales, websites, digital marketing, content marketing, customer service, and more. I’m a real bookaholic, buying more books than I ever have time to read. Sometimes I’ll read a book I bought a few years back and all in all I get through a lot of books. I also attend courses and masterminds to develop my skills, and generally think a lot about branding, and marketing.

The main benefit from all this learning is that I’ve improved my own skills in running my business, and I’m now writing my third book, which is all about branding.

While in the past I used to refer my clients to branding agencies if they needed a name, now, having  witnessed the numerous problems businesses have around their names, whether they choose the name themselves or get help from a service provider, I have decided to offer a naming service ourselves.

I can do this because I’ve developed this unusual combination of skills that brings brand creation and brand protection together. Being able to advise small businesses in an inter-disciplinary way is more affordable for the client.

Our Brand Tuned product enables us to provide essential advice on IP upfront. The fact that we are supporting the client to choose the right name, and to protect it before the visual identity work is undertaken means we can do everything in the right order ensuring clients can build their business on solid foundations and don’t miss out on owning valuable IP rights.

We address the visual identity part of branding by either bringing in the client’s own chosen designer or a partner design agency.

I’m also speaking to agencies to see whether a version of the Brand Tuned product might suit them to offer to their clients when they’re quoting for a branding project. Like that those clients who want it, can benefit from IP expertise during the branding process.

I do hope founders and branding agencies alike will listen to the Brand Tuned podcast where I bring together, business, branding and IP.

Sign up to the series of webinars I’m currently running for businesses as they pivot or fine tune their business, and learn more about how to identify a suitable name for your business

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baby boomer

Baby Boomers – 6 Reasons Why You Need To Avoid Stereotypes When Marketing To The Baby Boomer Generation

baby boomerIf you prefer to listen/watch a video instead of reading then click here to go to my youtube channel where you can watch it instead

A LinkedIn connection recently messaged me saying “this may be of interest to you and relevant to your situation”. The link was to an article on retirement.

Really? She thinks this sort of message is going to sell anything to a baby boomer?

In case you need reminding, baby boomers are those of us born between 1946 and 1964, so about half are at retirement age, which is currently 65 in the UK.

Referring to a baby boomer as old is hardly a winning approach. Here are 6 reasons why not.


Reason #1 – Don’t Intend To Get Old

Baby boomers are a generation that never intended to get old. As Roger Daltry of the Who evocatively puts it in the song ‘My generation’, he hopes to die before he gets old. Hence why he is still going strong at 75, performing and singing, while Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones also 75 still tours, and is back dancing after his recent heart surgery.

Music invariably reflects the culture of its time and this refusal to become old is a characteristic of many baby boomers I know. The generation is non-conformist, and entrepreneurial. It has traditionally gone against social norms.


Reason #2 – Are NOT Retiring

Unsurprisingly many baby boomers are not retiring, in the sense of ceasing to be economically active.

There are countless examples of high-profile baby boomers such as Oprah Winfrey, and Richard Branson who are continuing to work long after traditional thinking would expect them to stop. Like Warren Buffet, who at nearly 90, is well beyond baby boomer age, many baby boomers will continue working for some time yet. They continue to work because their work gives them purpose in life.  Warren Buffet’s business is investment management so of course it’s about making money. But that doesn’t mean he’s continuing his work because he wants to make more money. Indeed he is giving away at least half his wealth to the Bill Gates Foundation.  So, it’s not necessarily about money, although many baby boomers want the extra income in case they live beyond average ages.


Reason #3 – Age Today Isn’t The Same as 50-100 Year Ago

Given the scientific and technical developments and advancements in society, people’s chronological age bears little comparison to what those ages signified 50 or a 100 years ago. Society’s attitude to age is behind the times.

Now that we can forge new ground and explore alternative lifestyles that were impossible for past generations, many of us don’t choose traditional retirement. After all, we have many options open to us in how and where we spend our time.

For example, Julia Peyton Jones, a high flyer in the art world, and former boss of the Serpentine Galleries gave birth to her first child at age 64. And Inge Ginsberg, at 96 is the lead singer of a new band – Death Metal.


Reason #4 – Boomers Either Can’t Afford To Retire or Need Purpose


Of course, the fact that we all live longer brings up many issues, including that many people either can’t afford to retire or simply prefer to continue working.


Society’s approach to age needs to catch up with the reality of our changed world. Attitudes towards work and retirement should be re-examined given that we’re fitter, and healthier at the ages where society traditionally expected us to retire.


My Own Story


My husband’s decision to retire a few years ago to focus on his passion for art prompted me to re-evaluate my life. He was keen to move out of London, somewhere near the sea and suggested I retire too.


At the time I had an office in London filled with staff so had to ask myself some searching questions. Did I want to retire? Could I continue working even if we moved? How would I want to spend my time if I were to retire? What truly inspires me? What value do I want to add, and what do I want my legacy to be?


Unlike my husband, I have no consuming interests. My work gives me purpose. It’s what inspires me to constantly grow, improve and develop. Far from wanting to retire, I realised I wanted to work for a long time – maybe till my 80s and beyond.


To pave the way for our move out of London I had to make various changes to the business such as moving out of our physical offices. It’s taken about 4 years, and now we’ve moved out of London to Hastings, this is a new beginning for me.


In the process of making these changes the Azrights business has been transformed. It is totally paperless, and has transitioned from being a team located in London offices, to one headquartered in Hastings with a presence in London.  The plan is to have future employees based in Hastings, while various non-core roles will continue to be filled by remote team members. And we will carry on using solicitor consultants as the primary way to offer legal skills. This is a well-established model in the legal industry.


Which leads me back to the topic I started this piece with. Far from retiring baby boomers comprise around half the entrepreneur market.


Reason #5 – Baby Boomers Are The Entrepreneurs Starting New Ventures


As mentioned in a recent blog I wrote the evidence from an Institute of Directors report and the Financial Times is that baby boomers are the new start up generation. Whether they’re starting new ventures or continuing in existing ones, this generation are going to be economically active for another 10-30 years. So, it’s misguided to target boomers with products designed for their age in stereotypical ways, effectively telling them they’re oldies because they’ve reached their 50s, 60s or 70s.


The reality is that baby boomers are continuing in entrepreneurship, setting up new businesses, are a significant force in the economy, and will continue to be for quite a while yet. Many of the articles I saw in my research are quite negative about baby boomers, envious and certainly show a marked lack of understanding of them.


I do understand why so many millennials fall into the trap of assuming the baby boomer generation are as good as retired, or even wish they’d die off. I too thought that anyone past 50 was at death’s door when I was in my twenties and thirties. But age has an uncanny way of seeming vast when you’re looking at it from a younger age group’s perspective, but you soon realise it isn’t actually as old as you thought once you pass the sort of ages that seemed old to you. You feel much the same person even though externally you’ve aged.


Reason #6 – Baby Boomers are Tech And Social Media Savvy


There are many misconceptions about baby boomers which I’ll be discussing in future pieces. For example, according to this Forbes article stereotypes of boomers as technophobes is plain wrong. They are avid tech users, spending more time on technology than any other generation, and account for roughly one-third of all online and social media share.


Technology is increasingly a part of baby boomers’ sense of self because technology is what gives this generation the freedom to enjoy working in new ways.


In conclusion, the 50+ audience is much more tech savvy than many marketers give it credit for. Baby boomers have a wealth of knowledge and skills and many of them have a lot more they want to contribute to society. They are choosing to remain economically active. So, it’s high time marketers recognise this instead of perpetuating the many myths about baby boomers that I’ve touched on here.

Differentiating a Service Business – Part 1

As we head towards 2019 I want to do a deep dive into differentiation, specifically what’s involved to differentiate a service business.

I’ll start by looking at law firm differentiation today  and will discuss other service sectors during 2019.


More than two thirds of businesses nowadays are in the services sector. Their founders have a specific area of expertise. So, when they set up in business it’s to deliver knowledge-based skills.

This is the upshot of the trend for the corporate sector to retain smaller teams of permanent staff and to use contractors with specialist skills to increase resources to deliver specific ad hoc projects.  Consequently, there has been an explosion in the number of self-employed people in the market.

The common issue these new businesses face when it comes to the need to stand out among competitors is how to operate in an environment that is likely to be quite competitive.

For example, small intellectual property law firms were rare 15 years ago, yet they’re commonplace now as many practitioners have left larger law firms and set up their own practices. 

With such an oversupply of service providers it’s important for businesses to communicate their point of difference if they’re to stand out from the competition.   With an intangible like a service, the customer has no way of judging quality. They don’t know how the experience of working with one service provider would differ from that of working with another provider.

Taking Stock

The starting point when positioning a business is to take stock of the landscape. What businesses are there already in your space?

It can be quite confusing to know how to do research when there are so many competitors. For example, in the legal field there will be large firms offering intellectual property services, boutique law firm practices, trade mark attorney firms, international companies that advertise to the UK market via Google ads and so on.

When you look more closely at the competition you see that some of them don’t offer registration of trade marks, or that the main competition comes from a separate industry – one of trade mark attorneys. It can quickly become overwhelming to even assess the competition.

It’s essential to start by having a good idea of the main one or two services your business will be offering so you can focus your competitor analysis by reference to each service offering.

For intellectual property I would consider who is providing registration services separately from who is providing litigation services, or who is providing both services. All the time when doing research, I would be wondering what my options would be if I were a client looking to register a trade mark, or someone in a dispute looking for help to resolve it.  What process do others offer, what are they charging, and what service offerings do they have?

Firstly, consider the local competition in your vicinity – that is, around your physical office address. Secondly, look at the in the entire country. Thirdly, consider the global competition.  Depending on the service area, there may be many different options available to buyers of particular services. 

For intellectual property services, I’d be looking at the competition for our core services of trademark registration and intellectual property advice or help with disputes as two distinct types of service. That’s because some people may buy trademark registration services without an expectation of meeting you, whereas if they want advice or help with a dispute they are more likely to choose a business near them. If they want a local, because they want to meet the lawyers, then your competition is the law firms in your vicinity or easily accessible to your business.

Learning From Books

In most areas of business, I have found books to be a very useful source of guidance. To better understand marketing and branding, Differentiate or Die – Survival in Our Era of Killer Competitionby Jack Trout, and Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout were really useful.

Having assessed the competitive climate and range of services on offer, the next step is to determine your strategy. How will you communicate your point of difference?  How might you position yourself as distinct or unique? Is there something about your world view or the way you do business that you could draw from? Does feedback from past clients you’ve served hold the key to a unique selling proposition you might develop? Do you have industry expertise which could form the basis of your positioning messages? For example, could you become the ‘go to’ law firm expert on iPhone Apps, so that anyone needing advice in this area would be more likely to choose your firm?

As you work on this you will begin to have ideas that encapsulate your point of difference.  Getting the help of a coach who understands your industry may be useful to complete the process of identifying whether your ideas for differentiation are capable of standing for something that will endure. If so, you can then work out how best to convey the message in a short, clear and easy to understand marketing proposition.

Why Purpose Is Paramount!

App_idea_protectLast week in Why I’ve Set Up A Second Business And Expect To Crush It As An Olderpreneur, I highlighted the trend nowadays for baby boomers to set up new businesses.

Far from wanting to retire, I explained my reasons for wanting to continue working many more years.  In fact, I’ve even started a second business, Azrights International Ltd, because I want an even greater sense of fulfillment and purpose from my work.

I see exciting new ways to contribute to the world and deliver added value.

Fulfillment Through Purpose

This question of fulfillment and purpose is an important one for all of us to think about whether we’re in business or working in careers.

Getting clarity on our purpose is widely advocated as the way to greater success, and enjoyment in life.

As Steve Jobs put it, doing work you love is important. To quote his words

You’ve got to find what you love . . . Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work”…..”the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

Purpose Is Innate To The Human Condition.

We all want to dedicate ourselves to a cause greater than ourselves. Doing so contributes to our need for significance and meaning.

I suspect the trend for baby boomers to start new businesses rather than retiring is partly driven by this need to contribute towards a higher quest.  We’re reaching a stage in our lives where this desire to make a difference is stronger, as is our awareness of the legacy we want to leave behind.

I’ve been trying to clarify my purpose for a few years now.  My journey trying to identify that purpose might help you to work out your purpose too because it’s by no means easy at any stage in business or life.

What’s important is to keep thinking about your purpose, and of course, realising that that purpose may shift in new directions as you grow and develop.

It’s particularly important if you’re running a business to have a cause that your team members can get behind. While if you’re employed knowing what your personal purpose in life is, should help you to find a job that you enjoy and get fulfillment from.

Mission and Values

The purpose is often confused with an organisation’s mission and values, which may explain why it’s taken me this long to work out my purpose.

A mission is what we’re trying to do, while our values and beliefs influence the way we do things, our worldview. Values impact the approach we take to what we do.

Although in the early days of my business I got help from a PR consultant to formulate my mission and values for my law firm, the exercise didn’t give me enough clarity to discover “why” I was doing what I was doing. Indeed, in those pre-2010 days, I don’t think the purpose was an issue people were advocating the need to identify.

As Simon Sinek puts it in his bestselling book Start with Why, most people know what an organization does, but few know why they do it. In other words, most purpose-driven leaders can articulate their mission–but many mission-driven leaders cannot articulate their purpose.

So, the better way to think of purpose is as the “why” behind what you do.  Simon’s book was all about how a purpose-driven team achieves so much more. It’s generally accepted that working out our why is an important objective.

Starting with “Why”

All the evidence is that a business with purpose is more successful.

Sinek’s Golden Circle envisages starting from “Why” before moving on to the “How” and “What”. Purpose-Driven organisations “Start with Why”: For example, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were passionate about revolutionising the computer industry; John Mackey, started Whole Foods advocating for organic food and healthy eating.

Knowing and communicating “the why behind the what” in everything we do, not only creates higher motivation and engagement in your employees but also buy-in from your customers.


When I worked in corporate jobs back in the 80s I hadn’t felt that my work as an in-house lawyer was making a difference to anyone. Astonishingly, looking back on it, I spent most of my late 20s and early thirties wondering whether alternative careers would enable me to make more of a difference in the world.

So, after I left the corporate world to raise my two daughters, I dipped my toes into other career options. For example, I trained to be a journalist, among other things and pursued a few courses such as in mediation.

In my search for more meaning, I even considered launching a Persian Osh soup business. Osh is a delicious, wholesome soup from Iran, where I come from. My daughters love it as do most people who try it.

My dad was a brilliant cook, and often cooked it for us when he came to visit. So, I had his unique recipe and when he died, I wondered about starting an Osh business.

I was hugely inspired by Sahar Hashemi’s book Anyone Can Do It, as she advocated the importance of being clueless. But I dismissed the idea of a food business because I couldn’t see how it would give me a greater sense of purpose in life than law.

I would invariably conclude that law was better than any of the other options open to me.

However, getting a job as a lawyer was unappealing because I just didn’t want to be employed.

While I had this teenage-style angst going on over my career options, my father steadfastly maintained his belief in the importance of law as a way to contribute meaningfully in society.

He had always suggested I just start up my own law firm which I dismissed out of hand. Apart from anything, the idea of opening my own law firm was daunting.

When my father died, I suddenly heard his advice, in a way, I’d not done when he was alive. Perhaps I grew up. His death was certainly a big turning point in my life. His words resonated, and soon afterwards I founded my law firm.

The legal work I do for small business is different to the legal work I’d done before for large companies. So, with some of the work I do as a lawyer I do feel I am making a real difference in people’s lives. But I felt that simply using my legal skills and knowledge only partially helps people. I needed to expand and go beyond the nitty-gritty details of the law.

Nevertheless, it was wise of my father to suggest setting up a law firm because I fell in love with entrepreneurship. My business was totally absorbing so that has sustained me over the years.

But it wasn’t until recently that I could sense where my purpose lay clearly enough to be truly inspired by it.  What helped also was the relaxation of the rules by my regulatory body allowing us lawyers to have separate businesses.


Azrights International Ltd

I knew last year when I was embarking on my new business Azrights International Ltd that I wanted to widen my remit to include more than purely intellectual property legal work.

I wanted to take a much more international perspective on law than the legal work I do in a law firm permits. I felt increasingly limited focusing on UK intellectual property law, and just this one aspect of business when there were so many related areas – such as brand naming, positioning, brand strategy, and doing business online – that are hugely relevant to whether a business succeeds and can expand its brand sufficiently to take advantage of its intellectual property.

I want to help businesses to succeed by increasing their confidence, and sense of security, and inspiring them.  Law on its own doesn’t allow for that. What’s more, I’m well equipped to offer wider help than purely law or intellectual property. So, I knew that my purpose wasn’t simply law in the narrow sense of the word, but law and business, in terms of the context law plays in business, which necessarily involves a broader scope.

Azrights International Ltd goes beyond my core skill of law. I set it up specifically because I wanted to extend my remit into related areas of branding, marketing, leadership, online business, and even personal development.


My Journey May Help You Work Out Your Purpose

The purpose has to be a high-level aspirational reason for existing and acting in your business. Even after reading Simon Sinek’s great book Start With Why twice 5 years ago I still couldn’t articulate my Why in a way that inspired and motivated me to let alone team members.  That’s probably because I was just thinking about Azrights the law firm, rather than the bigger role that I could play as a business that the law firm would be part of.

I do know it’s a widespread puzzle for many entrepreneurs trying to work out their “why” given some of the lame “whys” I’ve seen at least two entrepreneurs announce on Facebook – namely, that their why is their wife and children.  That’s not a purpose that will motivate team members who are involved in the business. Nor will your customers be moved to choose you over your competitors that your why is your wife and children. The search for why should, therefore, continue for those individuals

I knew I loved entrepreneurship. Indeed, for years I believed it was entrepreneurship that gave me my purpose – that if I wasn’t in a law business, then I’d be in another business which would engage me equally well. Nor was money a big motivator. It obviously pays the bills and you need money to sustain your message, so of course money matters. However, it’s not the most important reason why I want to continue working.  Also, I was aware that it was hardly going to motivate my team members that I loved entrepreneurship.

As I’ve become clearer about my purpose, I’ve realised it’s as much what I do – the subject matter – like the fact that I’m running a business – that engages me.

One’s purpose should inspire the team and customers too. When you find your “why” that belief should galvanise you into making long-lasting positive changes that drive growth and innovation.

What Purpose Means and Articulating It

Purpose needs to be the meaning behind our existence, an idealistic view of what you want to become in the world.

I want the work I do to improve people’s lives by increasing their confidence, and a sense of security and to inspire them to be more dynamic and vital.

Although the aspirations of inspirational entrepreneurs like Bill Gates whose vision when he started Microsoft was for a computer in every home, might be described as a mission statement rather than a purpose, I did find it useful to emulate these brief vision statements from well-known brands to guide my purpose.

For example, Apple’s purpose was to “remove the barrier of having to learn” technology, while Google wants to organise the world’s information.”

Having a simple statement helps achieve clarity more quickly than the long, convoluted mission statement I developed 10 years ago. That statement has 10 points in it. Each one has a sentence or two. Although every point in the list resonates with my values and ideals, none of it is memorable enough to communicate what we’re up to in the world.

Mission and Purpose

So, my current stated mission Azrights International is this: To educate the world in intellectual property and business

Teaching and guiding people to focus on the right things is an important part of what I do. So, Azrights International’s first brand, Legally Branded, provides cost-effective ways for businesses located anywhere in the world to implement new ideas using a process to protect their intellectual property (Legally Branded Academy). Another important element of business success nowadays is how to address legal issues online, and understand commercial drivers behind transactions. That’s covered by (Legally Branded Monthly).

In future updates, I’ll also explain how I will be translating my purpose internally within the business as well as externally for customers and others.


It’s important to inspire and create a shared image of what your business stands for and where you want to be. This is how you avoid wasting time and resources pulling in different, perhaps even contradictory, directions and pursuing unnecessary courses of action. It also helps ensure you attract the right team members to work with you.

Next week, I’ll explore how purpose-driven organisations stay core to their mission by always keeping the “why” in mind. They keep their company’s purpose at the center by communicating a message of how they add value and enhance the lives of others.


Why I’ve Set Up A Second Business And Expect To Crush It As An Olderpreneur

According to this Institute of Directors report a growing number of people are starting their own businesses in later life. In their article, Over-50s are the new business start-up generation, the Financial Times has very encouraging statistics for anyone considering starting out again after 50, namely that businesses set up by the over-50s are more likely to still be trading five years later than those established by younger age groups.

A study by Jones, Javier Miranda of the U.S. Census Bureau and MIT’s Pierre Azoulay and J. Daniel Kim looked at an expansive dataset and supports these findings. Their research shows that older entrepreneurs have a greater chance of success in their projects than younger ones. The most successful entrepreneurs are middle-aged. This research said: “We find that age indeed predicts success, and sharply, but in the opposite way that many observers and investors propose”. “The highest success rates in entrepreneurship come from founders in middle age and beyond”

They find no evidence to suggest that founders in their 20s are especially likely to succeed. Rather, all evidence points to founders being especially successful when starting businesses in middle age or beyond, while young founders appear disadvantaged.”

The study found the average founder of the fastest growing tech startups was about 45-years-old — and 50-year-old entrepreneurs were about twice as likely to have a runaway business success as their 30-year-old counterparts.

As Jones says, the findings “… could help unlock more innovative potential from the many people in the economy that are middle-aged and beyond,”

Why Older Entrepreneurs Are More Successful

Explaining some possible reasons for these findings, the authors of Age and High-Growth Entrepreneurship point out the greater management, marketing, and finance experience that older entrepreneurs tend to have, as well as a richer, deeper knowledge of an industry. Also, quite important is that older entrepreneurs are likely to have larger financial resources to tap and more social networks to mine for support in leveraging their idea.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review they explained “we found that work experience plays a critical role. Relative to founders with no relevant experience, those with at least three years of prior work experience in the same narrow industry as their startup were 85 percent more likely to launch a highly successful startup.

The IOD report attributes this trend to the shake-up from the recession, a view backed by the FT. Apparently the over 55s are unable to get corporate jobs, and so are turning to self-employment instead.

This is all music to my ears. Previously I’d been seeing reports in the media about how baby boomers were coming up to retirement and leaving the workforce, rather than about how so many of them are starting up ventures in their 50s and 60s and crushing it by all accounts.

Reasons To Start New Businesses

The desire to supplement income may just be part of the story. After all, money is never the only driver for engaging in an activity.

I wonder whether these reports may be overlooking another important reason people may be starting up in business in their retirement years.

For myself, the work I do gives me a sense of fulfillment and purpose. I love to have a project, and that’s why, far from wanting to retire, I’ve gone on to set up a second business to exploit my skills, Azrights International Ltd.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer, wrote a report a couple of years ago saying that those between the ages of 50 and 70 were healthier if they kept on working. Even the over-80s benefit. Reportedly an 89-year-old former soldier, Joe Bartley, from Devon, advertised for a job because he was “bored”. He now works as a table-clearer in a local café.

But is this really news? When we reach older ages none of us actually feels old. I have as much mental energy as I ever had – in fact, more so as I’m now free of childcare responsibilities and can devote my energy and time to the pursuit of my life and business goals.

People don’t change just because their age advances by a few years. Retiring into the sunset to put your feet up and while away the time, is rarely an appealing prospect for anyone, except perhaps for those whose skills involve physically challenging work, or for those who have absorbing hobbies to pursue which they prefer over work.

For the rest of us who have built up skills over a lifetime, an existence without work would lack purpose and meaning.

I personally want to work till I drop. I would hate not to have a project to keep me connected to the world. I love entrepreneurship, innovation, and new technologies.  So, why wouldn’t I want to continue working?

Yet we live in an ageist society that reveres youth.

Ageist Society

When society is expecting us to retire rather than start up new ventures it’s inevitable that some attitudes will be internalised so that we believe this somewhere deep inside us. The 20 or 30-year old me would have written someone of my age off. I would have thought myself completely past it by now.

How prejudiced was I! And here I am now, an older person myself. It’s just the way of the world I guess. Doesn’t every younger generation tend to regard even those who are just 10-15 years older than them as vastly aged?

So, unsurprisingly I do find the widespread ageism affects my self-belief occasionally. I catch myself fleetingly having a limiting belief. For example, recently I’ve been planning to improve my public speaking skills. Public speaking is an activity I’ve been ambivalent about most of my life. If I’m asked to speak I accept, but I never actively seek out opportunities to speak. However, I realise that when you have a message to communicate to the world then speaking on stage is a necessary part of that.  So, I am trying to dispel the fleeting negative thoughts that cross my mind occasionally as I hear myself thinking: “why bother with public speaking at your age?” “Aren’t you a bit past it?” “What are you realistically likely to achieve now?”  “Isn’t it too late to improve your skills by now?”

No, it’s never too late. I’m inspired by stories such as about the Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama, who at 89 years of age has emerged in the last 5 years to become a highly sought-after artist. Success had eluded her till her 80s – according to this Guardian article about her

It heartens me when I hear of people achieving success so much later in life or continuing to have thriving careers well into their 80s. Take Mary Berry who is still featuring in the BBC’s TV shows in her 80’s.  And there is Pru Leith who not only has a highly successful career, but has also found love again and remarried at age 76!

Work And Contribution

 Millennials are certainly likely to need to continue working into their 70s judging by the pension crisis. I’ve always advised my own daughters to pursue work they love. It’s especially important if you’re a millennial to do work you really enjoy, given you may have to be doing it for a very long time.

 Certainly, in my own case, after 14 years in business, I’m still looking to contribute in more meaningful ways, and engage in activities that are truly fulfilling for me on a personal level. I’m a different person today to the one who first started out in business in 2004.  My business skills are honed by now, adding to the depth of expertise I can offer in my core topic of intellectual property.

Intellectual Property is what enables people to protect what’s theirs, their market share, avoid having their best ideas ripped off and copied, and more. So, it’s a subject that is inherently intertwined with business.

That’s why I set up my second business to provide online courses and coaching. It means I can help people make the most of their ideas, decide what to protect, how to choose a good name and so on as part of a coaching service if they need such help.

I have big plans for Azrights International Ltd. The Legally Branded Academy online course that I’ve created will soon be rolled out to medium-sized businesses. It’s currently suitable for start-ups and small businesses and is the culmination of 6 years’ work distilling intellectual property to a few basic processes that businesses need to adopt. So, I can help any business to introduce systems and processes to protect their Intellectual Property on an ongoing basis as they develop new ideas and projects.

You see, much of IP protection happens very early on. The very act of choosing names, making decisions to commission branding, websites, apps and the like, deciding what information to reveal to others, how to promote new concepts and so on have significant implications on a company’s IP prospects. These steps necessarily happen before a lawyer is even consulted. So, having insight about what to do and what not to do at various touch points is essential for businesses to take on board.

IP is an essential business skill. It’s not just a legal subject to leave to the lawyers. Without it, you’re at a disadvantage when implementing new ideas and projects in your business in today’s digital economy. I can make a greater contribution by adding business coaching to the services I offer. It’s exciting to use my knowledge and skills in new ways and I am intending to expand my topics to include related non-law ones too such as the marketing considerations that impact branding and naming.

The entire activity of branding is closely related to intellectual property, and yet there are a lot of people selling design services under the umbrella of branding.  Many people believe that a brand is a logo! So, this is a topic that needs greater professionalism to be brought to bear. Anyone who is choosing names and doesn’t understand the IP implications of naming needs to upskill themselves urgently. They can do so by getting Legally Branded Academy.

Expanding the topics I know deeply means I can keep learning, something I love to do, and then contribute in wider ways.


Life is short and at the end of the day you’re going to ask yourself the question, or your children will wonder on your behalf, what was it all about, what were you up to during your short time on earth?

I believe that what we do can touch other people’s lives in ways we’ll never know. So, it’s not necessarily my own visible achievements that will ultimately matter the most. Who knows how others might be impacted or benefit from my existence or ideas?

The important thing is to continue contributing to the world. I’m so pleased the ranks of “olderpreneurs” look likely to swell further in the future. Olderpreneurs have wisdom and experience and so much to give. They also have many years of productive work ahead of them.


Legally Branded Podcast – Copyright Ownership

podcast_shireen_smithWhat exactly is Copyright? It’s a basic, fundamental question that people often ask me. In this episode, I dive into copyright essentials in order to address gaps in your knowledge of copyright or any confusion you might have around particular facets of the subject.

Click to Listen to Legally Branded podcast.

Topics Discussed in this Episode:

  • Examples of copyright
  • Reasons why you might want to have copyright.
  • Some ideas on how to avoid some common copyright problems.


Key Takeaways:

  • Copyright is one of the core three IP rights that impact every single business and is very wide-ranging in scope.
  • Examples of what copyright protects include photographs, images, maps, drawings, typefaces, music, films, works of art and performances, software, books, videos, content on websites and logos.
  • Copyright is highly relevant in today’s digital environment because most of the ways that businesses operate involve creating different copyright assets.
  • In countries like the UK and former Commonwealth countries like the USA, Australia and New Zealand, it’s not necessary for a work to display a high degree of originality in order to qualify for copyright protection.
  • Names are not, as a rule, protected by copyright under the law. Instead, they are covered by trademark law.
  • A copyright work is an asset. If you don’t own the copyright of an asset that you use in your business, it means you’re licensing that work effectively.
  • Copyright automatically belongs to the creator and not to the person who’s paying for it. The only exception is if a contract states otherwise or if the work is undertaken for you by your employee during the normal scope of their duties.
  • Content online is not in the public domain.


Action Steps:

  • If you’re from a copyright-dependent industry, find out a lot more about copyright.
  • Copyright should be an uppermost consideration. Make sure that the works you’re having created will belong to you. And if they’re not going to belong to you, then make sure you negotiate all the necessary permissions that you’re going to need for your intended use of that copyright work before you commit to using someone’s services.
  • If you engage someone to do work for you, such as to build a website, before you engage their services and give them your best ideas, make sure your written agreement with them covers copyright ownership.
  • Find out what the copyright rules say in your country and how they impact your plans. In an increasingly global marketplace where it’s quite common to engage the services of freelancers based in other parts of the world, you should agree which country’s laws will govern your contracts.
  • Don’t leave copyright discussions for later. Pay close attention to define details at the start of a project.
  • Don’t assume that your web designer or other professionals whose services you engage know what materials or images they may or may not use. Do your own verifications.


Shireen said:

“Strategic use of intellectual property makes a big difference to a business’ fortunes. So IP is a very important consideration in any venture, whether you’re starting, growing, or exiting a business.”


“Think of copyright as you might think of a plot of land… The copyright owner is the person who has the right to exploit the rights in their assets, just as the landowner can exploit the rights in their land.”


Thank you for listening!


It’s really worth having a process in place in your business to cover off the copyright risks that you run. A really easy way to do this is to buy my Legally Branded Academy Course. It has everything you’ll need to address these copyright risks as well as cover other IP issues to bear in mind in your business.


To access the free audio on How to Trademark a Name, subscribe to this podcast and download all the past episodes, and send an email to [email protected] saying what time of day you did so.


Connect with me on your preferred social media platform. And if you’ve learned from this series of podcasts, do consider leaving a review.


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Legally Branded Podcast – Why You Need to Understand These IP Limitations to Be Commercially Savvy

podcast_shireen_smithHow does understanding the limitations of IP help you become commercially savvy? Indeed, IP needs to be considered carefully when creating, growing or preparing a business for an exit. What are the things we need to know and understand?

Click to Listen to Legally Branded podcast.

Topics Discussed in this Episode:

  • How Google built itself into one of the world’s largest brands
  • The IP limitations and why it’s important to know and understand them
  • Examples of businesses that spawned copycats
  • How venture capitalists make money by exploiting these IP limitations
  • The repercussions of becoming too successful with your IP
  • The elements of a business model that might be protected
  • Other intellectual property rights beyond the big four of copyright, trade marks, patents, and registered designs
  • How, when and whether you should release your know-how and ideas


Key Takeaways:

  • Any business with ambition to grow should make it a priority to understand how intellectual property rights affect it.
  • Intellectual property rights don’t protect ideas; instead, they protect the particular expression of an idea.
  • It’s impossible for anyone to keep a profitable niche to themselves, nor is it possible to patent a business format so as to keep a format to yourself.
  • Intellectual property rights are primarily limited by geography.
  • The fact that IP protection has its limits should not be used as an excuse for not securing any IP protection at all.


Action Steps:

  • Increase the protection of your business by holding a wide portfolio of IP.
  • Give your business or product a name that’s distinctive enough to qualify for trade mark protection.
  • Secure the copyright over your materials.
  • Register the design of something like your logo.
  • Actively police your intellectual property rights.
  • Always put in place appropriate contracts.
  • Be smart about how, when and whether to release your know-how and ideas.


Shireen said:

“We live in a world where the prevailing philosophy is to publish and spread your ideas to profit from them. Unfortunately, by sharing your ideas you increase the risk of giving competitors a chance to pinch your ideas, business model or product offerings for themselves.”


“Simply by securing IP rights, you may deter copycat-ism because savvy business people will take note of your rights, rather than infringe them. So the common myth that it’s not worth securing IP rights if you can’t afford to go to court to defend them is misguided.”



Thank you for listening!


If you haven’t already taken the time to fully understand IP, I highly recommend that you sign up to the Legally Branded Academy Course. It’s not expensive and it’s a business course suitable for a worldwide audience.


Connect with me on your preferred social media platform. And if you’ve learned from this series of podcasts, do consider leaving a review.


Links to my books and online courses:


More from Shireen Smith:

Shireen’s Facebook Page

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What JK Rowling Needed To Know About Intellectual Property law

J K Rowling and Intellectual PropertyJK Rowling is now a successful writer with one of the most valuable brands. It’s taken her just 21 years to get there. Initially, when she sent her first manuscript to publishers, she was turned down by more than 12 of them before Bloomsbury, a publishing house in London, accepted her book.

Authors starting out will rarely have an agent to look after their interests.  So it’s important in those early days, for a writer to take advice on the publishing agreement before signing it. It’s the same with any project involving IP – it’s vital to get IP advice before implementing your ideas.

Why a publishing agreement is so critical 

Certainly, JK Rowling’s considerable wealth didn’t result from book sales alone. However, the foundations for that wealth began with her first publishing agreement which is a critical contract.

The publishing agreement determines how the intellectual property arising may be exploited. The rights you give your publisher set out who may control the various rights in the work you create.

As the creator of the work, the writer will own the copyright in it. Therefore, the agreement should protect your copyright, and you should never give it away to the publisher. So, if your publishing agreement has a copyright assignment clause in favour of the publisher, don’t sign it before taking advice.

Most publishers will let authors keep the copyright, and will insist on having certain rights, such as the exclusive right to print, or to produce translations, licensed to them. Other rights like film, or television rights might well be left entirely to the author, while it will depend on the type of book and the publisher what happens to book club rights or similar.

At the time JK Rowling secured her first publishing deal, who could have known her books would have so much success? Yet if you are someone creating a business, or an artistic work, or piece of music, you need to assume you will be hugely successful, and not give away your rights unthinkingly.

Ownership of copyright underlies JK Rowlng’s wealth

If JK Rowling had assigned her copyright in Harry Potter to the publisher, she would not have achieved the profits and wealth that her writing gave rise to. It’s because she retained ownership of copyright that she was able to licence others to use the name on merchandise, to license the making of films, and to carve out rights to licensees of her work on a geographic basis.

Harry Potter has been registered as a trademark as have other characters, along with many designs produced around the books’ elements. Securing such IP rights or giving others the right to do so plays a crucial role in the income generated by the brand.

Once you own IP rights which are desirable to others to use, you may license a whole host of businesses in exchange for royalties. Licensing increases your  revenues for as long as there is a market for your creations. And unlike physical property there is no natural limit to the number of people to whom you can give a right to use your IP. So the revenues to be earned from IP far exceed what you would be able to earn from investment in physical property like land which may only be let out to one party at a time.

Consequently JK Rowling’s creations have been used on a variety of goods and services. The movie characters have been licensed to theme parks and other organisations, and reproduced on many different merchandise. Licensing agreements are flexible as they allow you to license as much or as little of your IP as you like.  JK Rowling’s creations have made billion dollar profits as a result.


In conclusion, Rowling’s considerable wealth today is all down to her intellectual property, with her biggest source of income being generated from licensing.

So the moral is to protect your IP if you have ideas to bring to the world. Whether you are an author, designer, software developer, or entrepreneur, don’t ignore IP whatever you’re creating. By taking timely advice and setting your IP strategy you will be better placed to secure essential IP assets and build your business on strong foundations. The future growth of any business is based on its IP.

Why not begin by attending my next workshop by following the link on the sidebar of this blog.


MBA Courses and business books ignore IP to a shocking extent

Intellectual Property Rights – Why Ignoring Them Could Be Disastrous For UK Businesses

Good news for UK business this month. The UK is ranked as the most entrepreneurial country in Europe and the world’s second most innovative country.

The Global Entrepreneurship Index measures start-up progress in the world. Only the USA, Canada and Australia came above the UK. (See the Guardian report).

For innovation we did even better, coming second in the Global Innovation Index 2014.

This is all well and good but as you may have guessed there is a ‘but’ coming.

Intellectual property (IP) law will be relevant to every one of these businesses.  Yet MBA courses, books for start-ups, and entrepreneurship groups neglect IP law to a shocking extent.

Start-up publications and MBA courses ignore IP

A survey of more than 20 books released between 2006 and 2013 that give business advice to fledgling companies reveals that only eight mention IP. And of those, a mere handful explore the subject beyond a brief summary.

It’s a similar story when you look at MBA courses. The one run at London Business School, is ranked number four in the world according to the Financial Times.  But it does not mention IP in its core modules.

Before looking at why IP is dealt with so cursorily, let’s see how many start-ups we are talking about. Currently, start-ups are increasing at a rate of 7% year on year; a staggering 526,446 new companies registered with Companies House in 2013. It is likely that at least 50% of these (most likely more) will not have considered IP at all before registration.

Other IP lawyers are similarly surprised

I am not alone in finding this surprising. Neil J Wilkof who contributes to blogs such as IPKat and IP finance, stresses this point frequently throughout his writings:

It remains my most vexing professional challenge. The “it” is how to integrate IP/IC into management education. The vexation comes from the seeming paradox that while intellectual property and intellectual capital are routinely described as cornerstones of innovation, if not modern business itself, their systematic presence in MBA curricula remains sporadic at best.”

The world has changed

My theory for this state of affairs is that society hasn’t caught up quickly enough with the dramatically changed role of IP law in the digital age. The fact is that the Internet is creating new rules for many industries, and also for IP law.

In an industrial society IP was a more esoteric subject; one that was of marginal relevance to small businesses. However, in the digital world IP occupies a central role. There are few areas of commerce that are not impacted by IP.

As I explained in my blog on rebranding, the risk of encroaching on other people’s rights is far greater nowadays. A simple search on the Internet may instantly reveal whether a name or image you are using belongs to someone else. In the overcrowded world of businesses, it becomes more important to register trademarks and other IP to protect your business against competitors.

Myths and Misinformation about IP

There is a lot of misinformation around IP law. These myths can be dangerous.

A common misconception is that IP is all about patents. People justify ignoring IP because they don’t have “£50,000 plus to spend on patenting”.  While it’s true that securing a patent may be optional or may not be worth the investment, at other times it may be the essential protection without which a business should not operate.

There are other IP rights apart from patents, such as copyright and trademarks. This could be the critical IP on which a particular business needs to focus.

The right action for one business will differ enormously from another as so much depends on the context, the business concept and the vision behind the business.

Some business advisers acknowledge the importance of IP for a business producing physical products, or to a business that is already successful and established, or to businesses operating in the creative sector.  However, IP should not be ignored by anyone planning a new project.

Many business advisers don’t understand IP

It is concerning that even those who should know better, such as investors and business advisers, still don’t really understand IP. Yet some will advise others about IP based on their own misconceptions. For example, they make statements such as “IP is relevant to certain ‘IP rich’ businesses”.

Whether due to wrong assumptions about IP involving costly registrations, or ideas as to the costliness of IP advice, IP is often not adequately considered when new ideas are implemented.

A serious error is the assumption that IP is all about the protection of what you have. What is less well appreciated is the need to take account of other people’s IP when making choices of names and designs. Also, if you ignore the question of whether or not you will secure necessary rights when you commission someone else to create something like a website for you, then you store up problems for the business down the line.

A frequently made mistake is around the choice of names. That is a whole subject in its own right. For now what is noteworthy is that there is no point in designing a brand around a name that you may not own, or which is otherwise inadequate from an IP perspective. Too often designers who create brands for their clients make fundamental errors that lay them open to negligence claims if their clients seek legal advice from an IP lawyer.

Undoubtedly, for some people IP is just too inconvenient to take on board.  We live in an age when it is so easy to set up a new business by going online and getting the information and templates you need. Legal advice is seen as a nuisance and unnecessary expense. Copyright and trademark law are thought of as simply too much of a grey area and too complicated. And that is precisely why we need more education on IP in books, courses and entrepreneurship groups.


What Businesses Can Learn About Branding from ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’

The importance of being Earnest - Oscar WildeClassic pieces of literature are often classics for a reason, and whilst some of them may have been written hundreds of years ago, the wisdom they can impart is extremely relevant even now. So with this in mind, what can we learn from Wilde’s famous ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’? And specifically what branding lessons can we learn?

The Importance of the First Impression

‘Something tells me that we are going to be great friends. I like you already more than I can say. My first impressions of people are never wrong’

We may have left the Victorian times behind, but first impressions still carry a lot of weight in our modern day society. For example, in a first meeting, often a person’s handshake, the way they dress, and the manner in which they speak all add up to inform our initial opinion of them. And often these first impressions can be extremely difficult to change.

Much like when meeting people, a lot of how we judge a business is based on our initial impressions. One of the main reasons to create a brand in the first place is to establish a business that customers trust, and often that first impression can be integral to whether you manage to build and maintain a loyal customer base. Remember the news about Apple treating its workers in China inhumanely? Apple’s brand was surprisingly unaffected by these reports because it already had an established strong brand with a loyal customer base. If this had been our first experience of the company we may well have written the company off from the very start.

The importance of the first impression has in fact only increased with the Internet, where people’s attention spans have decreased to the point where a mere few seconds is probably all you get in order for someone to decide whether or not to use your products or services.

A brand’s name, logo, website design, and first telephone interaction can all influence the opinion a potential customer forms about it- get these elements right and this could act as a stepping stone to creating a loyal customer, or get it wrong and the potential customer will go elsewhere.

The Importance of a Name

‘My ideal has always been to love someone of the name of Ernest. There is something in that name that inspires absolute confidence.’

Often the very first encounter a potential customer will have with your business is with your company’s name, as this is where a brand both begins and ends.

Wilde does use the theme of the name ‘Ernest’ to mock the superficial way in which people in Victorian times formed their decision whether to marry someone –  but we can still learn a lot from Gwendolen and Cecily’s desire to place so much faith in a name.

A name does indeed carry certain connotations, and is far from being just a randomly arranged set of letters. Names have meanings and can evoke certain reactions and responses.

A name represents a business’s image and reflects what a business will be like. Is your company fun and innovative or more traditional? FCUK might be a good name for the clothing line aimed at a younger crowd, but would you ever consider calling an insurance company something like this?

A lot of the big well-known companies have put a lot of thought into their names- Google based its name on a mathematical term, whilst Amazon chose its name due to its association with the South American river, whose size they wanted to mimic in their desire to offer the largest selection of books in the world.

Get the name right and you could put yourself on the road to building a stand out brand- get it wrong and you might unwittingly be losing customers. (To find out how to protect names see this blog post: Is a trademark necessary for your business?)

What makes brand names particularly tricky is that quite apart from fulfilling this marketing function, the name has to be legally available, and suitable for the business plans of an organisation.  For example, if you’re intending to license the brand and extend it into other categories so as to offer merchandise, the name has to be distinctive enough to be available to register as a trademark in the various categories and geographic markets in which the brand will be sold.

The Importance of Being Authentic

 ‘I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time. That would be hypocrisy.’

One of the most important aspects of building a stand out brand is the need for authenticity. Even if a company makes an excellent first impression, and has a perfect name, if it is inauthentic in its actions the positive first impression will quickly go sour and the perfect name will suddenly be filled with bad connotations.

In order to really ensure a brand builds a loyal fan base it has to be consistent and authentic in its actions. If a business sells itself as being ethical, but then it is discovered to be testing its products on animals, this would be bound to lose it some followers. Something similar actually happened to the Body Shop after it was bought by L’Oreal a few years ago.

A brand is about delivering on a specific promise- it is something a business is known for doing. As the above quote shows, it is hypocritical to pretend to promise one thing and do another in reality. Therefore if your company makes a promise and promotes itself as being one way, make sure all the company’s actions, whether online or offline, are consistent. That means if your company prides itself on quality- make sure everything down to the paper you send letters on, all reflect this quality.


A surprising amount can be learnt from Wilde’s comedy. So take these branding lessons and remember to always make that first encounter count.  Never dismiss the importance of a name, and finally, never forget the importance of being earnest.

One of the services we provide is branding consultancy, so if you are setting up a new brand why not have a preliminary no obligation discussion with us to find out how to go about it correctly?   Send us an enquiry to fix up a time to speak or buy a copy of Legally Branded which will tell you all you need to know about creating a stand out brand that is legally protected.

This post was co-authored by Chloe Smith