Back in July 2016, I published an article entitled Clever Business Names, after having a strong reaction to a business named “Curl Up & Dye”. Like that previous article, my adventures on the road brings me to touch on the concept of branding, and how that relates to naming and trademarks.

Branding: What’s in a Name

Branding is not just the art of naming your business. It is far deeper, and often debated.

So what is branding? Here’s an example:

  • What is the difference between Coca-Cola and regular soda?
  • Is an Apple laptop any different from a regular laptop?
  • Does Greyhound Bus call to mind a different experience from other bus companies?
  • Do you think maybe a Duracell battery last longer than other batteries?

Branding is about maintaining a business strategy that fulfills your particular “promise”. What can your customers expect from your products/services? What differentiates you from the competition? And most difficult of all, how does your business “maintain that promise”? Entrepreneur Magazine has a good high-level article, entitled, Branding that contains suggestions on how to develop branding for your company.

In the case of the business depicted in the picture above, we have “Flexible Dieting” displayed in the window, humorously mocked by the skull and crossbones image of the spare tire cover just below the advertisement. Do you think this generates any calls for them whatsoever, or do you think most people make an unfair association between dieting and the skull?

Science or Art?

Branding is a highly contested field. It is part science and part art. It involves determining not just what a customer wants, but what motivates them to want your particular product or service. It entails research, but also a knack for understanding your market and target audience. To the victor goes the spoils, and the vanquished join the list of failures — read Five Reasons 8 Out Of 10 Businesses Fail by Forbes Magazine.

Branding is a lot of work. Businesses spend big money to develop and test a brand. The value of a brand can reach into the billions.

Maintaining Your Brand Promise is Hard

Building a brand is not easy:

  1. You need to create a brand that stimulates interest in your products or service.
  2. Stay away from “descriptive” names, and try to be clever and come up with suggestive names.
  3. Stay true to that brand.
  4. Enforce your brand. Make sure it is not cast in a negative light.
  5. Learn to say no to opportunities that will hurt your brand.

Coming up with a mission and position statement for your company can help, and definitely sticking to your principles and values is critical.

Consider figuring out a brand name and logo that you can actually trademark. Trademarks aren’t simply given to those who ask — your brand name needs to meet a number of very important criteria that can be critical to the success of your business and overall brand. For example, if your use of your brand name could be viewed as “confusingly similar” to someone else’s trademark, you can’t use it. If your brand name is descriptive, you cannot trademark it. Attempting to register a trademark forces you to go through the process to validate and verify your brand name, and the US Patent and Trademark will definitely provide feedback in either publication or an Office Action.

But most importantly, don’t devise your brand in a vacuum. Seek unbiased opinions. Evaluate your choices, and don’t let your guard down lest you be the one guilty of tarnishing your brand by an inadvertent tire cover hanging on the back of your Jeep.

Law 4 Small Business, P.C. (L4SB). A little law now can save a lot later.

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