Here’s a recap of our recent LaunchTalks event, Why Your Brand Matters, with Lenore Kantor, Chief Launch Officer of Launch Warrior, Frank Duffin, chair of the Trademark Group and Mike Kasdan, a patent expert at Wiggin and Dana, a full-service corporate law firm. Wiggin and Dana hosted the event at their beautiful New York office with 360 degree views of the city on a lovely sunny evening. Here are highlights from the conversation about how to build and protect your brand.
What goes into creating a brand?
Brands are what people experience when they think of or interact with you (as an individual and professional) and your business (the company). “First impressions” are often formed based on the company’s personality and overall user interactions, which should carry through to all aspects of your business. The most successful brands are authentic and consistent across every touch point – how they communicate, their tone, overall attitude and company culture. Branding is reflected in every aspect of each user’s experience: across sales, customer service, the website, office interactions, advertising, social media, brochures, business cards, conferences, communications and presentations (among other things). One event participant noted that for consumer (B2C) companies, “branding is creating a relationship with your customer that will last a lifetime”.
Here are some other important brand elements:
- Visuals: Logos, colors, formats and templates should all be aligned and used consistently. Companies without brand usage guidelines run the risk of diluting their brand because changing the way the brand appears can create confusion and lessen the impact, potentially jeopardizing the value of your brand investment.
- Name: The company name does matter and should symbolize something. The more unique the name, the easier it is to protect, but the more investment needed to create a brand impression and convey brand value. Consider how many brands you are prepared to support as you explore creating new product brands that may inadvertently compete with the overall parent company brand for attention and mind share.
- Values: The things your company cares about should translate into how people experience your brand. What is important to your business? Professionalism, responsiveness, innovation, customer-service? One way to find out how people perceive your brand is to ask them what they think the company stands for – you should get similar responses. If you don’t, then you might want to think more clearly about clarifying your focus so that you can be more effective. (Check out this post for some more insights on how to conduct informal brand research).
- User Experience: People often overlook the intangibles – focusing on the name and logo is not enough – every interaction (the complete customer experience) helps to inform the impression that people make. Companies need to consider to what extent their sales process, website, help desk and overall client communications reflect the brand perception they would like to convey.
“Companies underestimate that you need to invest in a brand. It’s not just a name, it’s a representation of who we are and what we value. Your team and clients should be able to say who you are and what you stand for – and it should be consistent across the board. If it’s not, you’re not taking care of your brand.” Lenore Kantor, Chief Launch Officer, Launch Warrior
How do you build brand equity?
Many people think that if you build a product, they will come. Well as most of us know, that’s not quite how it works. Similarly, just because you’ve come up with a name and designed a logo, that doesn’t mean that you have established a brand identity. Putting up a website, creating a business card – these combined actions alone are not enough to distinguish your company. To build a brand requires an ongoing effort to produce and deliver a quality product or service – which all comes back to how your company operates and how your various stakeholders experience working with you (whether that is your existing clients and staff or prospective customers, employees, strategic partners, the marketplace and potential investors.
There are actions that you can take to help create a more robust brand and these require an investment – of time, resources and attention. Make sure that you are regularly communicating your brand value – what you do, how you do it, how you can help your customers. There are multiple channels for this – advertising being one of the most traditional, as well as public relations, client outreach (for example through emails or newsletters), attending events, social media and other speaking opportunities (such as white papers or case studies). Tag lines or descriptions of your company value proposition that become closely associated with your logo can be helpful to distinguish your service from competitors, so try to find a unique angle here that clearly identifies what you do. Regularly reinforce what the brand represents and stands for – understanding your strengths can help your business determine where to focus your efforts (for instance on sales or marketing efforts or leveraging your technology in innovative ways). Maintaining consistency and communicating regularly will also help to reinforce the company’s position.
“A brand is an indicator of source origin and quality. As in the case of Tylenol, if something goes wrong, you can relay that you stand behind the brand – and fix it. As a brandholder, one of your obligations is to police your mark.” Frank Duffin, Wiggin and Dana
What steps can you take to protect your brand?
Conceptually a brand requires the creation of a distinct identity that should be maintained as the business grows. From a legal perspective, a brand’s function is to identify the goods and services of one purveyor and distinguish them from those of another – the name becomes a source identifier – according to Frank Duffin. When considering creative identities, brand names should be reasonably understandable or symbolic, but not confusing.
Companies should take into account what they intend to use a brand name for and for how long. The copyright and trademark filing process requires clearance, registration and maintenance – typically taking 7 to 12 months, assuming there are no objections. Duffin advises clients to make informed decisions – “if someone else was there first, you may want to walk away from the brand.” He recommends running a search to make sure the brand name you have chosen is not infringing on another name, and to determine the timing of your usage. It should be a strategic decision whether to register a single brand (with or without logo) or multiple brands, if money is not an issue. In some cases logos can come to symbolize a brand itself (such as Apple or the F in Facebook). Also consider whether the brand will be used domestically or internationally because there are global differences in brand protection, particularly around enforcement. It is important to understand that the United States is a common law or “use-based” case country, whereas many countries outside the US follow “first to file”, allowing whoever registers to get the mark even if it has not been used historically.
What’s in a name?
When it comes to naming products, it is important to think about what you are trying to accomplish and why. “Arbitrary and fanciful” names are the most valuable (legally) because they are unique relative to more generic marks which can create the likelihood of confusion or dilution. Recognize that trademark names must also be registered for a product class, so the name alone does not guarantee that no other company in an unrelated business area can use your name. For example, the Champion brand is used for spark clubs, paper, mortgages and clothing. While descriptive names are much harder to trademark and defend, having some correlation between what you do and your brand name can help prospective customers understand your potential value proposition.
Make sure you have a clear focus for your brand, particularly when starting out , because trying to be all things to all people does not help your brand – better to establish a consistent message and to target a specific client segment or niche, then expand from there. Lenore Kantor urged the group to think of a company’s brand separately from product brands and determine how much support there will be on an ongoing basis to build the brand identity. Without an ongoing commitment to invest, the brand may not become meaningful which means that your sales team will have to work much harder to explain what you do. Think about launching new product brands in the context of your longer term vision to help clarify the opportunity and brand architecture. For high growth businesses, company brands also should be thought about separately from founders’ professional and personal brands. Too often CEOs’ operating style can become inextricably linked with a company’s identity, which can create key person risk and is not scalable.
Why do brands matter?
Research has shown that recognizable brands usually command a premium in terms of pricing and also garner a greater share of voice and typically have higher market awareness and recognition. Why? Companies that introduce new approaches, communicate their value and get in front of important issues can dominate their market and become leaders. Brand and reputation go hand in hand. To be recognized, your company needs to take steps to support and invest in the brand, by delivering quality consistently. While brands can be changed, for instance when entering new markets or to eliminate infringement, transitions should be handled thoughtfully. Just slapping a new name and logo on a business doesn’t mean the market will forget your brand. Think through how customers will be impacted and how best to communicate changes to build your brand successfuly.
For more information about how we can help you build your brand or name and launch new products or to learn about future LaunchTalks events, please contact us.