Your Brand’s Journey
You’re working hard. Thousands of hours and more thousands of dollars (and a handful of “ah-ha” inspirations) brought you to this moment.
But, there’s this gnawing gut-level feeling …. what if your branding gets copied, or worse!? What if ‘they’ copy your ‘inside’ competitive advantage – that special something that binds you to your customers and keeps them coming back? What if your competitor in a moment of jealous rage tries to shut down your website or take your stuff off store shelves by claiming some kind of infringement?
No one told you about this part of business! Or, if they did, it was something “out there” – a concern you’d face “some day.”
It’s been in the back of your mind, but today, for some reason – perhaps a story in the news or a cease and desist letter just pulled from your mailbox, or perhaps you just caught a former employee contacting your customers using the very systems you developed, or some competitor in a state next-door is using your name or logo to get their own customers – yes, for some reason it’s got your attention. Today. Now. And, you know it can’t wait any longer.
I’ve been there. Even as an experienced trademark, patent, and copyright lawyer I’ve discovered in horror that a trusted business partner took the business plan I wrote and the prototype I secured to raise over $20 Million for his ‘new’ startup. And, I’ve seen dozens of friends and clients ripped off by dishonest (and lazy) con artists. Little in the world gets me more worked up and angry.
In 20 years, I’ve seen and learned enough that I believe you can be helped.
If you’re ready to start moving away from confusion and toward certainty – especially if you are in an emergency — call me now.
Perhaps you’re uncertain about taking the next step, or just want to learn a little more, first. If so, I invite you to read this mini-eBook and enjoy the articles that will be coming your way via email. I’ve assisted hundreds of entrepreneurs with protecting and defending their brand names, and the following 5 steps are the most critical.
I think you’ll find that being informed will start giving you the certainty and security you need. But while information clears mental fog, the rest depends on taking action. Ultimately, it boils down to this: you’ll have to take action one way or the other – either to protect your brand and your business proactively in the Trademark Office, or on the defense in a Courtroom. You must decide. And if you choose to be proactive, I’m here to help you.
Step 1: You Must Get A Trademark Search
Imagine waking up deep in the woods, alone, unsure how you got there or how to find your way out. That’s like the situation most business owners find themselves in when they realize they need certainty about their branding choices.
As a trademark attorney, the first question I am typically asked is, “can I trademark my brand name?” Well, that’s kind of like dropping me in the woods with you and asking how to get out. And, although most other ‘legal services’ won’t tell you (until after they have your money), they don’t know your brand’s rights, either. In fact, in addition to asking if you can Register your brand, you must also know whether you can actually use it without getting sued! This leads to ‘the 2 big questions of Trademark law…’
The 2 Big Questions: 1. Can I use the brand name without getting sued? 2. Can I Register the name at the Trademark Office and make it exclusively mine?
Here’s another fact they won’t tell you: looking up a brand on the Trademark Office database isn’t enough – not by a long shot. Even assuming you know the tricks that are required to search for all the relevant marks, both state registrations and common law uses (including domain names and social media uses) can dramatically impact your rights to use your brand.
In the 1970s McDonald’s (which started up in the late 1940s) decided it was finally time to enforce its branding rights. Although a little late to their own trademark game, they sued literally every diner in the USA named “McDonald’s” that wasn’t part of their franchise system. One diner and Truckstop in east Texas defended their name all the way to the US Supreme Court, won the case, and is still in business today.
The point is that when you select a brand name, you’re making a choice that is filled with complexity and pitfalls that you need to understand now to plan for tomorrow.
Even McDonald’s, with all its might, was forced to allow existing “McDonald’s” diners to keep using their names. I’m guessing you don’t have the resources that McDonald’s does, but do you know what you do have on your side? Smarts, and the ability to wisely choose your mark and its positioning before it becomes too expensive to turn back.
What you really need is a map that will show you where the dangers are, and a path to safely get to your destination. That, my friend, is what a quality Trademark Search Report delivers.
Quick Action Tip: To obtain a quality search — 1. Write down your brand name, slogan, and logos. 2. Identify what they are selling and representing. 3. Provide us your answers to (1) and (2) so that we can put our experienced research staff to work for you. Typically, we can provide you with a quality report in fewer than ten days.
Together, we will use the Search Report for each of the next four steps.
Step 2: Create Brand Value: What Brand Value Really Means
Simon Sinek is famous for asking “What’s your Why?” But his question digs into a much deeper point which he explores in his book, Find Your Why. Your business’s “why” drives your customer’s experience, and that’s where your company’s real value is made.
Let’s explore how this ties into branding …
Have you ever played with a group of kids? If so, you’ve probably experienced the game where they switch names with each other. Of course, you just rolled your eyes because you knew who the real Jimmy was and the real Susie was. … Heck, once my entire class (on about the second day of school) switched desks to mess with the teacher’s seating chart … all the way to answering “here” for each other!
Your customers are like that teacher – at first they are just trying to figure out who you really are. At this stage, they really don’t care much about what the name is, or about your fancy logo. What matters is the quality of your customer’s experience.
The point is this: branding is more than the name or logo of your business. In the minds of your customers it is an independent living thing. Just like “you” are not your name (and, in fact, can legally change it), your business is the sum of your customer experience. This includes the quality of the service provided, the goods sold, the energy and friendliness of your employees and contractors … it’s literally how you make your customers feel.
Stately names and fancy design may lure in a customer here and there, but in today’s highly competitive world your business will only survive with repeat business, and repeat business means reputation. And that means branding matters.
Excellent brands, such as Apple, Virgin America, Starbucks, and Chick-fil-A enjoy the privilege of legions of raving fans. Not because they picked a clever name, but because they provide exceptional customer experiences.
Take Virgin America, for example. Any other airline could have calm music playing in line at the counter, or serene ambient lighting in the cabin, or a super-cool music-video reminding you to buckle up, or space the seats out so you’ll not injure your teeth with your knees, or give you an entire can of soda when you ask, or promote a charity in-flight, and top it all off with employees who are excited to see you! … all for about $20 more than the other guys charge. The other guys could, but they don’t (and why they haven’t adopted most of these simple changes is simply bewildering). It’s the customer experience that makes Virgin America Virgin America … Would an Apple Computer by any other name be as sweet?
When you choose a brand name or logo, what is really happening is that as each of your customers has a great experience, your brand is earning “good will” – a sort-of ‘business affection.’
So, protecting your brand means protecting your good will, and your reputation. After all, it’s the reputation that you want that expressed your “Why.”
Quick Action Tip: Identify three ways your business can offer a better customer experience than your competition.
Step 3: Positioning Your Brand in the Mind of the Consumer
The single most powerful impact your messaging can have on your business is how you position your brand.
Al Ries and Jack Trout pioneered the concept of brand positioning in their book, Positioning. ‘Positioning” is often misunderstood as ‘how you position your business in your market’ — such as low-cost provider or as a premium service. However, rather than describing the business it instead describes how consumers look for solutions to their problems, and how they will ‘mentally categorize’ and remember your brand. Let me explain with an example from physiology …
Thousands of years ago on the plains of Africa, when walking between tribes, humans had to remember a few sources of water. Ideally three would keep you hydrated through a long walk, but it’s better to remember about seven in case a few large predators are hanging out at our prehistoric Seven-Elevens. That deeply ingrained thinking is wired into each of us, today.
How many car rental services can you name (among the hundreds that exist) … probably around seven. Same for hotel chains … you get the idea.
Given this human limitation, how does your brand stand out? Positioning.
Positioning allows your messaging, advertising, images, logos, slogans and other communications to zero-in on your business’s competitive advantages, and in doing so differentiate you from the competition.
Every business has a competitive advantage …. a Unique Selling Proposition (“USP”). What’s yours?
One trick you can use to position yourself is to uniquely define your space in the market as “the first” business of your kind. For example, Dominos was the first pizza delivered with the “there in 30 minutes or its free” guarantee. There were already thousands of pizza restaurants, all of which could deliver pizza, but it was Dominoes that became synonymous with “fast pizza.” That’s positioning!
So, one way your trademark search report will help you beyond registering your trademark is this: by identifying your competitors, you can better define your USP. And when you better understand your place in the market, your business positioning may very well become more obvious.
Quick Action Tip: Identify your Unique Selling Proposition (USP). Identify three things you do that differentiate you from your competition in the minds of your customers.
Step 4: Register Your Marks, Slogans, and Logos with the US Trademark Office
When you’ve decided on the right brand name, slogan or logo, you must file for a Federal Trademark Registration as quickly as possible.
Why is this so important? Because domain name squatters have begun moving into the realm of trademark squatting. Yes, it’s supposed to be illegal (even criminal), but no, the Trademark Office is doing nothing about it.
So, where just a few years ago it was sufficient to use your mark in commerce, now you do so at your own peril. This means that as soon as you’ve settled in on the name that you want to use, you should secure the domain and quickly move to register the trademark.
You simply can’t afford to risk that you’re going to get on the radar of these squatters.
But, not all trademark applications are created equal … in fact, if you do it wrong, the trademark application can be thrown out and it will be as if you didn’t file it at all! The most common reason this happens is that applicants (or their inexperienced attorneys) select the wrong class of goods or services, or fail to describe the goods or services accurately.
Most people wouldn’t cut their own hair or change their own oil, but for some reason many of those same people will roll the dice and try to file for their own trademark application. Frankly, it’s easier to mess up a trademark application than a haircut, and the consequences are much more severe.
Don’t let this happen to you!
Quick Action Tip: When you’re ready, hire an attorney experienced with trademarks and who is registered to practice before the US Patent and Trademark Office.
Step 5: You Need A Plan
The year you open your business is perhaps the most dynamic year of your life, and is certainly the most critical to your business. In fact, according to the US Department of Labor, over 90% of businesses close in their first two years.
If you execute your first two years in business correctly, it can mature into a self-sustaining operation. It can become a truly branded business that is known and loved in your community, or in the world-wide community of your customers.
I can’t stress this enough…planning matters.
What you accomplish in this year will determine just how strong your brand and trademark application will be. It also determines how well your business will capitalize on the one opportunity you have to grow and develop that brand right.
I call it your business’s “Golden Year.”
To make the most of this year, you must have a plan. Since creating my first I’ve helped hundreds entrepreneurs and innovators file hundreds of trademark applications on their way to making their financial and life dreams a reality.
Along the way, I’ve developed a system that gives innovators, entrepreneurs and inventors the tools they need to accomplish as much as possible in that year. I call it the Business Factory Formula. It’s a step-by-step approach to getting your business ready for prime-time.
With it, you can go from completely confused to confident in as little as 60 days, and set yourself up for your best year ever! And, if you’ve already been through the process of creating a business before, you’ll learn why your last idea could have been more successful.
Here are the Business Factory Formula’s highlights:
1. Plan: Brainstorm great brand names and logos for your business and its products and services.
2. Search: With speed and intention, select the best brand names, and get a professional Trademark Search Report.
3. Validate: While you’re planning your Trademark Search Report, you will also want to get a Market Search Report. You’re seeking validation for your go-to-market plan, and you are looking for products or services that are already on the market that solve similar problems.
4. Develop a Brand Script: Create (write out) your customer’s ideal buying experience, and craft your messaging to be congruent with that journey. I can show you how.
5. File for Protection: The work that has gone into accomplishing steps 1 – 4 all comes together as you file your trademark applications.
These are just the high points in the process. However, the process is not strictly linear…
During the first year while you are developing your business, doing market research and continually thinking about how to make your business better, you may inevitably realize that what you have in month ten or eleven is different enough from the idea you started with that you will want to obtain additional research. This may include more market research and possibly invention research.
It’s a cycle: Decide -> Implement -> Test -> Evaluate -> Repeat
Quick Take Action Tip: Create your branding plan, place it in a calendar or timeline, and commit to sticking to it.