4 Lessons for the Small Business Owner on Developing a Brand
Developing a brand is much more than creating an attractive logo and slapping it on everything you create. Branding includes creating a reputation for which your entire business is built. Things like establishing guidelines for who can use your brand, rules to follow in representing your brand, identifying the exact colors or style used to display your brand to the world, and the overall intention of how your brand should be perceived when referenced.
To help you understand both the importance of branding and why protecting your reputation is important, let me tell you a story.
Not too long ago, we worked with a client who had created an online app. The app itself was a good product, well developed, and had the potential to reach a niche for several target audiences. So why were they struggling?
Long-story-short – they were making a series of mistakes that were sabotaging their every effort. This article contains a few “Lessons” where this company, as well as a few others, were making branding mistakes. They also include simple solutions to consider that can apply to all industries and markets.
So let’s dig in…
Lesson #1: Before You Create a Logo (or anything else) – Make Sure Your Business Name Chosen Is Legally Available For You To Use
Identifying a name for your business is a big thing. Now imagine having created a logo, website, marketing materials, and even company uniforms to find that the name you chose is trademarked by someone else and you either pay their royalties to use it or have to change everything to a new name.
Well, this has happened before. In fact, a company I once worked for had a lawyer on retainer to simply track down every company that used the term “Service Experts” in their name. At first, I felt this was a harsh marketing strategy; but the owner of the company had trademarked the name “Service Experts” therefore obtained legal right to have exclusive use of “Service Experts” as their business name. Additionally, the trademark gave him legal right to ask anyone using the name to change it, so as not to create confusion for the general population which company was his business.
So how do you know if your business name is safe to use?
Working with a lawyer when starting your company is helpful in this situation. While there are attorneys who specifically work in trademark law, general business attorneys should also have some knowledge about intellectual property and can check both state and federal directories to ensure you are in the clear. If you need more advice on Trademarks, I recommend visiting the United States Patent and Trademark Office (https://www.uspto.gov/trademarks-getting-started/trademark-basics ). If you need help to find a local attorney, I recommend reaching out to the American Bar Association (https://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_services/flh-home/) for assistance.
If you are in the St. Louis area, my two go-to Attorneys are:
Scott Welch | Welch Law LLC – Scott specializes in Business Law and is a champion for small businesses. While he helped me research my business name during our incorporation process, he is also great for you to think through the varied areas where you may need to protect your brand.
Morris Turek | Your Trademark Attorney – Morris specifically focuses on intellectual property, trademarks, and patents. He too is excellent to work with and his pricing is small business-friendly.
Lesson #2: Create Boundaries For How Your Brand Can Be Used
Here again, working with an attorney may provide you with some recommendations to consider to protect your brand; but from a marketing perspective, you need to be very clear and comfortable with drawing a line on how your brand is represented. For example, we had a client who wanted to reach out to “brand ambassadors” or “social media influencers” to market their company. Sounds great, right? Hang on…
I asked them “what agreements do you have had in place to protect how they use or promote your brand?” The response…well – there were none. Turns out, they were already speaking with someone they knew to rebrand it as their own. Essentially, they were so focused on doing what it took to get a sale, they failed to see the risks they were creating by allowing someone the power to take their product and do what they wanted without any written rules.
There were two steps to a solution implemented here: 1) With assistance, and consult from their attorney, documents were immediately drafted outlining the expectations of the relationship between the company and any potential brand ambassadors or affiliate marketers. It also included specific clauses that protected the company from their brand being used in unapproved ways, then further defined what was considered appropriate. 2) We developed a written Branding Guide that identified how their brand could be used by approved partners. It covered things like appropriate logo use, the exact colors or font used to represent their logo (aka a style sheet), even how their company should be described in a #hashtag situation. Finally, it included who to contact should there be any questions.
Lesson #3: Establish A Clear Focus On Your Product Or Service Offering … And Make It Simple For Your Audience To Understand
In this situation, our client was using a printed card to distribute the activation code required to create an end-user account to access their premium mobile app. Everything they were doing to promote the App, showed a card instead of a mobile device. The result is it created confusion for their market to get their head wrapped around exactly what they were selling – a card or an online app?
Now, you might be asking – why a card? Well, for this particular product, they did have a strategy to promote their product to businesses for use as a value-added, marketing tool, so they thought having a printed card to distribute with their logo on it would be a great idea! Well yes, but essentially it required a completely different conversation to help the buyer understand the purpose and benefit of use. By using the one image of a tangible card to brand their digital product, it limited the ability for their audience to quickly “get it.”
The solution in this situation was changing the image of a card to a Mobile Device with the App on it. This simple visual connection clearly identified its product at its core as being a mobile app. Any other applications for its use were then better communicated more directly to that audience with images that supported that specific conversation.
Lesson #4: Give Your Brand Personality To Help It Stand Out
When creating an identity for your company, the name is important, but so is the character your brand represents. Let me explain…
When I started my company, I struggled with finding a catchy name I liked. I wanted my name attached to it in some way, to help with trademarking, but nothing catchy came to mind. I tried to use my last name in a variety of ways, but “Eudy” just lacked the simplicity I was looking for. While it was a unique name, I found people had a difficult time pronouncing it, so I reverted to my maiden name “Golden.” The problem I ran into was “Golden” was a common name used for businesses at the time. Ultimately, I chose Golden Services Group because it allowed for flexibility or my brand to adapt to the needs of the market. While I still stood behind my logic for selecting the name and was committed to it through Trademarking, it lacked character.
The solution we created was aligning both a mascot and a purpose with our brand. The “goldfish” has become the front-man not only representing a fish most people could relate to (even as a snack), but it also implied a visual to represent the market we targeted – the small fish in the business world. It allowed us to be creative and whimsical with our brand while supporting a very clear message that aligned with our passion to preserve the oceans and water resources for generations to come. This one visual tied everything together for us – brand, character, and purpose – and established a way for customers to easily connect with us, which helped our brand stand out among a very crowded industry.
My hope is that by sharing these real life-lessons on developing a brand, your business can create a solid foundation that helps you minimize risks, and create a behavior that supports the foundation from which a good reputation for your brand can grow. If you have other lessons to share, submit a comment below. I would love to hear them! If you have questions about branding and would like some helpful advice, please reach out. The best way to contact me is through our Contact form or a DM through LinkedIn.
Until next time, “do something to stand out and be heard!”