Are You Using Too Many Names?Jul 01, 2022
Names are one of the most misunderstood intellectual property rights.
They’re deceptively simple. You choose a name, one for your company, and one for your product, and away you go. Perhaps you ask a lawyer to check whether the name is available so you can register it, but you don’t bother to involve lawyers in the actual decision, because why should you?
The brand protection perspective is, in practice an important consideration that’s often missed out. It’s only much later when a business takes off that the limitations of its choice of name becomes apparent. Another issue that is rarely considered is the brand architecture, and specifically what it takes to use anything but a branded house when a business is in the early stages of its life.
Today I want to share my thoughts on the notion that small businesses shouldn’t talk about their companies but should instead talk about their products - a point raised by my podcast guest last week. Sean was effectively saying that small businesses shouldn’t try to build a brand. His comment raises various issues, including about the names people choose.
While the life stage of a business inevitably impacts how it might approach marketing and branding, I don’t agree that any of the business stages highlighted in this Harvard Business Review article suggest a need to avoid building a brand.
There are many old school ideas about marketing out there. There is also evidence-based, well researched insights from reputable organisations. It’s essential for founders to draw inspiration from the right ideas when creating their brand.
Knowing how to take some of the new ideas on board when you’re a small business is important because some of the concepts are only theoretically relevant to early-stage businesses. In developing the content for my Brand Tuned Accreditation program, I’ve been carefully deciding how to adapt the ideas to the needs of early stage businesses. There is a lack of research, knowledge articles and frameworks to help small businesses to know what they should and shouldn’t do when creating their brand.
Founders need to decide what their brand stands for and talk about it in their communications about their companies. If you have ambitions to create an enduring business, you have to build awareness of your brand among your target consumers from the outset. After all, every big business we know today started out as a small business.
I know plenty of businesses that have grown into quite substantial businesses despite only starting up a few years ago. An example of a client that went from idea to substantial business within 10-12 years is Headspace. The business was initially two guys with an idea. They wanted to register Headspace as a trademark.
It happens more often than people realise that small businesses succeed and grow into big businesses. But to be able to grow, it’s essential to raise awareness that you exist. They must know that it’s you.
Even if you have no ambition to grow big, and just want a lifestyle business, there are details you need to get right in the way you structure your business that will help you avoid wasting time and resources. So, it pays to get proper help to structure your business and brand.
The trouble is people often don’t know who to consult on brand related matters. There are 3 disciplines involved in branding: IP law, marketing, and graphic design. If you can get help in all these 3 areas from one professional that’s great. However, currently, few professionals have training that includes IP. Most of them wrongly assume IP is just about checking legal availability and registering rights. But for choice of name and related support an IP lawyer who understands branding is the right professional to consult.
If you’re in the early stages of your business I’d recommend learning more about what ‘brand’ actually means because it is quite misunderstood, even within the legal, and branding industries. And reassess the way you’ve structured your business, particularly the approach you’ve taken to naming. You may find you would benefit from making changes.
For example, it is widely believed that businesses should have a company name and a product name. But this is wrong. One name is all you need for your company and product. Using too many names impacts your budget and resources for marketing and legal. Headspace had the good sense to just use one name.
Opting for a single name should be the default option. Ideally, that name should be your own name because it would speed your progress phenomenally and reduce complexity in your business if you just used your own name as your company, and product name too. Sean’s argument about whether you should talk about your company rather than your product just falls away if you have a single name.
Becoming known in your personal capacity as founder would help raise the profile of your company and product too when they’re based around the same name. It makes it so much easier to get your name known.
Some branding people argue that using the founder’s own name is not a good approach, but that’s just their subjective opinion. I’m here to tell you that your own name should be the starting point when you’re thinking of a name for your business. It needs to be chosen in consultation with an IP lawyer who understands naming because difficult to spell names are undesirable, and there are some common names, and other reasons why you might need to tweak the name to make it more suitable as a brand name.
Your personality imbues the brand you create, so you might as well use a name based on your own name. Such a name is likely to be a lot more distinctive than the meaningful names many brand consultants prefer. They are often attracted to descriptive terms, but the role of names in branding is best understood by IP lawyers because they are important IP rights, and potentially the most valuable IP your business owns.
If you are creating your brand, or are a brand consultant or brand protection lawyer who supports clients with aspects of their brands, you’ll find the Brand Tuned Accreditation program an eye opener. Understanding what’s involved to create brands that are hardwired for success and how to use IP strategically to stand out distinctively will equip you to increase your own success too.
Sign up for your place on the program launching on 1 September. Note that the discounted half price offer is only available until 15 July. One benefit of joining the September cohort is that you get continued access to the platform till next June 2023, including to any updated materials. Any questions please get in touch with me.