The North Star That Has Guided Me at Azrights

blog brand brand creation brand management brand strategy branding Aug 01, 2022

What do you want to be known for? What does your brand stand for?

When one starts in business these are some of the questions to grapple with if you go through a branding process. It’s not easy to decide what you care about above all else. But everything is simpler once you find the north star that will guide your journey.

The fact is, branding concepts can be rather abstract, and examples about how the Volvos, Dominos and Avis’s of this world have positioned their businesses, are often difficult to learn from when you’re an early-stage business.

What helped me when I was creating the Azrights brand, was to think about what I didn’t like about the legal industry. At the time I didn’t have a grand vision for the business. I only started it so I could fit my daughters needs around my work. I wanted to be there for a way that I couldn’t if I was an employee. So, there was no big idea driving me. I simply wanted to be my own boss.

It was difficult to know how to differentiate my business from the numerous other law firms out there. Once I focused on intellectual property work, I discovered there were many other intellectual property law firms sprouting up. So, I needed something beyond subject specialism to differentiate my business.

I had predominantly worked as an in-house lawyer at Reuters before having my children so I had no experience of the issues small businesses faced. At that time, I didn’t know that a business can fail or have much less success simply due to overlooking a fundamental IP issue. I didn’t know this because large businesses like Reuters are well aware of how IP principles apply to them.

So, I had to think about what I disliked about my industry to see if that could provide a source of differentiation. And it did.

I remembered that when I worked at Reuters, I often found the communications from our external law firms difficult to understand even though I was a lawyer! The language was dense and impenetrable, written more like legal textbooks. They were theoretical in approach, rather than giving actionable usable advice. So, I decided to focus on making law easier to understand and access. I wanted people to know what I was saying.

Even though I’m not a natural writer, this desire to translate law into information I could communicate clearly led me on a path to writing blogs and books.

One of the first pieces of writing I did was a download on copyright. At the time nobody was clearly explaining what copyright ‘works’ were. Only textbooks talked about IP and copyright, but they just mentioned copyright ‘works’ rather than explaining the range of ‘works’ copyright covered. So, ordinary people, including non-specialist lawyers, would not have gleaned much about IP from reading such textbooks. I created a list of everyday items that are copyright ‘works’ so people could understand that logos, brochures, websites, music, images, packaging designs and the like were covered by copyright.

I poured hours of my time into drafting our standard letters and emails so they would be accessible to clients and prospects. It’s not easy to communicate in simple terms while not leaving out essential nuances that people need to know.

Eventually I wrote Legally Branded in 2012 to make IP less mysterious and more accessible to business owners.

So, if you’re looking to differentiate your business consider whether there is one thing you want to change in your industry. For me focusing on making the law easier to understand has been my north star. I even came up with the tag line ‘easy legal not legalese’ to embody what Azrights was all about. It’s been trademarked for more than 10 years now.

My focus on simplifying communications ultimately led to my writing the Brand Tuned book and creating a whole new brand – Brand Tuned which currently belongs to Azrights but is set up to be separate. It has its own website. It’s not about legal services so doesn’t do legal services work like trademark registration.

I’m using my own case example to demonstrate how something simple like a desire to make law easier to understand has run through what I’ve focused on these past 17 years. It’s taken me in a direction I could not have envisaged in 2005 when I set up Azrights.

So, when you’re choosing something to focus on, don’t assume it must be something unique that nobody else is doing. The fact is, there are many law firms that talk about plain English. The main thing is that to me it’s been my north star and has guided my business journey. That’s all you need – one thing you consider truly important to double down on as you run your business.

At the time I set up Azrights I had not yet discovered that many founders in the small business world didn’t even know what IP means. Nor did I realise that designers and marketers receive no training in intellectual property (indeed many of them don’t receive training in marketing or branding either).

They don’t realise that a brand is intellectual property, and that you need to take active steps to be uniquely identified by reference to your name, logo, any symbol, music, shapes, colour, tagline etc.

What’s surprising is that branding professionals don’t appreciate they need to properly understand IP principles to be able to create intellectual property like brand names and taglines, logos, symbol, colours etc. The very choices themselves are impacted by IP principles.

The IP principles I’m talking about are not about English law, or US law or Chinese law. They are universal principles that apply when creating brands. So, it’s a mistake to assume you don’t need to know IP law and can just leave it to lawyers to address during due diligence and trademark registration.

Branding professionals pick up the IP knowledge they need as they go. Some know more than others but it’s inevitable there will be serious gaps in people’s understanding of IP - to the detriment of their clients.

So, I’ve realised that the separation that exists between brand creation and brand protection is a huge problem. The two worlds are so far apart that it means lawyers, marketers, designers, and business advisers lack the wider perspective they need to properly support small businesses with the challenges they face around business design. No wonder there are so many business failures.

I started this newsletter to explain why selecting one thing you don’t like in your industry could prove to be what you might focus on for your brand.

I’m ending the newsletter by explaining how that single objective of using plain English, led me to where I am today with Brand Tuned.

People have queried why an intellectual property lawyer like me is talking so much about brands! This says it all about the level of confusion that exists about how IP applies to brands and branding. People know that brands are potentially the most valuable business asset a business might have, but they don’t realise that intellectual property is where the value is, and that they should pay due attention to it to ensure they create value when designing the business.

My mission is to change the world of branding. When you’re largely unaware how IP impacts your decisions, you are likely to be making poorer choices of names, taglines, and visual identities. You may believe the IP dimension can conveniently be left to be dealt with separately by lawyers who do due diligence checks on a name, but that’s wrong.

Explaining things in plain English is not the focus of Brand Tuned. My focus for the Brand Tuned brand is on raising awareness that the game has changed. That in the 21st century IP is where the value lies. it is no longer tenable to separate brand creation from brand protection. The two belong together because when you create a new business and brand you need to understand intellectual property to make better brands.

Certain tasks can and should be left to specialists – specifically graphic designers will be the ones to design the visual identity, while trademark lawyers will do legal searches and register trademarks. However, these tasks come after you’ve already chosen the name and decided the distinctive elements you want the visual identity to include.

So, professionals advising early-stage businesses on their branding need a good understanding of marketing, intellectual property, as well as design. Few businesses would have access to three specialists to advise them on what they need to take account of when developing their brand. So, it’s essential that any branding professional should have a good grasp of intellectual property. If you’re a graphic designer, you also need a good grasp of marketing.

To create distinctive brands requires a range of skills. Often IP is a skill designers and marketers are missing. So, I’ve created the Brand Tuned Accreditation program to equip branding professionals and founders to learn the IP and marketing skills they are missing to create distinctive brands.

Want to find out more? Sign up for the Brand Tuned newsletter so you will be notified of the webinar I will be running shortly to explain the thinking behind the Brand Tuned Accreditation program and how it would benefit your business.