Grow or Go to Zero

What business doesn’t want its assets to grow over time?

The choice you make at the start can have a huge impact on whether the value of your trademark will grow or wither.

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If you start with a wonderful trademark like Nest®, Staples®, Google® or Moo®, the sky is the limit for trademark value. Whether the mark actually attains that value depends on lots of things, but at least there’s nothing about the trademark itself that will hold you back.

If you start with a trademark that:

  • Consists of words that everyone and her brother are using, like Office Depot® or United®; or
  • Merely describes what you sell, like Radio Shack® or Century Theatres®; or
  • Is already owned by someone else;

then you’re starting with two strikes against you. Your trademark will be at best neutral and at worst a liability.

Coming up with a clever trademark is hard. Coming up with a trademark that is clever and that no one else is using is even harder but, isn’t it worth it so you don’t have to worry about its holding you back? Isn’t it worth the effort and the cost to get this one thing right at the beginning?

 

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That Which We Call Weinstein By Any Other Name Would Smell As Foul

Assuming you aren’t named Tiffany or McDonald, is it a good idea to sell widgets using your name as a trademark?

If you do, enforcing your rights is going to be hard. Kicking people out of their own names is a game for the big guys, but even if you have the resources of McDonalds Corporation and the fame of Tiffany & Co., it’s risky to tie a brand to a person. Just ask the people at The Weinstein Company, who are now considering a branding change in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment and abuse by Harvey Weinstein. Ditto Mario Batali.

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Even using the name of a fictional character can be problematic due to changing social mores. For example, Quaker Oats® has had to update the image of Aunt Jemima® over the years. On the left is the Aunt Jemima trademark circa 1905. On the right, 1992.

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Even with the update, the mark (word or image) is problematic and likely to become more so.  Ditto Uncle Ben’s®.

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Names and images are more likely to become dated. When was the last time you met someone named Manny or Moe? And look at these guys? Is this who you want to trust with your new hybrid car? Ditto Mr. Clean.®

Every trademark has unforeseeable risks. No one could have predicted that sales of a diet product that had been on the market for 47 years would fall by 50% because its trademark sounds like a deadly disease, but names and images of people are more likely to cause problems. There are so many great ways to brand, why pick something with so much potential for problems?

 

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Sticky Color

Color. It’s amazing how much a trademark can rely on color. Sometimes, all you have to do is see a color and, without any words, or a logo, you already know what company it came from.
National Geographic

It’s just a rectangle in a certain saturated shade of yellow. And, yet, for most people, it screams National Geographic.

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Does anyone have any question about where this box came from? When someone’s carrying a small shopping bag in this color, do you have any doubt about what’s in the bag?

UPS

 

You know whose truck this is just by the color, without seeing the writing on the side. You’d even know one of their drivers by the color of her uniform.

 

VS

 

You know what store this is, even though I covered over the words on the awning.

 

UNIQLO

 

This sign is sometimes in katakana, but that doesn’t stop you from knowing which store it is just by the red square and the white lettering.

 

 

Straw

 

You know where I bought my iced tea without seeing the label on the cup, just because of the color of the straw.

 

Louboutin

 

Red soles on a pair of shoes. You know these were made by Louboutin.

 

There are lots more out there. That certain red of CocaCola. FedEx purple. The very particular shade of blue used on Southwest Airlines planes.

The next time you’re walking down the street, real or virtual, pay attention to how much brilliant brand identity is conveyed just with color and nothing more.

 

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