So What are the Do's & Dont's for Choosing a Brand?
by Andrew Knowles*, PIPERS
Well, let’s just say that you have finally fled the shackles of working for the corporate and are about to embark on a fine new venture. You are looking at choosing a new brand for your product or service.
The first thing that most of us think about is a name which describes what the product or service is. Marketing people will often tell you that such a name is much easier to sell and will gain immediate recognition with relevant consumers.
In the short term, they are right, but in the medium or long term (probably anything from 6 months upwards) this advice is very badly wrong.
A name which describes the product or service, or something desirable which might be achieved as a result of the product or service (for example FAST for a postal delivery system) is one which can easily be adopted by imitators coming onto the market.
The main risk that you run is that your business will be successful, and then an imitator, who might well be a former staff member, comes onto the market with a similar name. If your original name was descriptive of some feature of the product or service, you will not be able to stop that similar name from getting onto the market, and taking a share of the market niche which you have established.
This is why nearly all of the successful long term businesses have brands which are either invented words, or words which have no relationship to any characteristic of the product or service.
Therefore, if your business is to be successful in the long term, the name which you choose for it is very important. It is not coincidence that the three most successful internet companies are named Amazon, Google, and E-bay, when competitors with names such as Priceline, U-Bid, and E-toys have been relatively unsuccessful. While clearly there is an element of luck, and perhaps an element of good management, the selection of a name which does not directly describe any characteristic of a product or service is a critical factor in the long term success of the operation.
Now comes the hard part - the selection of a suitable name. As discussed, the very best names are totally invented words. The best trademarks are usually between 4 and 8 letters long, and have no discernable meaning in any language. It is quite easy to invent a few words. If you just sit down with a scrabble set or pencil and paper, and combine elements of your own name, you will soon come up with a number of invented words. The hard part is making the mental leap into adopting them as brands. Any suitable word will sound terrible. Therefore, there is absolutely no point in carrying out any market research, as the market research will point you in the wrong direction. However, you should carry out some research amongst people who speak a range of foreign languages. There is little point in making the same mistake as Mitsubishi did in the selection of the name PAJERO. In Spanish, this is the equivalent of the word "wanker". Needless to say, they have had to adopt a different trademark in Spanish speaking countries.
When you have selected a number of suitable words, the next step in the process should involve a review those words and a Trademark availability/Infringement search, certainly in the immediate country in which the products or services are to be sold, and with a little foresight into those countries seen as potential export markets.
Most IP firms can carry out a quick computer based screening search covering the US, UK, European Community Trademark databases, New Zealand and Australia at relatively modest cost, bearing in mind the future investment which you will be making in the brand – and the money is well spent.
If an invented word proves too hard, you can adopt a word of the English or any other language which has absolutely no meaning in relation to the characteristics of the product or service.
These words are not quite as good brands as invented words, but they will often prove adequate.
Two examples from the computer field are the words WINDOWS and APPLE…. Or are they?
Another point to consider when creating a brand is to at all times keep in mind the image that your are wanting to forge in the public eye. In many cases using words or images that are evocative and carry with them an easy to remember picture work best. It is no coincidence that many strong brands are remembered just as much by their association with an animal, castle, or symbol than for the name itself.
Choosing a Brand – the Don’ts
Some don'ts are:
- Avoid using a surname. You will find it hard to stop other people with the same name from competing with you. Consequently, you will also find it hard to register the brand in most countries.
- Avoid geographical names. These cause a number of problems.
- Firstly, you cannot stop other people from using the name as a correct descriptive term.
- Secondly, if you get outside a particular geographical area, the name may no longer be appropriate.
- Thirdly, if you elect to source the product from a different source, you may be in breach of Fair Trading Laws in many countries.
- Avoid all words which simply suggest good features of the product, for example the words best, prime and superior can easily be used by others to describe their goods or services, and therefore are not good brands.
- Short three letter brands are not particularly strong. Although some are well known, such as IBM, and BMW, these have been forced on their owners because the original words used to make up the trademark are descriptive. They are always quite easy to imitate, for example, it would probably be possible to launch a computer under the trademark IBE, without infringing IBM's Intellectual Property rights.
- Avoid combinations of trendy or computer type buzzwords. There are simply too many businesses around with names like comsoft, microserve etc. These names are very easy to forget, as there are so many of them. They simply lack the distinctiveness necessary to become strong brands, unless they are hugely successful for other reasons, for example Microsoft.
Armed with this advice – the next step is to look at registering your Trademark and to carry out an Audit of all of your IP – especially your copyright and take steps to protect your rights to its exclusive use. But that is another Story.
If you have any thoughts, comments or additions to the above discussion please e-mail * firstname.lastname@example.org to begin a dialogue, or conversely consult an IP professional to determine best fit branding strategies for your firm.
Disclaimer: PIPERS endeavors to be as accurate as possible when preparing its articles and has taken all reasonable steps to ensure that the information contained herein is accurate. The contents of this article are for purposes of information only. If you require any clarification, please seek the advice of an IP professional or contact http://www.piperpat.com/
* The author is WebEditor, Manager Advertising & Marketing at PIPERS - Global, A Patent attorney Firm with Offices in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and Malaysia. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the sme’s division of WIPO.