marketing and sales executives from Silicon Valley

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Set your Brand Free, Protect your Trademark

I was fortunate to have the time to attend the Clearvale 2nd Floor series at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View and see the speaker from Lego discuss his social media successes. While the talk was interesting, I especially appreciated how he provoked my thoughts about brands and trademarks.

He said that a trademark has legal protections for color, proportions, usage, and language, but a brand can change based on the actions of the consumers, users, public, and, oh yeah, the company.

I've written legal clauses and trademark guidelines and even sent 'reminders' to firms to use our trademarks with respect. Over the course of several years working with internal legal and marketing teams as well as external partners, it's become clear that a trademark is really that - a symbol or representation with some well defined parameters for use and display.

On the other hand, I've also participated in many discussions about brand. A wise man once told me a brand is not what you say it is, it's what your customers say it is. If you think of it that way, it's easy to separate brand from trademark. You can legally prevent people from using your trademark in incorrect and/or confusing ways, but the way you deal with customers, consumers, and partners determines the brand that people hold in their minds when they think of you.

Is your brand one where you're known for attacking your own customers for trying to promote you? Is your brand one where you encourage your fans to spread the good word but make sure that your fans use your trademarks correctly? Think about that for a moment if you will. How many times have you seen executives or marketing types state "we need to control the brand" only to have the cover up attempt define the people or company as one who covers up errors or mistakes?

So have all the trademarks you need, but work on brand and keep working on it. Your customers are, even if you're not.

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