When I broke the screen on my iPhone a couple of months back, I asked the Apple care team for help. And the experience that followed exceeded my expectations. The team member involved went out of his way, contacting the nearest store to arrange an appointment to replace my screen -- in less than an hour.
It was that memorable experience which increased the value of Apple in my eyes, through my positive brand experience with the computer giant.
The design, look and feel of the Apple store itself has always provided me -- and obviously many others -- a unique, carefully crafted consumer experience. Apple fought and won the right to protect that experience with a trademark registration that covers the unique design and layout of its stores worldwide. And here again is the core of a good brand experience: Steve Jobs chose a brand name that could grow in the minds of the public, be legally protected and add to the value of the company.
Apple thus is a great illustration of how and why every new brand owner should make a conscious choice to invest in a trademark or trademarks to represent his or her company's consumer experience. For many companies, after all, the most valuable business asset is their brand.
Studies have shown that somewhere between 30 percent and 50 percent of the purchase price paid for a company is for its intangible assets, which are often labeled "intellectual property." The most common IP assets are patents, trade secrets and trademarks, including words, symbols, logos, slogans, trade dress and even sounds used to market a business’ products and services.
When the day comes to sell your company, and prospective buyers take an interest, their first question will likely be, “What’s your IP?”
Brand building starts with a unique product or service, and a clear plan to establish a channel, a bridge to the consumer. Today, brand building is likely to be a series of channels that connect with the consumer in different ways -- television, radio, print, social media, Internet sales or point of purchase in a store.
So, that's the objective: to create a memorable consumer experience at each touch point. The next question is, how do you get members of the public to associate their experience of the brand names and logos you promote to the public with your products and services? How do you build and protect a sustainable brand?
How do you emulate Steve Jobs' bitten apple -- and the immediacy with which iconsumers think "great computers!"? Here are six strategies to begin with.
1. Investigate -- Turn on the lights in a dark room to see who is there!
A professional search is like turning on the lights in a dark room; a search shines a light on the competition. Entrepreneurs sometimes bypass this step, opting to rely solely upon what they can discern from an online search. But this is not the wisest choice, particularly when you're investing thousands in marketing materials and packaging. Don’t risk being derailed before you even launch.
2. “Noodle” on it.
Think about the results. With a professional search, you will not only learn whether the brand name merits a major investment, but will have a way to formulate a smart plan to register. It is better to know the issues prior to getting married, and that also applies to selecting a brand name.
I recently conducted a search for a new fashion brand, which allowed me to develop a strategy to overcome an anticipated rejection of my client’s application based upon an existing registration. We used the search to gather facts; those facts greatly helped us successfully register the brand.
3. Select wisely -- Search for the intersection where selection meets protection.
The most common mistake new brand owners make is choosing a descriptive term. Descriptive terms are not good trademarks and should be avoided. Descriptive trademarks require costly advertising to garner public recognition, and they are extremely difficult and costly to enforce. Take a moment and learn what types of terms make strong trademarks. Check out: 5 Choices for a New Trademark.
As Margaret Walker, VP of intellectual property for Xerox Corporation shared with me: “Let’s understand what makes for a strong trademark, and what does not, and what your risk tolerance is. Are you okay to go out and invest this much money in something you are not going to be able to protect down the line?”
4. Proper use -- Use them correctly or “lose ’em.”
Correct trademark use involves the manner in which the brand owner, distributors, licensees and the public (including the media) use the mark. A guide for proper use should be created early in your brand’s existence. Marketing materials should provide a consistent brand presentation and include the generic term for the product or service.
Equally important, public use should be periodically monitored to avoid the risk that rights in the brand name will be lost.
5. Register with a plan -- Strategic registrations are invaluable.
Registration is like recording the deed to your house, allowing you to kick out squatters. A federal registration also protects the brand from increasing risks of domain-name infringement. With dozens of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) now available, registrations to assist in enforcement have never been more important. Don’t make the mistake of believing that a domain-name registration is a substitute for a trademark registration. Check out: Domain Names
Effective registration allows for orderly expansion both in the United States and internationally. For example, foreign trademark rights often go to the first party that registers. Pinterest learned this the hard way last year when it discovered that an earlier registration filed by a company in the United Kingdom could not be stopped. Pinterest's error: It had failed to promptly seek registration of its name.
6. Enforce and maintain -- Snooze and you will lose.
Managing and maintaining the brand’s public persona and reputation is vital. Sometimes called “policing your mark,” monitoring the marketplace is legally required in order to maintain rights.
The goal of monitoring is to ensure that differentiating thoughts and feelings about the brand are protected. This includes watching for new users using your marks for related goods and services, as well as third-party uses of similar but not identical words and marks.
Remember: Words like cellophane, aspirin and escalator were once trademarks. But then they weren't: Even the “walking fingers” of the Yellow Pages was found to be a generic term as a result of widespread and common use; AT&T failed to sustain its rights. Each of these former trademarks is now free for anyone to use.
So, don't make the mistakes described. Follow these steps, and you will be well on your way to growing greater value for your business, knowing that your brand is protected for the future.