Series Overview: There are the 4 attributes of a powerful e-commerce brand. In the first article in this series, I described the invisible aspects of a powerful e-commerce brand. In the second article in the series, I described the 6 visible aspects of a powerful e-commerce brand including the most important aspect - the name. But choosing names can be complicated by 3 primary factors, which leads us to today's topic. (Please note though, I am not an attorney, and this information should be taken as general educational information, not legal advice).
In this article, we'll describe what I call the Brand L.A.B. ... asking the question:
Why is creating a brand so powerful - and creating an e-commerce brand in particular so incredibly cool? Here is a short list:
Warning: Because brands are "real" intellectual property and have the potential to be worth billions - they need to be properly protected. If you neglect to do proper brand management - you could miss out on all these good benefits and find yourself in legal and social messes and even in lawsuits that could cost you a fortune.
The L.A.B. Method To Ensuring Your Brand Is Well Managed:
Most of the issues and drama related to a brand center around the name you choose, so that's what we'll cover today. But these issues can also apply to the logo and graphics.
The steps to guard yourself aren't difficult, but they do end up costing some money and take some time. If you don't do them you will jeopardize everything you've built. So it's wise to ensure that you follow the L.A.B. model. Here it is.
When entrepreneurs are working on a new branding idea - and the creative Eureka! strikes - the most common thing for them to do is 2 things:
These are a good start! It's a natural "first pass" to see if your idea has already been taken or not. If no one owns the URL and no other similar company comes up when you do a Google search, then you are possibly on to a good idea.
Avoid This Costly Mistake: If someone else already owns the ".com" version of the URL, then my best advice is to move on to another new idea. Don't even consider for 1 minute the idea of buying a lesser URL extension and moving forward with it. Why? Here are a whole set of reasons:
Avoid This 2nd Costly Mistake: The other common error enthusiastic entrepreneurs make is that they dismiss very similar brands as "different enough". The goal of a brand creator is to find a unique, memorable, and engaging name. Here is a quiz to help illustrate my point:
Question: Which Company Is The Looser In This Situation:
Answer: All of them - because they are not unique, therefore not memorable, therefore not engaging.
When you have a unique, memorable, and engaging name. And it is also available on Godaddy and Google. It's time to take your search to the next level.
Sidenote: If you get to this stage, then it's wise to buy the ".com" URL on Godaddy (and buy the common alternate extensions as well such as .net, .info, etc.).
L.A.B. Step #1 - Setting Up The Legal Search & Trademark Process:
Just because it's available on Godaddy and Google, doesn't mean someone else doesn't formally own the name. Maybe an older company you've never heard of before owns it - and they simply aren't operating on the Internet.
DIY Or Working With A Professional Advisor?
You'll have to decide if you want to go through the state registration and USPTO process on your own, or with an advisor such as an attorney or Certified Public Accountant. My advice is simple - do what makes you most emotionally comfortable. In my case, when I'm doing this work, I work with a CPA to do the state paperwork and I work with an Intellectual Property Attorney to do the USPTO process because it makes me sleep well at night
L.A.B. Step #2 - Ensuring Your New Brand Has "Deep" Availability:
At this point, you know you have a unique name. You know it is legally available. You know you have the URL secured from Godaddy. But you'll want to make sure it is more broadly available and if not, solve the problems that may arise. For example, you'll want to look to see if the name is available on the following websites:
What To Do If Your Name Is Taken?
If someone already owns your specific brand name on one of these platforms then you might want to investigate them a bit - to see if they are a "real" business. Maybe they are operating with the same name and haven't done the legal work necessary to protect it, but they are still a player in the space. Regardless of whether they are a real business or not - they are operating in the space - and you'll have to decide how to handle it.
Avoid This Amateur Mistake: Just because you have some claim to a name, doesn't give you the right to be a jerk. Practice being cool to any and all entrepreneurs. Work with people to sort things out professionally. Most importantly, know your legal rights and the legal rights of others before you make claims or try to tell people what they can and cannot do.
The Two Paths To Resolve Conflicting Profile Names:
Just because someone else "owns" a user name on a social or e-commerce platform doesn't mean you should avoid using the brand name if it is available to you legally. Owning a name on a social or e-commerce platform doesn't grant them any legal rights. So, if they have no other legal claim to the name - and you're confident in your ability to legally own the name, then you can take one of two paths:
Each social netowrk and e-commerce site will be different and you'll probably encounter a number of weird or interesting scenarios that you have to work through creatively.
L.A.B. Step #3 - Ensuring Your Proposed Brand Is Baggage Free:
The final step in our formula is frequently overlooked, but really important. You want to make sure the name is what I call "Baggage Free". Generally you'll discover these issues using a careful Google search. But in the haste to create a new brand, sometimes entrepreneurs can overlook these issues, and it can come back to haunt them. Here is what I mean...
There are a lot of negative connotations in American society and the English language. I'm sure this is true in other countries as well and in other languages. If you don't really investigate your proposed brand name - you could end up stepping on social or grammatical landmines. That is a mistake to be avoided. What are they? Here is a partial list:
Putting It All Together: Creating intellectual property is incredibly fun! Do the work to create something unique, memorable, and legally available - and you'll have a fantastic business asset. Remember, I'm not an attorney, so if you're an entrepreneur on this journey, go beyond this article and find additional resources to help guide you. Contact a CPA and/or Intellectual Property attorney in your area and meet with them. Get their expert advice. It will be well worth it.
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