Tag Archives: trademark

So Done with ‘Been Done’ Branding and Marketing

It never ceases to astonish me that even while ostensibly ‘rebranding’, businesses and organizations still get caught up in generalized branding and marketing efforts.

Far too often I meet with companies who have thrown good money after bad trying to differentiate, only to do nothing of the sort. A new identity, new advertising, new website, social media – they’re all just tools in the communications toolbox: some useful, some not, for that particular business. And none will be as effective as they should without a strong, sustainable brand – one that really knows and understands what it is, what it stands for, genuinely cares about what its audiences care about, knows who those audiences are – really, genuinely understands their competitors’ strengths and weaknesses, can truly differentiate, and can live up to their promises for the long-term.

Like great buildings that stand the test of time, successful brands are built on a solid foundation and a clear vision of what that will look like and how it will function down the road. Whether built in stages or all at once is irrelevant – as long as those things are front-of-mind, managed, and driving all marketing and communication decisions. Too often they’re not.

A little tirade born of a recent experience

I admit to being on a bit of a tirade on this topic following onboarding a new client very recently – a strong, ethical company trying to make a difference in an industry with some negative perceptions. They’ve done much to be proud of – without recognizing those connections as their true differentiator. None of them are linked to their core business, and the ‘pros’ guiding them thus far haven’t made that obvious connection either.

The client shared with me two (expensive) corporate marketing and branding documents created recently by a competitive firm. They looked and sounded impressive, redefining vision and mission, proposing a strategy, and talking about brand. Yet within a few brief paragraphs, it was evident that there was no real understanding of brand or differentiation – certainly not of this client. Three ‘rebrands’ and three un-trademark-able logos later, the analysis and recommendations were just advocating a seen-it-before rebrand of a different kind. The documents missed the boat and the client would have spent much of its hard-earned profits with a new look and direction, but the same old results. We’re starting over, but it’s frustrating for me on behalf of my client, whose words to me were, “I wish we’d spoken two years ago.”

‘Been done’, seen-it-before branding/marketing efforts are, in a large part, constructs of professional toolmakers

Designers, copywriters, content writers, digital marketing specialists, suits, web developers, and PR folks may be great at what they do, but that’s not branding. They work in silos, independently developing their tool(s), each trying to put their unique mark on their work (with or without outsourced elements) – all without cohesive brand and communication strategies stemming from them. Companies are easily led astray by slick presentations and expert-sounding talk, beyond their core competence. They end up with sharp looking tools and nice words that dilute key messages, confuse the brand, and veer off strategy – if one exists at all. Odds are, they’d make the same recommendations for anyone in that sector: templated, been done, same old thinking, writing, and visuals, dressed with a new name and logo.

Clients need to shoulder some of the blame as well

Clients don’t know what they don’t know (none of us do), and are often easily misled by inexperienced or self-serving consultants. They often mistakenly assume that they know their brand (confusing it with what they do and whom they sell to, an identity, or campaign, or the pitch they’ve been making for years), and are at a loss as to why their efforts are not garnering the results they’d hoped. And they fall prey to habits. When asked, “What makes you different?” they’ll deliver pat answers born of honest belief and years of conditioned responses: “We have the best product”, they say. Or, “Our service is second to none.” Sadly, my response to this is, “prove it.”

Service sectors, including insurance, financial, legal, accounting, engineering, architecture, and health/fitness, are some of the most challenged

Businesses in these sectors may well have unique differences, but as much as they try to be different, they frequently become more of the same. These are saturated markets, where brand differentiation is exceedingly difficult. More than just a new logo, new look, new website, social media (although they may well need all of these – or not), real results for these types of businesses require a new way of looking, thinking, and doing. They need a genuine understanding how to identify, build and sustain their brand.

These businesses are investing heavily in their ‘branding’ and marketing efforts. With what results?

Have you noticed, for instance, that almost as quickly as law firms began to become ‘brand focused’, many began having their websites designed to template by a single entity – with a background in providing generic business cards for those same firms – old habits. Take a screen shot of 10 top firms: can you tell them apart at a glance? Do you remember definitively which was which after reading them?

How about a large financial services company specializing in inventory and receivables loans? They closed a unique deal with a well-known brand, and received approval to leverage it. Instead, they safely chose a standard tombstone ad format, losing their opportunity in a glut of competitive, template-style ads – because that’s the way the industry had always done it. Exactly.

And then there’s the fitness model. Glutted, saturated, with new gyms, trainers, and facilities popping up and others closing at a consistently alarming rate. People fall for the same old spiel, the gyms and trainers make money – particularly in January and the start of bathing suit season, but sustainable? Differentiated? Forget about it. Well, almost. It’s hard to beat a sports marketing education out of an owner, but it can be done. Trust, an ear for education, and a willingness to try something truly different has branded one client for long-term success.

Time to throw a spotlight on ‘been done’ branding/marketing. It’s been done for far too long.

Protecting Your Brand: The Uphill Battle Of Keeping Your Eyes On Your Fries

There are all kinds of ways to tread on someone else’s brand–knowingly or not. From ‘borrowing’ to parody to outright trademark infringement, between tight budgets and new media, it’s becoming an increasingly big problem.

One of the things that one learns very quickly in the creative and communications business is that there is relatively little in the way of innovative thinking. You hear the expression ‘that’s been done to death’ a lot, usually in the same speech as you hear the words, “Make it feel like Apple,” or Telus, or Nike or Pepsi–or that other law firm. “We want to look like (read ‘be’) them.”

When branding and communications experts hear this, we cringe. Because everybody knows that the easiest way to work your way out of a problem (as an employee with a boss or two to deal with, or a consultant with too many people making decisions) is to do exactly what you are told.

So what happens is that a lot of advertisers, designers, web people, “branders” and small business start-ups invariably end up ‘borrowing’ a look, style, idea or an approach from something famous (or competitive), twisting it around a bit and making it their own. The really desperate and unscrupulous types (and we have all known a few) will actually just lift the idea and put their client’s logo on it.

They call it homage or free commerce. But basically it’s just taking a great idea that someone else carefully thought through, invested in and sweated over–and repurposing it, because they don’t have one of their own. Or because it’s faster, easier, or cheaper to produce. But it’s also a form of stealing, albeit one that has historically been difficult to enforce, mainly because of the ‘grey area” in which transgressions like this reside. And, in point of fact, people with similar strategies to deal with will sometimes use a similar process to come up with ideas that are very much alike.

Good Parody v. Bad v. Questionable

Parody–borrowing inspiration from an existing brand or idea to make a point–is a whole other ballgame. True parody (authentically spoofing a brand, film, person or campaign) is a good thing and is often used to great effect to get into the heads of consumers. Great brands are iconic. Equally great parodies of them can help them gain customer-driven insight, awareness and market share and bring otherwise overlooked societal and cultural issues important positive attention.

Unfortunately, a lot of great and funny ideas for parodies are not so great. There are a lot of important things to take into account before posting or printing or broadcasting something based on someone else’s brand. What is a great idea is to make sure that you and the people you hire have a handle on them.

One of the most ‘ripped off’ advertising campaigns recently is the famous Dos Equis “The Most Interesting Man In The World” campaign. The style has been parodied and mimicked in dozens of different ways and for several completely different products or services. Intellectual property infringement, or homage? Tough call. https://www.youtube.com/user/dosequisbeer

To compound the problem, parody is no longer just the realm of professionals. Anyone with a (subjective) sense of humour can jump on the parody bandwagon and play it forward. Let’s face it: if we think something’s funny, we pass it on–and the Internet does what it does well. But the concept of going ‘viral’ is a double-edged sword. Bad parody, laziness, ill-intent or do companies just not care or not notice? A lot comes down to intent. When parody starts to have a negative impact on a brand, it ceases to be funny and starts to become bad for business.

Plain old infringement

There was a time when once a brand or organization name was trademarked, the owners of the trademark could feel relatively secure that their intellectual property was not going to be hijacked or otherwise used, or misused, without their permission.

But times have changed. And the very equity that these brands have worked so hard to build over the years can easily be diluted by companies and individuals who take the easy way out, and/or who (knowingly or unknowingly) abuse the brand using what’s often the anonymous veil of the Internet.

This hits close to home. We have encountered companies stomping all over our own registered trademarks, with Ink Tank® trademark challenges from businesses ranging from a local design firm (who pride themselves on their due diligence), to a worldwide manufacturer, an American cartoonist and now a new cloud-computing firm in the U.S.  They all thought Ink Tank was a great name. So it is–it’s why we’ve used it for 29 years.

This brings us to a whole other issue of due diligence when creating a name, corporate identity or concept for a product, process or organization. It also says a great deal about the sad state of affairs out in the business world where respect for brands as intellectual property seems to be eroding at an alarming pace.

Keeping the Wolves at Bay

There will always be issues with the ‘borrowers’, the lazy, the unscrupulous and the unprofessional creating challenges for your brand. And with new media they are more prevalent today than ever before. Staying on top of them is, in a lot of cases, the real uphill work. But it’s work that needs to be done if you are to maintain the integrity of your brand and not have it eroded by people would use your equity for their own gain.

So how do you protect yourself? Start early and start right. Early consultation with a great IP lawyer is a smart step. And a smart IP lawyer will advise you to hire

a firm that actually understands branding and corporate identity and the differences is a good start; one that really knows the meaning of due diligence and cares about it. One that gets that humour has boundaries. One that understands that there are distinct differences between patents, trademarks, registered trademarks and corporate registrations and the boundaries they work in. And one that can ensure your communications tools are not only building your brand, but protecting its integrity and trademark too.

‘Ink Tanks’ Coming Out of the Woodwork (Trademark Infringement, And How it’s Bad for Business)

We want to start, proudly but firmly, by setting the record straight (hey, Canon, are you listening): !nk Tank and The Ink Tank are registered trademarks of The Ink Tank Inc. We’ve been in business with this name since 1984. So why start a blog post like this? Trademark infringement is rampant, and it’s important for you to take a stand, especially if you’ve discovered what we have … that other businesses, who come along later, simply decide to use a name and a brand that you create—regardless of how long established, or obvious—that fact is.

Whatever happened to due diligence, or things like imagination or creativity? How do businesses that profess to be professional in their communications manage to overlook this in their so-called research and simply start using the name?

Our story could become your story; and you don’t want that to happen.

Recently, we had to take legal action against a Toronto-based design and communications firm. Amazing–this company is not only in our own city; it’s on the same main thoroughfare, albeit more west than east. The folks there “thought it was a great name” to use for their blog. Indeed it is. It’s a name we’ve built our business on for 26 years. Now we’re considering whether to expend the resources, and money, to call out both Canon (yes, ‘the’ Canon), and an illustrator—both U.S.-based—who are capitalizing on our name.

The most basic courtesies and business practices go down the tubes when people either don’t do any homework, don’t do enough homework, or worse; decide after doing their homework that they’ll use (is this the same as theft?) someone else’s hard earned brand and name.

Should we be so vocal, or so picky? In a word: yes. And so should you. Think of the original ideas, sweat equity, money, and hard work required not just to come up with a great business name, but to build that name and brand over the years. That is, after all, what branding is all about.

We’d love to hear your comments on this issue, and will respond to them in the same public forum and spirit in which we wrote this, our first official !nk tank blog post.