As trademark attorneys, we get the absolute luck to work with marketing firms and graphic designers a lot. It is a lot of fun to work with such creative professionals. One thing that I hear from them over and over again is “Branding is so much more than trademarks!” I agree! But since I am just a simple trademark attorney, that is what I can help clients address. I didn’t learn about branding in law school. However, as a business owner and through years of discussion, I’m starting to get an idea of what it is and what it isn’t.
First, let’s get trademarks addressed right now. Trademarks are an important part of any brand. A trademark is an indication of source. It helps customers know where they got their product or service from and be able to get it again from the same source. It helps avoid confusion by letting a customer know if I see X, I know that I am getting Y. If I see pink insulation, I know what quality and price to expect. I may know it is Owens-Corning or not, but I do know all pink insulation comes from the same place. If I see the “Golden Arches” anywhere in the world, I know to expect the McDonald’s level of food and prices. You may love or hate McDonald’s, but you know exactly what to expect under that yellow M. Trademarks help with that connection.
Brands go beyond that. When you walk into Mickey D’s, it is more than just a Big Mac and fries that you expect. You also likely expect a family friendly atmosphere. You expect fast service. You expect your kid to go nuts until they get their cheap-o toy from the Happy Meal. That is all part of the brand, but not necessarily reflected in a trademark. Or to level up, if I am buying a new pair of Christian Louboutin heels, I know they will have a red bottom, but I want more than that. I may want others to know that, too. I may be trying to tell you something about my budget, my taste in clothes, my priorities. It is more than saying that I know how to walk in stilettos.
Branding standards help both the customer and the company know when an idea “fits.” If a company knows who they are and who their customer is, then they know when something does not fit the brand. If “It’s a Jeep thing,” then it’s more than a slogan on the back of a spare tire cover. Jeep has developed their branding to send your imagination bouncing along a remote track with your dog and camping gear – even if you are currently sitting in your house in the suburbs trying to remember what you need from the grocery store for this week’s lunches.
Brands are easy to think of as a collection of fonts, colors, logos, and slogans. But really, they are a collection of feelings, messages, repeated experiences, and intentions that make you want to spend your money on their product and service. Trademarks help make sure the customer is connecting all of those things to the correct entity. They are the signposts of the brand, but not the brand itself.