What’s in a name?

Your brand is one of your most important assets. It identifies you to your customers and allows them to associate positive customer experiences with you

A strong and well-protected brand allows your customers to remember you and to identify with you, and allows them to be confident in their dealings with you and your licencees. In turn, the strength of your brand will be a key factor that prospective franchise owners will consider when deciding whether to enter into business with you.

Your brand should be based around a trademark that is:

  • Distinctive
  • Relevant
  • Memorable
  • “Google friendly”
  • Available

A distinctive mark is one that immediately grabs the attention of a person viewing it. A relevant mark is one that carries associations that are meaningful in the context your business (e.g. Kwik-Fit). However, not all marks are meaningful – e.g. Kodak was a meaningless word until such time as use of the mark created associations with it. Often, there is a trade off between the various characteristics of a mark – and too much of one characteristic can be a bad thing. In particular, marks that simply describe the product or service offered are usually very weak (and may even be too weak to be protected).

It is important that your mark will be sufficiently memorable for it to stay in the minds of prospective customers long enough for them to approach you. Similarly, it can be useful if the mark is ‘Google friendly’ so that they are able to find you easily.

The final aspect to consider is the availability of the mark. This is more than just searching for the mark using Google. You should also talk to trademark agents and ask them to search trademark and domain name databases, considering possible conflict with existing rights.

Protect your name

Normally, the first stage of adopting your trading name will be to register the mark as a company name with Companies House.

However, a company name registration does not necessarily mean that you are safe to use the mark and the company name registration alone is not enough to protect against others using the same or similar names. You should already have checked with trademark agents to make sure that the mark is available. Now you should also ask them to file an application to register the name as a trademark. The trademark registration is your best means of protecting the name against abuse by others.

As well as registering your company name and applying to register the name as a trademark, you may also want to consider domain name registration (e.g. covering the endings .com, .co.uk, .net, .info and .org).

What about other elements in your brand?

There may be additional elements of your branding that you will wish to protect. These could include logos, slogans, colour combinations etc. It is a good idea to discuss the distinctive elements of your branding with trademark agents at an early stage in order to decide whether further applications might be useful to you in order to give you better protection for your brand.

What happens if other people try to imitate your brand?

Your trademark registrations provide the basis for your strongest defence against people who try to take advantage of your brand. If you think this is happening, you should contact your trademark agents as soon as possible and before threatening action, as it is often possible for your agents to come to a quicker and cheaper solution if you do this.

Plan ahead

It is better to take precautions at the outset than to have to fight things out later. For this reason, it is a very good idea to cover branding issues in the initial agreements with new franchise owners. You also need to think about what you want to happen if licensees decide to leave the group.

Keep records and review regularly

It is a good idea to keep a file of dated press cuttings, copies of adverts, photographs, promotional materials. You never know when you may need these and they can prove to be extremely useful!

You should also stay in touch with your agents and review your brand protection from time to time. Your approach to branding should fit your business and should grow with it – and communication is the key to achieving this.

Written by Al Craig, of Brand Protect (pictured)