Your business identity is often the greatest asset of your business, and also the asset most prone to damage. The lifeblood of many SMEs is repeat customers and new business arising from referrals. A business’s reputation among its customer base is paramount.
Every business should have a strategy in place for protecting its brand identity. For many businesses, the strategy need not be as methodical and aggressive as strategies employed by mega-corporations such as McDonalds. However, business owners should be aware of the major threats to the brand identity and the best way to counter those threats.
The following are five practical tips for protecting brand identity.
Where possible, the core brand of every business should be registered as a trade mark in any country in which the business trades. A registered trade mark is crucial to protecting legal rights in a brand and deterring or pursuing potential infringers.
Often a registered trade mark does its best work behind the scenes — businesses that may look to adopt a similar brand might think otherwise once they become aware that a trade mark is registered.
A website is increasingly the most important window into a business. In Australia, by far the best domain names for most businesses are <BRAND>.com.au. A simple and memorable domain, coupled with a professional and functional website, immediately conveys to potential customers that a business is to be taken seriously.
It is important to register a domain name early, preferably before launching the business. If you have a few alternatives in mind, register all of them. Domain registration is cheap, so avoid disappointment. It is surprising how often a domain name is available one day and gone the next.
If your brand name is already registered in the .com.au space, don’t despair. The release of many new top-level domains (such as .food or .fashion) is providing an increasing number of viable and attractive alternatives.
Social media marketing is crucial in today’s market. However, if used incorrectly, social media can do significant damage to your brand reputation.
The biggest risk with social media is that it allows customers with a negative attitude easy access to a wide and interested audience. Customers are much more likely to leave negative feedback on Facebook or Twitter than they are to post praise. A public relations challenge is often only a hashtag away.
While the proportion of disgruntled customers is usually small, on social media they will have a negative effect completely disproportionate to their numbers. If social media is making you a punching bag for your customers, it might be time to rethink your online strategy.
Most trade mark infringements are a result of innocent conduct. In the majority of cases, another business will adopt a new brand without checking to see whether they are infringing someone else’s trade mark.
Protecting a trade mark against an infringer is much easier when you take action early. The longer the other business trades under their brand, the better their chances of defending a trade mark infringement case.
Also, an infringer is much more likely to be reasonable when they have only recently commenced trading, because they don’t risk losing as much brand equity and goodwill. Resolving matters by negotiation and agreement is always much more effective (and cheaper) than resorting to legal action.
A brand should not be confused about its identity. Every aspect of a business feeds into and affects the identity of a brand, including advertising, promotional material, staff attitude and attire, and even business cards.
Some businesses want to portray themselves as new and edgy, while others wish to be seen as conservative and reliable. Select the image that you want your brand to portray, and then ensure that each aspect of your business is working consistently towards that goal.
Most importantly, exercise active control over brand identity — educate staff so that they are aware of the image that is to be portrayed. For larger businesses, this may mean creating brand guidelines with the assistance of a professional advisor.