The Internet Changes Everything About Brand Identity
Several years ago I started my own patent and trademark law firm. To brand the firm, I applied lessons learned from clients of all sizes in nearly 30 years of practicing trademark law. I also paid particular attention to how the Internet has changed the game of brand identity. This article imparts actionable knowledge about brand identity that can help your business succeed using the example of my law firm, Whitmyer IP Group.
Given that Google remains the de facto gateway to the Internet, selection of a logo may seem like an odd place to start in building a brand identity in 2018. But a good logo is essential for everything from establishing a favicon for your website, to a Google My Business page, to a LinkedIn site for your fledgling enterprise. The small, approximately square image file punches above its weight in creating a strong brand identity. It can be used in email signatures, press releases and to identify blog entries in the online world, and can also be used on letterhead, business cards and signage in the brick and mortar world.
A good logo is distinctive in your market and simple in design but still manages to build the basic tenets of your business into your brand identity. The Whitmyer IP Group brand identity and logo directly reflect our new patent and trademark law firm. Intellectual Property (IP) is the basis of our law practice, and a cloud-based infrastructure is the organizing principle of our business.
An initial sketch of our logo resonated with the founding group of attorneys for just these reasons. Technology is part of WHIPgroup’s DNA. We are an innovative patent and trademark law firm running on private-cloud computing and wireless technology. We operate with fully electronic files, and offer our clients an ever-expanding array of IP Cloud services.
We aren’t graphic artists. And we aren’t marketers. So, we took this sketch and turned it over to the professionals at Firstborn. They honed our little doodle into a professional brand identity and logo. There was much thought involved in converting our hand sketch. From the final logo you can see that our initial sketch was an important first step, but there were many key refinements.
The cloud shape has been simplified and married to the shape of the “IP”. The logo is presented in a very specific color defined as: Hex# 075DAA, RGB 7/93/170 or Pantone 285. The font has been specified as Museo and Museo Slab. When and wherever possible, we reinforce our brand identity by using this logo, this color and this font.
Since IP is such a large part of our law firm identity, we also wanted to use it in our name. After settling on Whitmyer IP Group, we quickly reserved the .com domain and a corporate name, Whitmyer IP Group LLC, under which we could later file our corporate papers.
Using our font color and logo Firstborn created a logotype which is the name of the company rendered with its logo. You can see the Whitmyer IP Group logotype on our letterhead, business cards, emails, website, and each of our social media accounts: Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter and Xing because it includes both our logo and our corporate name, reinforcing both.
Internet Name Selection
Having a great logo is important but it’s not enough because clients and potential customers can’t find your business based on its logo. They are going to need an Internet name to find your business, because they are going to look for it on Google. Your company name or logotype is a good place to start when considering an Internet name, but it is not always the best answer.
Recognizing that whitmyeripgroup.com is a bit lengthy for an Internet name and that the spelling of Whitmyer is not unambiguously clear, we also registered several short form domain names: whipgroup.com, whipgrp.com, and others. On Firstborn’s advice, we settled on whipgroup.com as our main public Internet name for web and email for several important reasons. First, “whipgroup” is a word with unambiguous spelling and therefore is relatively easy to remember and unlikely to cause confusion. There are shorter possibilities but they aren’t words.
Second, domain names such as “whipgrp” that are shorter but rely on alternative spellings are problematic for branding. It’s easy for potential clients to get misdirected in a Google search due to confusion over the alternative spelling. Alternative spellings that generate confusion include such things as omitting vowels, converting vowels to numbers or special characters, and using a plural or international spelling (e.g., “colour “instead of “color”). Internet names relying on such alternative spellings often face immediate confusion issues with domains based on the more regular spelling.
Third, domain names based on acronyms have branding challenges similar to those for alternative spellings. Virtually any three- or four-letter acronym has multiple claimants, making its use for branding purposes likely to cause confusion. The multiple claimants also means that the acronym you want is almost certainly no longer available. Even if you were able to obtain and have used an acronym-based domain name for a period of years, you should give serious consideration to transitioning your Internet name over to a word-based domain.
Fourth, domain names such as “whip.group” ending in something other than .com can also cause unnecessary confusion. Using a different extension requires your clients and potential customers to remember multiple words to find you online because they can’t just assume your domain ends in .com.
In addition to using WHIPGROUP as our Internet and email domain, our social media accounts reinforce this choice with custom URLs ending in WHIPGROUP. It may take a threshold number of followers or a certain period of use to establish a custom URL for your social media accounts, but the benefits will be worth the effort on any platform that clients or potential customers or employees use on a regular basis. Yes, I wrote and meant employees because social media accounts tend to be person-centric, so clients and potential customers may find your business by first locating an employee who is linked to your business.
Use Your Logo and Internet Name as a Trademark
A trademark is only as good as its use. Having selected and protected our logotype, we used it on our letterhead, envelopes, folders, business cards, notepads and other articles. We also use our logo and logotype electronically in our email signatures, newsletter, homepage banner and footer, and mobile site. Several examples of electronic use are shown adjacent.
As trademark lawyers, we recognize that “group” is not distinctive and so its inclusion in our corporate and Internet name is of little trademark value. For this reason, we have chosen to highlight “WHIP” in print when referring to WHIPgroup. We have also recently registered the additional alternate domain names whipgroup.pro, whipgroup.cloud, whipgroup.law, whip.law and whip.group. These and other alternate domain names point to whipgroup.com on the Internet so people, including ourselves, can use them if they wish to reach our homepage.
Register Trademarks for Your Logo and Internet Name
Having selected a brand identity logo and Internet name, the next step is to trademark your selection in order both to preserve your continuing right to use your selections, and to ward off any competitors that might wish to use confusingly similar terms for their branding.
Once our brand identity and logo was finalized, we set out to obtain appropriate trademark registrations. First, we filed three priority applications in the US for: Whitmyer IP Group and Design, IP and Design, and WHIPGROUP. The two design marks cover our logo and logotype, and the word mark covers our Internet name. The US registrations which matured from these original applications are shown adjacent.
The “and Design” portion of a trademark description indicates that a mark includes a design element in addition to any letters/characters. In the case of our registrations, they both include cloud art. Our corporate font was included in our Whitmyer IP Group and Design mark. While our corporate color was not included in either of the design trademark registrations, since these marks are used in black and white as well as our corporate blue. The trademark registration for WHIPGROUP does not include any design element and is shown in black, Times Roman font with all caps to indicate that any font or color is possible.
Within the six-month priority period of the filing dates of the applications leading to our three US trademark registrations, we also filed three so-called Madrid international trademark applications at WIPO. These applications were substantially identical to the US applications and have each now also been registered with the World Intellectual Property Organization.
Once trademark registrations are in place, setting up an appropriate watch and policing program provides early notice of any third party’s use of a confusingly similar term or logo. This is an essential step in building the exclusivity owing to your trademark registrations. In addition to monitoring newly filed applications to register, trademark owners should also monitor Internet uses and regularly review AdWords, blogs, online registries and marketplaces, and social media feeds. Early identification of a competitor’s intent and swift action to deter them is the key to successful and cost-effective policing.
Ultimately WHIPgroup’s future brand strategy will follow our business. This includes decisions about officially shortening our corporate moniker, migrating our Internet presence to one of our alternate domain names, updating our logo, font or corporate color, or taking a decision to enforce our registration rights. As these things occur, or as aspects of our brand identity or business either change or become more ingrained, we will file new trademark applications as necessary.
If this seems like an excessive amount of effort at selection and protection of a branding program, it shouldn’t. We are committed to solving IP problems in a creative and cost-effective manner, and we followed the advice we give all our clients. At WHIPgroup, our clients come to us for our superior technical and legal know-how and we leverage our skills with advanced cloud-based technology to obtain quality results.