5 Secrets Behind Great Trade Marks
In the past, we’ve championed the fact that a brand is only as strong as its trade marks. For companies building brands – registering good marks on day zero can be a real difference-maker. (Though even the best sometimes take time to perfect it. Here are 5 secrets behind great trade marks.
In time, your marks become synonymous with the quality of your products and services. It’s how people differentiate you from your competitors. They can also make you money when you license them for others to use. So it’s important to do what you can to get it right.
But what *exactly* makes a great trade mark, brand or logo?
In this article, we look at the 5 secrets behind great trade marks – and some great examples that are out there today.
The 5 secrets behind great trade marks
#1 Be Distinct (and Not Descriptive or “Laudatory”)
The first (and most important) thing that a trade mark has to be is: distinct. Distinctiveness in trade marks refers to how different the mark is from what it describes. Their opposite, “descriptive” marks, are difficult to register (and easily opposed if they do make it through). “Laudatory terms” are the same. If your planned trade mark describes itself as “the best”, “1st”, “great”, “amazing”, or similar – you should think twice!
The best-registered trade marks should not have anything to do with the products or services they describe (or your opinion of them!) Avoiding both of these things ensures the value and goodwill established in the mark is not due to anything except the reputation you build into the brand.
Ultimately, this goodwill is all you want a trade mark to represent because any additional value that you haven’t generated yourself – you cannot claim to be solely entitled to…
And if you can’t claim to be solely entitled to the value people see in your trade mark – competitors may be able to challenge your brand.
A Distinctive Example: H&M
Within the realm of clothing there are examples of brands and registered trade marks that are both descriptive (“Urban Outfitters”, “American Apparel”) and laudatory (“Supreme”). A brand like H&M does not have this kind of difficulty. As three simple stylised characters, it is extremely abstracted from the goods and services it represents. This means that people’s ideas about H&M are to do with H&M and it’s products alone.
#2 Avoid “Common Verbiage”
The use of certain commonplace words in trade marks is not advised. Words like: “hello” “love”, “direct”, “1,2,3” and “food” – can cause problems. As above, use of common verbiage in trade marks can devalue the distinctiveness of your mark. If the terms you use in your trademark are obvious, ordinary or generic; they won’t add anything other that ordinariness to your brand. So using the most obvious things that come to mind should be avoided where possible. The smart money is on thinking outside the box, and coming up with something truly unique.
Original Verbage Example: Instagram
Instagram is a brilliant word mark for a photography app. It is a combo of the terms “instant” and “telegram”. This gives you an idea of the service (that is is a quick way to message people) but doesn’t infer that it has anything to do with photography. This is quite smart in reality – as it means Instagram has avoided using any generic terms relevant to its product – so goodwill associated with “Instagram” in photography is everything about the product and brand – and not about established meanings. (Instagram is a better trade mark than Snapchat for this reason. In the land of photography and messaging the terms “Snap” and “Chat” are both pretty generic). Food for thought!
#3 Get Ornamental
Visual ornamentation can be difference between an ordinary, and extraordinary mark. This is especially relevant for marks that have descriptive or laudatory attributes. A good example of a trade mark “saved” by ornamentation is “First Choice” for holidays. This particular mark relies on its visual ornamentation, as “first choice” as a word mark would not be registerable alone because it’s laudatory.
Note: as above, where possible it’s best to not rely on ornamentation to register descriptive or laudatory marks – they’re simply harder to protect!
If unique ornamentation is added to a mark – and infringement occurs, this can strengthen a defence, as there is more being copied than simply a name. Ornamentation and visual uniqueness can be the key to a truly excellent trade mark…
Ornamental Example: adidas
adidas’ world-wide brand is as much about its iconic visual ornamentation as it is about the name, “adidas”. The “three-stripe” ornamentation, in particular, is commonly seen alongside the word-mark and on their shoes and apparel – and is protected vociferously. (Notably, adidas also have a tri-leaf design that has been popular in the past and is put to use on their retro ranges.) Because of this ornamentation, adidas’ brand is more than just a name – and infringers have a much harder time encroaching on their brand.
#4 Be Catchy!
A trade mark should stick in the mind of your customers, clients and prospects. To do this, it should be really catchy. A boring mark will always create an uphill struggle for your brand – especially when competitors have stronger brands.
Take the time to devise a brand and trade marks that are unforgettable. Keep in mind too that they should capture the imagination of your target demographic. What’s catchy to you may be old hat to your prospective clients!
Catchy Example: Slack
Slack is a very popular messaging app used in businesses and enterprises. It allows organisations to create chat rooms wherein they can discuss projects and work alongside each other. The name “Slack” is ingenious for this – as it implies that using the app will grant the user more “slack” in their working day (through better organisation). This “fit” between the mark and what the product/service does, is what makes a good trade mark instantly understood and catchy.
#5 Think about Being Disruptive
The best trade marks tell their audience at a glance what a company or brand is about. The best companies and brands these days are also category disruptors.So it logically follows that your trade marks should help you stand out from the crowd of competitors – and communicate why you’re different.
To do this, look at your product or service category and see what the common theme is. Then, buck the trend! Standing apart from everyone else may well be the best decision your business could make.
Disruptive Example: UBER
UBER, for better or worse, are an incredibly disruptive company within the transport and technology sector. Upon bursting on the scene in 2009 – UBER set itself apart from its competitors, not only in how it functions as a taxi company; but also in its brand name and marks which stand out from other transport companies. Interestingly, “Uber” means “Super” in German – so the mark may fall foul in Germany of being generic and laudatory…
5 Secrets Behind Great Trade Marks: Making your mark!
So as you can see, there are many different factors that make a good trade mark. Because of this, it’s really important to take your time and get the advice you need to make the right decisions first time around. You never know what this could mean to your business and brands – (for better or worse).
It also goes without saying that these few considerations are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creating truly exceptional brands. Sound decision making goes beyond the design of the mark itself – and into strategic and technical considerations. It’s particularly important to not register a mark that will be opposed, and potentially knocked off straight away. (When this happens, you don’t get your costs back!) If you need help with this, do not hesitate to get in touch.
For more information or support in registering your brands, please contact our team of intellectual property specialists, and if you would like to register a mark and need assistance, our IP Create team would be more than happy to help.