Trademarks & Branding – What NOT to do!

Searching for the perfect trademark? Your brand identity usually begins here and it’s the first connection you have with prospects so it’s worth investing some time and brain power to find the perfect name and mark. Through this process, it’s important to avoid some common pitfalls that could have disastrous consequences for your business down the road. With that in mind, here’s a list of what NOT to do in your branding process!

1. Say Nothing.

What does your trademark say about your business? Does it evoke a feeling, a mission, a description?

Too often, businesses choose names that sound “corporate” without conveying anything at all about their brand. For instance, Andersen Consulting had to ditch their name due to the departure of Andersen from the company and promptly rebranded as Accenture.


It was meant to be a play on “Accent on the Future,” but really? Who got that? Time’s editors called it “one of the worst rebrandings in corporate history.” According to Frankel, it sounds like the quintessential, meaningless, “big corporation” name. “It tells the customer nothing” she said.

Blackwater is a private security firm that also attempted a rebranding effort, but failed miserably. After a public relations nightmare where Blackwater contractors were accused of murdering Iraqi citizens, executives attempted to rename the company Xe (pronounced Zee) because it had no previous connotations. Unfortunately, this nonsense name (and the fact that many didn’t know how to pronounce it) meant that people still referred to the company as Blackwater. They eventually went on to rebrand a second time, becoming Academi.

Lesson learned? Say SOMETHING with your name. What a waste of an opportunity to do anything otherwise.


2. Neglect the Research.

So you’ve narrowed the list to a few possible trademarks. Have you done the research? Have other companies claimed that name or mark? Perhaps a variation of the name? A different spelling? All of these things could lead to the rejection of your name by the Secretary of State or USPTO. If you do business in more than one state (or you plan to expand territories) have you performed a national search for your selected trademark?

laputaEven if your trademark is available, be sure to check how it relates to the consumer’s culture. Many issues can arise, especially if your brand is international. For example, Mazda made a serious misstep in naming their SUV crossover LaPuta. (Spanish translation: “the whore.”)



You may have also seen the recent change made by the SciFi network to SyFy. The reasoning is because SciFi is a genre and therefore, not trademark-able. The unique spelling of SyFy allowed the network to trademark the name; however, someone failed to point out that syfy is slang for syphilis.

Oops again.


3. Ignore Feedback.

Everyone has an opinion. Some are valid. Before moving full speed ahead, consider taking a poll and gaining valuable insights into the way potential customers will view your business based on your trademark. Of course not everyone will approve. Almost everyone will have an alternative opinion. Just remember that it’s your business. You have to live with the brand identity so you’d better love it!

If you are considering rebranding then consumer feedback is particularly important. In 2010, Gap decided to release a brand new logo design and the backlash was intense.


Loyal Gap customers were outraged and let them know via social media (including this parody Twitter account). After the logo release, it took only six days for Gap to reverse that rebranding decision stating: “Ok. We’ve heard loud and clear that you don’t like the new logo. We’ve learned a lot from the feedback,” the company said on its Facebook Page. “We only want what’s best for the brand and our customers. So instead of crowdsourcing, we’re bringing back the Blue Box tonight.”

Smart decision on their part. Unfortunately, Tropicana’s rebranding debacle didn’t reverse quickly enough and they only learned their lesson when revenues dropped 20%!

Most recent rebranding debacle? Have you seen the new state of TN logo?


A huge hubbub was heard when citizens learned that it cost $46,000 to design this simplistic logo. It was recently rejected from the USPTO as a registered trademark due to the fact that the logo is “primarily geographically descriptive.” It appears that Gov. Bill Haslam will continue to defend the rebranding effort and offers no sign that the rejection of this design by the people of Tennessee will be taken into consideration.


4. Fail to Protect.

Finding that perfect trademark is a process. A long process. You may go through hundreds or thousands of ideas before finding one that is both desired and available. Once you find that perfect mark it’s definitely worth the time, effort, and investment to protect it!

Read our next article about how to register your trade name!



Join Executive Legal Professionals on August 6, 2015:

Copyrights, Trade Marks, Patents, and the Plan for Protecting Your Brand. 

Protecting trade secrets, copyrights, trade marks, and other intellectual property is essential to the innovation and growth that are vital to small businesses. Noel’s talk will focus on using Preventive Law to strengthen such protections.


5 things I’ve learned as the wife of an entrepreneur…


They have it. Don’t squash it.

True entrepreneurs have passion. Alright, that’s an understatement. Entrepreneurs have an OVERABUNDANCE of passion. That idea that hits them during dinner can easily turn into an all-nighter—sketching out an idea and fleshing out the plan to make it happen. When an idea is in its infancy it is like looking at a mouth-watering chocolate fudgy brownie. The entrepreneur’s mouth waters and they highly anticipate taking that awesome first bite. So, no matter how well-intentioned, the first negative comment or objection can be like replacing all the sugar in that brownie with salt—sapping all the moisture from their mouth and drying up their motivation like a mouth full of sand. Love them, support them, and push them to answer all the questions, but keep the negativity off the table. If there is an objection that must be answered, be sure your presentation is constructive and encouraging.



Yeah, they don’t have it.

There are so many small steps that one must take to reach the summit. But when you can already see the top, it’s hard to slow down and keep from tripping over the rocks at your feet. Help them keep their eye on the summit – that is what makes their passion rise and they will in turn, inspire everyone else around them.



Ain’t nobody got time for that.

As I said before, entrepreneurs see the summit. They have a bird’s eye view of the product/service/business that they want to gift to the world. There is great value in this zoomed out perspective. A great leader must always have a destination in mind. Details will come later and may be something you have to take on in order to keep the passion alive. No worries- just learn to surround yourself with people who specialize in what you or your spouse don’t want to do. Delegate and keep reaching for the summit.



Just start.

Me? Oh yeah, I’m a planner. Business plan? Yes please! Let’s figure out all the possible scenarios and run the numbers. To the entrepreneur, that all-nighter where he sketched out his idea was his planning session. He’s ready to hit the ground running and reach that summit before anyone else. To his credit, my husband is the most logical man I know. He thinks things through and focuses on the big things. Even if everything isn’t all planned out and all the answers haven’t been found, he’s ready to start. Start with the big things, the things you know have to be done. Figure out the rest as you go, otherwise you’ll waste valuable time and someone else will beat you to the punch.



Through it all.

No matter what successes or failures may come our way, no matter how much money is (or isn’t!) in the bank account, he must always know that he is the light of my life. He’s my inspiration and motivation to keep going even when I don’t see the finish line. That’s not to say that there won’t be times when I chase him with a frying pan and other times when we (read – “I”) cry it out, but we are partners through it all. Our successes and failures are met together.