What is a brand? | Intellectual property and business law blog

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Steve O'Donnell, Ph.D. Registered Patent Attorney

What is a brand?

So, you’ve got a product or two and you’re ready to launch...but what will be your brand name?

Often people try to choose something explanatory as their brand name; perhaps something like “The Roto-Fork” for a spinning fork that twirls your spaghetti for you.

That’s not a bad name, but lets say you’re selling this fork and it’s a huge hit when you get an idea for another product, this one is a spoon designed so the bowl stays horizontal so it’s harder to spill soup. How do you sell this? You can’t use the name Roto-Fork with it for obvious reasons, but you want people to recognize that the new product has the same high quality as the old product...and you want your established customers to try out the new spoon. Since you didn’t really plan out a great brand, you’re kind of stuck. You can try to use the same basic package design, and advertise them together, which will help, but isn’t the best solution. What if another few years go by and you design a steak knife with a moving edge (like a small chainsaw). To get this product established, you’ll have to go through the process all over of trying to link the products in people’s minds and there will still be some people that won’t appreciate that the products are all from the same company.

Now, if you have started with a brand name that wasn’t as explanatory, you’d be in a better position.

Lets say you called the brand “Complete Cutlery Solutions.” You could still call your fork the Roto-Fork, but people learn to connect the brand and the product name together. Then, when you debut the spoon, you market it under the Complete Cutlery Solutions brand so people associate the new product with the brand recognition they have from the Roto-Fork.

Now, if next, you design a specially adapted plate with movable wells so you can keep all your foods separate from each other, and resize the compartments as you want. Complete Cutlery Solutions doesn’t really work for that. But, if instead of that, you chose and even less explanatory brand...maybe “Blue Table”...you’d have something that still sounds somewhat food-related, but vague enough to sell just about anything you could find in a kitchen.

Large food companies do a great job of branding because they really have to. Is there really such a huge difference between premium priced corn chips and store brand corn chips? Is the difference enough to justify the price of brand name? Maybe, maybe not, but the companies do such a great job of branding that you might not even think of getting an off-brand. I can’t imagine anyone yelling out to their spouse to pick up fried cheese curls while they’re out, but yelling “get Cheetos” feels as natural as falling in love.

Continuing the Cheetos example. The company is Frito Lay and their logo is emblazoned on the packages. That creates a connection between all Frito Lay products. If you like Cheetos and think they’re high quality, then there’s a good chance you’ll also like Doritos, or Lays, or Sun Chips. Also, if you like regular Cheetos, there’s a chance that you’ll also appreciate other Cheetos like the Flaming Hot ones or Cheetos Fantastix.

You want a brand name that will make sense with everything you can reasonably consider selling, not just your first product.