From Yesterday’s Cattle Brands to Today’s Marketing Brands
The concept of marketing brands, The Atlantic tells us, began in the 1950s when a brand manager “would be responsible for giving a product an identity that distinguished it from nearly indistinguishable competitors.” It wasn’t exactly a new concept: Branding has been around since 2700 BC when farmers branded livestock with a hot iron to distinguish them for other farmers’ livestock. In the Old West, a brand was used by ranchers, not only to distinguish them from other ranchers’ cattle, but also to protect the cattle from theft by rustlers.
A brand became an alphabet and a language unto itself, easily read by ranchers and rustlers alike. This language is known as “pyroglyphics,” from the Greek “pyro” – fire; and “glyphic” – to engrave or carve. So, pyroglyphic is a symbol or picture drawn by fire. (Although there is now an alternative, freeze branding, which uses a coolant to make the animal’s hair grow white where the brand was applied, but I digress.)
According to Smithsonian: “These colorful designations aren’t just cute nicknames used to identify the characters, but are actually a part of the name, a spoken part of the brand language, which like most western languages is read from left to right, top to bottom and, perhaps unique to brands, outside to inside.”
The letters and numbers could be adorned with serifs, rotated, and/or combined with symbols or other letters and numbers to create a brand with a unique meaning. For instance, wings meant “flying;” and sideways letter meant “lazy;” an upside down letter meant “crazy:” foot-like serifs meant “walking.”
Here’s an example I made using information from Texas Brand Registration:
A modern brand, as defined by the American Marketing Association, is a “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.” But, it’s a little more than that. A brand is a name, term, design or symbol, but in addition to that it’s the customer experience, the company’s reputation, what it stands for, and what it represents. It is what the world sees, and a reflection of your strategy. A strong brand is a shortcut: it allows people to quickly associate you with the good things you do and sell.
Today, although logos are not THE brand, but only part of an overall brand, some famous logos incorporate letters and images like the brands of yesteryears to create a unique brand image. Take Baskin Robbins:
See the “31” in pink in the B&R? The company is best known for its 31 flavors of ice cream.
Or how about Amazon:
See how the arrow points from A to …. Z? That’s because Amazon sells everything from A to Z. Get it? The cherry on top is that the yellow arrow also looks like a smile, because shopping at Amazon makes you happy. Especially if you hate going to the mall.
In the Old West unscrupulous rustlers could mess with your brand. For instance, this Lazy M could easily be turned into a Double Diamond by enterprising cattle thieves. Think of it as a rebrand:
And, it’s not much different today with manufacturers of knock-off brands playing the role of modern-day rustlers. Go to any flea market and you can find knock-offs of expensive brand-name products such as Coach handbags. Sometimes it’s not easy for consumers to tell the difference, like in the case of lifestyle brand 30A, which in 2014 wrote an open letter to its fans, alerting them of knock-offs passing themselves off as the real thing. The knock-offs were made of inferior materials, but they had logos that closely resembled genuine 30A products:
You Have to Protect Your Brand
The better your brand, the more attractive it is for other people to rip it off your logo in an attempt to capture some of that brand magic for themselves. This is what is known as trademark infringement; at least it is if you trademarked it. If you didn’t, well, you may be out of luck just like the cattle ranchers who didn’t brand their livestock: No brand; no way to identify the cattle if they’re stolen. No trademark, no way to prove it’s yours.
So, let’s say you do trademark your brand. Unfortunately, just the trademark isn’t enough. You need to keep your brand strong and avoid brand infringement or dilution. The difference between the two is that infringement is the misuse of trademark in a way that’s likely to cause confusion, as in the 30A example above; dilution happens when someone uses your logo in a way that diminishes its value or tarnishes its image. It’s up to you to keep an eye out for infringement and dilution. If you fail to monitor for misuse of your trademark, you could forfeit your rights to use it. Even if you’re a smaller company without a lot of financial resources, at least take some proactive steps to monitor things.
Obviously, trademark infringement is a much greater problem with well-known companies and logos, but it’s a good practice to do the following to make sure you protect your logo and your brand; after all, like the rancher’s brand was his brand, your logo is your brand, and your brand is your company:
- Create and evaluate the symbol you plan to use. If your logo includes original art, copyright the art.
- Do research in the Trademark Electric Search System through the US Patent and Trademark Office to make sure your name and logo isn’t already registered. (Or hire an attorney to do this.)
- Complete the application through USPTO. It could take three to six months to review and approve (or disapprove).
After you have your trademark:
- Monitor the internet to make sure others aren’t using your trademark. You can hire a service to do this, or, for much less money, set up a Google alert.
- If you find someone using your trademark, tell them to stop by sending a “take down notice,” to the offending party, telling them they are required by law to stop using your property.
- Monitor new trademark applications to make sure no one is filing for a trademark that could present a conflict. Use a trademark monitoring service.
- Purchase domains that have variations on your name with common extensions, so someone else can’t buy similar domains that will confuse the issue.
- Check with the USPTO for a timeline of maintenance actions you will have to take (such as renewing after a certain number of years).
- If you have more than one related business, try to use some components of your existing brand in each of them.
- Create brand guidelines to make sure your trademark, name and logo are used properly.