Protect Your Brand Like a Celebrity

Protect Your Brand Like a Celebrity

by Jane Haskins, Esq., March 2018

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Imagine if your business had millions of social media followers, like the Kardashian/Jenner sisters. Or what if it were as influential and successful as Oprah's media empire or Gwyneth Paltrow's goop? These celebrities have worked hard to establish a distinctive brand and protect it.

No matter how small your business is now, the steps you take today to build and protect your brand will set the stage for growth and success in the future. Here are some lessons you can learn from the stars.

Lesson 1: Build Your Brand

Love 'em or hate 'em, the Kardashian sisters are glamorous, stylish, and larger than life. But there was a time when the oldest three were just clothing store owners (though wealthy and well-connected ones) in a Los Angeles suburb. They rose to international fame and have endured as celebrities partly because their mom, Kris, pitched the idea of a TV show and has worked tirelessly to establish the Kardashian brand on everything from cosmetics to flip-flops.

Oprah might have been just another TV host, but she has become one of America's most beloved and successful brands by sharing herself with her audience. Gwyneth Paltrow was already an Oscar-winning actress when she started Goop Inc., her lifestyle brand. A goop conference sold out last year, and the brand recently expanded with a print magazine.

For both celebrities and small businesses, building a brand means thinking about what your company stands for, what makes it unique, and who your ideal customers are.

Once you understand these things, act like a celebrity and use your brand name consistently in the places where your customers are likely to hang out—whether that's online or in person. When customers connect with your brand, they become fans. They want to be associated with you, just as some people want to wear the same fragrance as Kim Kardashian. Having a strong brand makes your business infinitely more valuable.

Lesson 2: File for Trademark Protection

A registered trademark gives you the exclusive right to use your brand's name nationwide in connection with a particular type of goods or services. And seeking trademark registration gives you the right to go to federal court if necessary to block others from trying to make money off your brand name.

Celebrities like Taylor Swift are careful to protect themselves with trademarks. Swift regularly files for trademark protection for lines from her songs, like “Look What You Made Me Do." The trademarks are intended to protect Swift's right to emblazon the words on everything from T-shirts to guitar picks—and profit from a potentially very lucrative merchandising business. They also show the world she is in charge of her brand and will work hard to protect it.

Lesson 3: Enforce Your Rights

Trademark owners are responsible for watching for trademark infringement and taking action to stop it. If you let other people use your trademark, your brand isn't as valuable. Sometimes, all that's needed to stop an infringer is a “cease and desist" letter advising the infringer of your trademark rights and asking them to stop. Enforcing your trademark also means monitoring trademark applications and opposing the ones that might harm your brand.

Celebrities are careful not to be too aggressive and start a social media backlash, but they aren't afraid to protect their rights. When Rob Kardashian's fiancée applied for a trademark for her future Kardashian married name in 2016, Kim, Khloé, and Kourtney formally opposed it. Within months, the fiancée dropped both the trademark application and her relationship with Rob.

Lesson 4: Use “Common Threads"

When celebrities expand into new areas or enterprises, they are careful to maintain a “common thread" by incorporating parts of their brand name in everything they do. Oprah has Harpo Productions (Oprah spelled backwards) and O, the Oprah Magazine. The Kardashian clan's ventures include Kardashian Kids, KKW Beauty (Kim's initials), and Kylie Cosmetics.

Common threads make it easy for people to associate your new venture with your brand. If someone already likes your brand, then you'll have a built-in audience for whatever you're doing next.

Brands are as important to small businesses as they are to celebrities, and, by protecting yours, you set a course for building a business empire of your own.

If you're ready to get started protecting your brand, with your trademark  here.