The following is an edited transcript of my video Even Trademark Lawyers Make Branding Mistakes
Believe it or not, even trademark lawyers can make branding–or maybe even trademark mistakes–from time to time. I am here to tell you about a personal experience, something that happened about 20 years ago, and I don’t think think I have ever discussed it openly as I’m about to today. When I launched my firm in December of 1999, it was originally called TMarksman, and had a logo. As you can see in the video version, I found this archival web screenshot of my very rudimentary website that I had coded myself in HTML at the time. You can see the logo with crosshairs with the circle around the “R” in TMarksman. I thought this was a clever play on words, and a great way to have a relatively short brand and domain name, and that’s how I launched.
It never really resonated with myself or with my clients. I would find myself having to explain it sometimes and just never really caught hold. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise about a year later when–believe it or not, a trademark lawyer–myself, received a cease and desist letter from someone else. I’m not going to divulge those details, but I weighed my options, which of course could have included fighting it. I don’t believe that it was a true conflict or infringement, but it allowed me to step back and reexamine the TMarksman brand at the time. I realized that I wasn’t willing to fight for it. I didn’t want to go down that road because the brand name wasn’t resonating with me.
I used that as an opportunity to rebrand, and the firm became known as TM4SMALLBIZ for about a decade. You can see our old, slightly upgraded screenshot from the original website that I was able to find for TM4SMALLBIZ. That brand did a much better job of resonating and communicating the message that I was pushing at the time to our clients and potential clients, which was that our entire focus was trademarks and small businesses. But over time, we outgrew that brand because while 95% of what we do is trademarks, it’s not 100% of what we do, and more significantly because while the vast majority of our clients are small businesses, we also serve other clients who are larger than small businesses.
I still use TM4SMALLBIZ from time to time in my branding. I believe I own the domain name still and it forwards to one of my websites. But we rebranded to Erik M. Pelton & Associates with a new logo, a new design, a new look about 10 years ago. Since then, we’ve continued to refresh, hone, and tweak the EMP&A brand that we use for Erik M. Pelton & Associates, and we added a splash of color to the logo this year on that. So my message is that a brand can evolve over to time. Even trademark lawyers may make mistakes or want to improve, grow, and change their brands as I have done over the last 22 years.
It’s still a work in progress. Like I said, we tweaked the brand a little little bit this year. We’re always evolving our message, fine tuning it, communicating on new ways of media, video, podcasts, etc. The brand doesn’t have to be a static thing. It can change. It can change vastly. It can change incrementally. I encourage you not to be stuck on where you are with your brand if you feel maybe it is not resonating with what your business represents or who your customers are. That’s my lesson for today: never be afraid to reassess your brand, to move forward or to move beyond the brand and see where it takes you in the future.
At the time, when I had to rebrand from TMarksman to TM4SMALLBIZ, it was a very big deal. Of course, I didn’t want to admit defeat in some ways or be forced into making the change. I didn’t want to deal with the expenses and the website changes and all of those things, but in the end it was a blessing in disguise. It led to new paths of growth, better, fresher, bolder branding.