What’s in a name?

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4 ideas to consider — and be cautious of — when creating your company name, logo and brand

Greta McCarty and Sara Davis own Sisters in Valley Junction. They changed the business name from “Especially Lace” to “Sisters” about 13 years after they took over ownership from their mother because they thought the original name turned some customers away.

After Greta McCarty and Sara Davis took over the Valley Junction boutique their mother had operated for 13 years, they eventually
discovered they would have to change the name of the business. Ruth DeCook had opened Especially Lace in 1984 as a store that sold vintage linens, European lace and antiques. The sisters had expanded the business to become a women’s boutique with some of the same items but also offered jewelry, handbags, home décor, lotions, candles and other gift ideas.

“Whenever it’s nice out, we have the door open (to the store),” McCarty says. “We would hear people walk by and say: ‘We don’t want to go in there. They just have lace.’ Our name kind of pigeon-holed us into people thinking we just have lace.”

The sisters brainstormed and consulted with friends and other business people in the shopping district.

“Someone just said: ‘Why don’t you call it Sisters?’ ” Davis recalls. The name fit, so the two went with it. The change happened in 2005. Naming your business and creating your brand or identity is something that needs careful thought, experts say. It sets the tone of the business and conveys the message business owners want to convey to customers. There are also legal implications to consider as one ventures into the world of trademarks, logos and copyright laws.

Here are four tips to help guide business owners:

1. Pick a name

Jessica Susie, an intellectual
property attorney with Brick Gentry
Law Firm in West Des Moines

Forbes reports that finding the right name for a business can have a significant effect on the success of a business. The wrong name could fail to connect with customers or turn them off. However, the right name can help market and brand the business in a positive way.

Davis and McCarty learned this firsthand when they took over their mother’s business about 20 years ago.

After the name “Sisters” was suggested, they conducted Internet research to see if there were other businesses with the name.

“We didn’t know if it was a been there, done that,” McCarty says.

They discovered another suburban store in the Des Moines area that also was called Sisters. The owner was a representative for one of the lines of clothing they sold. She was closing her business and gave McCarty and Davis the blessing to use the name “Sisters.”

Forbes suggests avoiding hard-to-spell names or names that could limit the business as it grows, including those with numbers or abbreviations. The name should sound positive when read aloud and have some sort of meaning to the business. The catchier the name, the more likely people will remember it. But avoid being too cute, as it can be misunderstood.

While experts recommend limiting the number of people who weigh in on the name idea, Forbes suggests discussing it with family members, friends and colleagues to see if the name has any negative connotations or thoughts associated with it. Most importantly, the business publication reports, make sure you as the business owner are happy with the name.

2. Consider your business goals

McCarty and Davis wanted a name that would draw people into their store. After the store name changed, they say business increased.

“The prior name we had was limiting,” McCarty says. “At least with ‘Sisters,’ you kind of wonder ‘What do they have in there’ type thing.”

Creating a brand is important because it helps the business establish credibility, says Kelsey Meyer, the inbound strategy manager for Blue Frog Dynamic Marketing in Waukee.

A business owner can get started by researching and interviewing marketing firms to decide whether the firm’s culture fits the voice and direction he or she wants to pursue with branding the business, she says.

This may include developing awareness of the company or rebranding the business to a new direction. Other clients may want a logo that has a powerful color or gives the perception of being a trusted brand. Some goals are more abstract than others, Meyer says.

3. Create a marketing plan

Kelsey Meyer works with clients to help develop their marketing
strategy at Blue Frog Dynamic Marketing in Waukee.

A business owner’s goals should be used in the creation of a marketing plan. The owner and marketing company will discuss the business’ clients and who it wants to reach.

“They really need to identify who they want to work with and who they want to talk to,” Meyer says. “From there, their marketing and branding should fall in line.”

Many business owners start out with a website so potential customers can find them, but that’s not enough. Experts say having a website and not promoting it is like having a billboard in the middle of a desert. It exists, but very few people can see it.

Many business owners turn to social media for initial help. Savvy operators understand that social media should be a tool to drive traffic to their website — something they own — rather than a social media site or app that is owned by someone else. If done properly, social media can show fans or followers of a site that the company is credible, which can help build the business image, Meyer says.

“Having a consistent logo and branding and name across all of your online presence really speaks to credibility and giving yourself
that trustworthiness and that business,” she says.

Services offered by marketing agencies can and do differ, but most will help with design of a logo as part of a branding package. This
can include a branding kit with the Pantone Matching System (PMS) colors for the logo, which is important if the logo will be printed
onto various products so the colors match in all promotional materials, Meyer says. For those businesses that don’t want to invest or
can’t afford to pay the design fees, they can look to most any newspaper or publishing company that offers logo design services for
free for those who place advertising with them.

After a logo is created, a marketing agency may often move on to creating a website for a business and implement social media, if the business owner has not yet done so. Social media can be an inexpensive way for business owners to get their name out, Meyer says. But business owners should also be cautious with it, as social media can tear down a business much more quickly than it can build it up. Business owners should also recognize that simply posting on a Facebook or Twitter page is not enough, as the reach is limited. Many marketing agencies, and literally hundreds of individuals, can help place paid advertising on social media platforms, which can help expand that reach. This service, of course, comes with a fee. Business owners with the time and knowledge to place posts and boosts on social media platforms can do so themselves for free. The process is relatively simple and quick. But as with most marketing, you get what you pay for.

McCarty and Davis wanted to create a logo for their store. They looked through magazines for ideas. Davis took the name “Sisters” and added a flower to it, which became the store’s logo.

The duo has done their own marketing through the years with the help of a few employees. They’ve begun to post information
on different social media platforms and developed a website. Like most local businesses, they do most of their advertising through print media that reaches their local audience.

4. Be mindful of legal implications

Many business owners will properly choose to register their name or logo as a trademark. A trademark is a recognizable sign that identifies products or services from a particular source.For example, think of Nike’s Swoosh or Apple’s apple. Trademarks that identify services can be called service marks.

These logos or names can be registered through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. A full explanation of how to do this is
available at www.uspto.gov.

Companies may have several items from their name to their logo that can be protected through trademarks, says Jessica Susie, who
practices intellectual property law for Brick Gentry Law Firm in West Des Moines.

“We recommend doing a search, look and see if there’s other people in state or in the U.S. overall who are using the exact same
mark or a mark that’s close enough that you might be infringing on their rights or it could be close enough that it’s an infringement,” she says.

If the business is new enough and finds another one or a logo that is close to what they have in mind, they may want to reconsider use of it, Susie advises. McCarty and Davis have not trademarked their logo. There have been times when someone has confused their business with another.

“We usually tell them we aren’t affiliated with anyone else,” McCarty says. “We do know that sisters is used quite a bit.”

Meyer says very few of Blue Frog’s clients register their logos or business names as trademarks, which can create unnecessary
challenges down the road.

Susie says registering a company’s logo or name can help it expand into areas where nothing similar has been used and establish
a known name. This becomes especially important when selling a business, as buyers will want to be sure that they will legally own
the logos or names. Registration is relatively simple and inexpensive ($10 per registration mark) and can be done at the Iowa Secretary of State’s website at https://sos.iowa.gov.

“It depends a certain amount on how unique it is, and it also depends on what your plans are. Most people, down the road, hope
their business will prosper and expand,” she says.

“The main thing is to make sure the trademark you want to use is available for use, and once you do adopt it, do a good job of making sure you use it as a trademark to identify your business or product,” Susie says.

Forbes recommends conducting Internet research and searching the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office website and local secretary
of state office to ensure the name hasn’t already been used and trademarked, or that the name isn’t similar to another registered
business and could cause confusion.

A business entities search can be completed online for free at the Iowa Secretary of State’s website at https://sos.iowa.gov/search/business.

Once the name is established, Forbes recommends business owners secure the .com domain name for their business. If it’s already
taken, the domain owner may be willing to sell it. Business owners also should secure their name on social media platforms such as
Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Business owners also need to be mindful of copyright infringement and not use images or text that doesn’t belong to them for a website or other materials. Susie says this can be an issue for small business owners who often put together their own websites and use an image they have found on the Internet without seeking the appropriate permission for photos.

“If you take the pictures yourself, it’s not a problem,” she explains. “If someone else took them, you need some sort of release from the photographer. The biggest issue is people who pull photos off of Google and use them and don’t know the source.”

Many people incorrectly think that if a photo or image is on the Internet, that it is OK to use in any way. That is not true and can create serious problems for a business owner who does this. To comply properly, business owners should subscribe to online photo services for a fee where they can use any of the images legally.

Susie says business owners also can get into trouble when they see a product that’s doing well and try to come up with a similar
idea, but it’s deemed to be too similar to an existing product or name. In those cases, the business owner may receive a cease and
desist letter in which they are advised of the infringement and asked to stop the action by a certain deadline or legal action will be taken. The business owner should then consult legal advice to determine whether the allegations are legitimate.

Copyright infringements are serious and can carry a penalty of $750 to $30,000 in statutory damages, according to Copyright.gov. For willful infringement, a court may award up to $150,000 per work infringed and, in its discretion, also assess costs and attorneys’ fees.

Following these four steps will help business owners protect their companies and prepare them for a successful future. ♦

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