Does Your Company Have a Branding Guide?

November 14th, 2012

Trademark Usage and Branding Guides Help Protect Brands and Trademarks

By: John R. Harris

Successful companies are careful to select good, memorable, protectable trademarks. After good marks are screened and chosen, these companies then use them consistently in branding and image-building campaigns. A successful campaign cements the company’s brands on products and services in the minds of their customers. What could be more famous these days than the marks of Apple, Google, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Home Depot, just to mention a few?

Trademarks and brands are closely related concepts. Trademark law is effectively the “law of branding.” A company with good brands needs to register its trademarks with government agencies like the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), use them consistently, carry out effective branding campaigns, and police the use of the brands by third parties.

Trademark and branding usage guides are valuable but often overlooked branding tools for smaller and medium-sized companies. These usage guides are in widespread use with larger consumer products companies, but tend to be afterthoughts for growing companies until a problem arises. Good trademark usage guides (which are sometimes combined with comprehensive style and branding guides) are not difficult or expensive to assemble. One of the best ways to get started is to consult with trademark counsel, and then coordinate a meeting between your marketing department and your creative partners such as ad agencies, PR firms, and design firms.

Once assembled, your branding guide should be distributed to all internal marketing and PR personnel, and then to all outside partners involved in promoting the company. Care should be taken to advise everyone of the importance of proper and consistent usage of the company’s valuable brands and trademarks – in accordance with the branding guidelines.

What issues should be covered in a good branding guide? Here are a few:

• A requirement that any unregistered trademarks should be displayed in text form followed by the ™ symbol the first time it appears in any materials.

• A requirement that any registered trademarks should be displayed in text form followed by the ® symbol the first time it appears in any materials.

• Capitalize the trademarks when used in text form, e.g. MYMARK.

• Do not confuse the company name with the brand name – “MYMARK is a trademark for widgets manufactured by My Mark, Inc.”

• Never use a trademark in any plural or possessive form, e.g. never say
“MYMARK’s features make it your best choice.”.

• Any logos or designs with color should have a color value specified, e.g. in PANTONE® or other accepted color standard.

• Require that any use of your brand or trademark must have an attribution when used in any third party’s materials, e.g. “MYMARK is a trademark of My Company, Inc.”

• Provide language for a trademark legend to be used as a footer on websites and collateral materials, e.g. “MY MARK and the MYMARK logo are trademarks of My Company, Inc. All other marks used on this website are property of their respective owners.”

• A specification of the particular fonts used in any stylized forms of text marks.

• Provide camera-ready artwork that can be used by advertisers and publishers.

• Provide a specification of the relative size and position of a mark such as a design or logo when used with a corresponding text mark or related text, e.g. “Always use the MYMARK logo on top of and centered relative to the word mark MYMARK, exactly 100% larger in height than the height of the text characters.”

Many examples of branding and usage guides are available on the web and in blogs of creative agencies – simply do a search on “branding guide”.

For further information, contact the author.


This information is presented for educational purposes and is not intended to constitute legal advice. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not of Morris, Manning & Martin, LLP; see disclaimer here.