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Should Your Company Consider Debranding?

May 19, 2021

Posted in Uncategorized

Different Designs on Paper — Howell, MI — The Patent Baron

By J. Baron Lesperance, The Patent Baron – Of Counsel at Remenick PLLC

What’s Driving the Current Trend, and How You Can Take Advantage

One of the hottest trends in the realm of brand trademarks is something you may have never heard of, but something you’ll recognize seeing everywhere you look, once you hear it described to you.

The trend: “Debranding”…and companies everywhere—big and small—are enthusiastically embracing its potential to grow their brands, create a deeper audience connection in the modern media environment, and modernize their images.

I got quite immersed in the concept of debranding upon reading two fascinating Bloomberg articles written by Ben Schott: “Debranding is the New Branding” and “From Absolut to Volkswagen, Blending Is the New Branding.”

I covered the trademark implications of this trend in a recent episode of The Patent Baron Podcast, diving deep into how this evolution is applicable to companies of all size and industry, and how a debranding initiative can actually create some competitive advantage for early adopters in the market.

Perhaps the next “debrander” just might be you.

What Is Debranding?

To better understand what debranding is, a good place to start is a thorough reading (there are more pictures than words, actually) of this article, which visually demonstrates how the big brands we all know and trust are embracing change and debranding even the most iconic brand images with legacies that date back centuries, even.

Put simply, debranding is the trend toward making logos work on many different platforms —mobile devices, URL address bars, and other various electronic media. Historically, logos have gone through iterations and evolutions that, depending on the point in history and what modern technologies were available to the logo designers of the era, have been quite complicated, detailed, elaborate and used to convey all sorts of information: quality, sophistication, motion, strength, and so forth.

However, in the modern era of mobile devices, and even now, smart watches(!), many of those intricate design attributes from yesteryear may not work well when a logo is reduced to a miniature size on a mobile phone screen or as a favicon. Similarly, many logos are now being used with a variety of colors to situationally promote causes, holidays, or other special attributes, meaning they have to be (practically) infinitely customizable and ultimately adaptable.

For example, here some iterations that the Burger King went through on its way to debranding:

This image from the piece is a good illustration of how some well-known logos have evolved over the years, based on design techniques, available technology, market sensibilities and overall design trends. Look how, in all cases, the most recent iteration is simple, flat, static, and basic:

While these are examples of brand evolution and debranding by the instantly recognizable, international companies and large conglomerates, the lessons apply across industries and down to the smallest company. Anyone who is marketing or presenting a brand to customers online must at least consider whether debranding is the right route to take for two reasons:

  1. Debranding now and proactively can be a strategic, cautious and affordable initiative, rather than being forced to make expensive revisions later to remain current with competitors who are modernizing and potentially looking more appealing to new, younger, or more tech-savvy markets.
  2. The inverse is also true: If your company is the first to modernize in a crowded market of stagnant, stale-looking competition, you instantly move to the front of people’s consideration as a modern, pioneering player in the space you occupy.

In other words, either your competitor will debrand first, or you will.

Be Proactive, but Be Protective

The first step is the easiest, and it comes at no cost to you or your company: Have a meeting with management to discuss and digest whether debranding is a potential strategic direction for the company. Weigh the pros and cons. Come to a strategic direction, if not yet a plan.

Step two is roadmapping the project, and setting a tentative go-live date for the brand evolution. If you get this far, you’re likely already ahead of the competition.

Step three is taking interactive steps toward debranding. You may decide as a matter of strategy that you are simply preparing for the future, if not outright planning to launch the corporate identity publicly. Maybe you simply want to have the debranded image lying in wait, in case the competition starts to unveil refreshed images of their own. You certainly don’t want to start this potentially long process reactively, and thereby shortening your time horizon out of necessity, or even worse, panic. Consider this tentative but proactive approach as an insurance policy against the future.

Step four is critical. And it happens whether you ever plan to unveil this new identity to the public or keep it bottled up behind closed doors. Be sure to file all of the relevant trademark filings, in all operable markets in which the brand will be in use. (Even if the image is not yet public—you never know what can leak out by mistake or oversight.) Be sure to research what all of the relevant filings and documentation are necessary in the territories in which you operate. With the Internet being what it is, your brand exposure is likely far more global than you might imagine. Protect. Protect. Protect. Wherever your logo may travel.

Eventually, you will be ready for launch. If you’ve moved through steps one through four proactively, strategically, and on your own timeline (as opposed to reacting in a hurried fashion in response to one or more of your competitors actions), you will have had the proper time to plan and execute a successful launch. This should be a reason to celebrate, rather than a panicked me-too jump onto the “brandwagon.”

Remember, compressing the timeline only adds cost, stress, demand on internal resources, margin for error, and unnecessary risk. Knowing and coming to terms with the fact that a debrand is likely in your company’s future some day—and knowing that today—allows you to mitigate and moderate all of those factors, should you decide to embrace the inevitable future…in the present.

Disclaimer & Notice: The content of this article does not constitute legal advice. The information presented herein is for informational use only. Not responsible for the actions or failures of third parties. Not responsible for any action or inaction based on the content of this article. The content of this article is solely the opinion of the author(s) and may not necessarily be those of Remenick PLLC, its clients, or members. Reading this article does not constitute the establishment of an attorney-client relationship. Any communication received will not be confidential unless and until an attorney-client relationship is established by an engagement letter. The content of this article may not be current as of the date of access and may be removed or updated without notice. Consult with legal counsel before undertaking any legal action.

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