I recently had someone ask whether having branding guidelines meant they had a trademark. Branding guidelines and trademarks are connected, but having one doesn’t necessarily mean you have the other. Let me explain the difference between branding guidelines and a trademark, so you can see if you need one or both in your business.

Trademarks serve as source identifiers in the marketplace. A trademark lets consumers know who they’re buying from, and it allows companies to build a reputation around that mark so that consumers want to buy from them. Company names, product names, logos, and slogans can all serve as trademarks. Some companies will even create a trademark from a shape, sound, color, or smell – as long as a consumer perceives it and makes the connection between it and the company, you have a trademark.

A brand, in its original sense, is a name or mark that identifies a product sold by a specific company. In this sense, it is essentially a trademark. However, over time, it has also come to include the perception consumers have about that product. To put it another way, a brand is both the trademark itself and the reputation the mark has in the marketplace.

Branding guidelines are a tool to make sure a brand is used properly so that people quickly and easily associate the mark with the parent company. Branding guidelines also ensure the perception of the mark stays the same (or, in some cases, changes only in a positive direction). For example, branding guidelines would ensure that a “creative” marketing agent would not distort or alter a mark to the point where consumers have trouble recognizing it. Branding guidelines would also make sure that the marketing team was clear on the perception they were aiming for, so they didn’t create an ad campaign that would drive away their target market.

Branding guidelines are an excellent tool for managing a trademark, but you can have a trademark without them. All you need for a trademark is to use the mark in the marketplace to sell a product or service. Conversely, you can create branding guidelines, but if you’re not using the mark in the marketplace, you don’t have a trademark. However, if you have both trademark and branding guidelines, then you have a whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts.

If you have more questions about the difference between branding guidelines and a trademark, please feel free to email me at kaway@kawaylaw.com.