Brand Identity – Crisis or Cool Beans

Branding, Rebranding, Trademark, Company Name

I recently attended an entrepreneurial networking event hosted by MEDCO designed to help like-minded business leaders connect and grow. They invite successful business owners to share their story. The idea is to share what has worked and lessons learned to help startups and business owners feel less like they are alone and help the entrepreneurial ecosystem thrive.

The speaker for the day started his business in his basement. He has been in business for over a decade doing something he is passionate about everyday… and is killing it. I mean what more inspiration do you need? He is living the american dream. What I truly appreciated about his message the most is his candidness. He didn’t say it was going to be easy. He didn’t sugar coat things. He shared the good, but also where he had near failures! He shared how he grew from the experiences and that is how he got back to his true passion today.

One story he shared was about his branding journey. It resonated with me, so I asked permission to use his story as an example in my blog. Remember when I said he started his business in the basement. Well he and his wife named the business L & L Beans. If that name sounds eerily familiar, well because it is. You see there is a popular retail giant that has been using the name L.L. Bean since 1912. Now, this home grown company was roasting coffee beans and the L’s stood for their names, (AHHH! I know super sweet!) so it wasn’t the same thing…right? They weren’t even in the same space – clothes v coffee. It would be OK right? (UMMMM, I am just guessing here, but NO!)

Thankfully, Lee Ulrich, aka Beanroaster aka The Coffee Guy, consulted his attorney before branding his new custom coffee roasting company. His lawyer advised he reach out to LL Bean to ask permission. What could it hurt and maybe they will go for it… Lee soon learned that the retail giant didn’t think it was cool beans, so Iowa Coffee Roasters was born.

This is not the first time I have heard this cautionary tale or even had the hard conversation with someone about the risks of branding something with a name that is oh too familiar. Aside from the legal ramifications, branding is costly.

  • Most companies invest between $50,000 and $150,000 in branding or rebranding or 10%-20% of their marketing budgets.
  • Marketing budgets are typically between 3%-5% of your total revenue to maintain your current position. If you are looking to grow or gain market share your budget will be closer to 10%. This varies depending on the company and industry, but is a good rule of thumb.
  • Most companies in the branding or rebranding process are looking to grow, so hence my caution in having a redo.

If you don’t check on these things prior to creating a branding package, plastering your name all over your products, having signs made for the retail space, or printing materials. You will waste SO much time and money on a redo. Momentum can be lost and brand confusion can be harder to overcome

So how do I know if the name is already being used?

  1. Start with a simple web search – Google it – Ask Siri! If you find anything even remotely close you might want to rethink things. If not, you can proceed to step 2.
  2. Check with your local county clerk’s office or Secretary of State’s office – if you are in Iowa, ours are so very helpful and a valuable resource.
  3. If you are an interstate company – you will want to check the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (TESS) database
  4. Ask your Attorney – consult a lawyer who understands intellectual property, can help you do a proper trademark search and determine whether or not you will run into issues.

Your brand is an extension of you. It should reflect your mission, vision, the expertise and personal service you provide to each customer. You don’t want your brand to be like anyone else’s – your brand deserves it’s own unique identity. If you would like help with the branding or rebranding process, or developing and defining your branding and standards guide. We are here to assist. We have an awesome team assembled that covers the development and creation of your brand identity package including all steps above. Weather you are just getting started or think you might have gotten a bit ahead of yourself, not to worry, we are here to help and did I mention we have a very talented registered trademark attorney on speed dial if needed.


Iowa Coffee Roasters is wholesale coffee roaster that prides ourselves on providing a quality, individualized product. For more information contact Lee.

Interested in the StartUp Exchange contact MEDCO

Coffee Pic Photo Cred:
Nathan Dumlao