Your brand is arguably your business' most valuable asset. Regardless of whether you are focused on promoting your brand, it exists. Your company’s brand affects customer awareness of your company, perception of the quality of your products or services, and may even be the reason they choose whether or not to buy your products.

In the current digital marketplace, growing your company internationally is easier than ever. Companies that used to sell to the neighborhood can now supply customers around the globe. While this affords greater opportunity for business growth and increased profit, it also requires expanded awareness when it comes to brand protection. Your brand can play a key role in your company’s success and profitability in the international marketplace.

A key factor to consider when entering the international market is how distinctive your brand is:

  • Are there other companies with the same name or logo, trademarked or un-trademarked, or is it unique and individual?
  • Does your brand translate to other languages well or does it have different meaning that contradicts what you stand for, or may come off as offensive or silly?

The first step in international brand protection is performing an international brand check to see if another company has established a reputation with your chosen brand name or logo. Keep in mind as you research this, trademark laws vary from country to country—even in the United States a company doesn’t necessarily need to trademark a brand to claim rights to it. In addition, some company names are not trademarked, and there is nothing to keep another company from selling products or services under a similar (or the same) name. At the end of the day it is important to research brands established in a court of law as well as common law. Depending on the size of this search scale of your brand presence, consulting a legal professional may be the best way to protect your interests.

If you do find that another company has established a reputation with the same brand or logo, and it hasn’t been trademarked, does this mean your company should move forward in securing the brand rights? This really depends on the value of the brand reputation; how integral it is to your company’s success? What is the product or service the current brand company represents, and what is their reputation? Budget is also a key factor. How many marketing dollars can you spend unseating the reigning brand ruler? Trying to change public perception could be a very costly losing battle.

Beyond the availably of a brand name internationally, there are cultural and language considerations that should be taken into account. Your brand may be available for use, but does that mean it should be used? To answer this question, find out what the words translate to in other languages. Does it mean the same thing in English as Spanish, Japanese? Furthermore, does it have the same cultural implications? Even subtle difference between American English and British English can affect the meaning or intent of your brand message. It is important that customers understand what your product or service is, and that your brand communicates the appropriate level of respect and cultural understanding.

Once these questions are answered and your brand has been launched, even when it is well established in the international marketplace, it needs to be continually protected. This may mean trademarking your brand, aggressively marketing it to keep your company top of people's minds, and monitoring your brand reputations. If find yourself unsure about your rights regarding the usage of your brand, it is always best to consult a legal expert who understand branding and trademark laws on an international level.

Photo courtesy of Left Hand Rotation via Flickr