In the ever-evolving landscape of entrepreneurship and social media influencers, personal branding has emerged as a pivotal strategy. Central to this debate is the question: Should your name be your brand? Let’s look into some pros and cons of using your name as your brand.
The Pros of Personal Branding:
- Human Connection and Relatability: Utilizing your name as your brand establishes a direct, personal link with your audience. It provides a sense of trust, familiarity, and relatability. Think about the financial guru Dave Ramsey, whose identity is inseparable from his brand.
- Identity Association: Your name becomes synonymous with your product, service, or expertise. This association drives loyalty, where consumers align themselves not just with a product but with the person behind it. It’s not merely about financial advice; it’s specifically about “What would Dave Ramsey say?”
- Individuality and Unique Style: For solopreneurs or individuals offering a service, a distinctive name or surname can embody a unique brand identity. Consider the case of a photographer with the last name of Sas, whose brand integrates her name’s flair, reflecting her style and identity. The more unique the name, the easier it is to differentiate the name. A brand name like John Smith just won’t cut through the branding clutter, and it definitely isn’t memorable or sticky.
The Challenges and Considerations:
- Future Proofing and Reputation Risk: In today’s digitally-connected cultural, a tarnished personal reputation can critically impact a brand built solely around a name. The cancel culture phenomenon underscores the risks associated with a personal brand. One wrong personal move, and your brand could be tarnished.
- Scalability and Business Growth: Using a personal name might limit the scalability of a business, especially when it’s deeply tied to an individual. Challenges may arise in expansion or succession planning. If a brand is deeply tied to any one person, you almost hog-tie yourself into that person having to maintain the company face in order to maintain the reputation of the brand.
- Trademark Protection Hurdles: Registering a common or generic name like Smith or Mark as a trademark could offer weaker protection. It becomes an overwhelming and arduous process to constantly try to prevent others with similar names from using their brand in a similar domain. Besides that, you can’t prevent someone from using their own name as a trademark.
Guidelines and Recommendations:
- Uniqueness and Alignment: Assess the distinctiveness and relevance of your name to your brand essence. A unique or meaningful name can significantly impact brand recognition.
- Liability Assessment: Scrutinize potential personal liability risks connected to using your name as the brand, particularly in legal matters or business liabilities.
- Authenticity and Future Planning: Starting with your name lays the foundation for authenticity, but strategizing for potential transitions or diversification as your brand matures is strategic.
The Bottom Line:
Using your name for branding can establish immediate authenticity and a direct connection with your audience. However, as brands evolve, considerations for transitioning to a separate brand might arise to broaden appeal or accommodate diversification and growth.
Mike Carr (00:03):
So welcome everyone to another one of our naming in the AI Age podcast. The stars of this podcast and video are with me today, Megan and Ashley. And so we’re going to talk about topic that’s I think very relevant, which is all about personal branding, right? With all the social influencers and everything. That’s the rage these days, especially as you look at the younger audiences. There seems to be this phenomena of folks wanting to build a brand around their personal name. And one of the authors that I admire and follow, and he’s written a number of books, is Mark Schafer. He’s a professor at Rutgers. He also has a podcast called The Marketing Companion, which any listener that’s interested in just branding and marketing in general, I would highly recommend Mark’s Marketing Companion podcast. And he talks a lot about how important it’s these days to build a personal brand because a lot of folks have lost trust in the nameless, faceless corporations. But we want to talk about that because I’ve been doing this long enough to remember when this was really a bad thing. There were a lot of issues with this. So we’re going to talk about should you use your own name as your brand name. And so let’s just start with why that might be a good idea. So Megan or Ashley, do either one of you want to answer that question?
Ashley Elliott (01:36):
Well, I think kind of what you were talking about with Mark Schaeffer, his comment that it does provide that human connection aspect. You have a face behind the name, so I feel like you see the identity, but that also can be bad in some ways too, which we can talk about. But I think the identity and connection aspect of it is good, at least.
Mike Carr (01:57):
Megan, any more thoughts?
Megan Dzialo (01:59):
If you’re wanting to name a company or a business or even a product after yourself, I mean, you are essentially the product. You are the service. You are the one that is, the whole thing is centered around you and either your personality or something proprietary that you may be offering, which is great if there’s a good association with you and your name and what you’re building. And so Dave Ramsey is who comes to mind for me, the financial guru. His business is called Ramsey Solutions. But when my husband and I are thinking through financial decisions or we’re having conversations, I’m like, what would Dave Ramsey say? It’s not like, well, what are the financial best practices? Or Let’s look on Google. I want to know specifically what Dave Ramsey would say about this. And so for him, I think it’s worked really well because you listen to his radio show, you want to know what his thoughts are on it.
You don’t really necessarily care what the rest of his team thinks. It’s him. And so I think that works for him. Now, I think you do run the risk of what happens when Dave Ramsey goes, bye-bye, and he’s no longer Dave Ramsey. Well, you can make the argument. Well, his daughter also helps him run the company, and she was a Ramsey at one point. And so there are some pros and cons to it, and I think what he’s built has worked really well for him. But you also have to think towards the future for your business and how you’re naming everything after yourself can have those negative effects too in the long run.
Ashley Elliott (03:21):
I think if you have a great reputation, that’s great, but what happens when you’ve built this and then your reputation for some reason in today’s cancel culture just tanks. And now what do you do? Not everything that you’ve done can be lost.t
Megan Dzialo (03:33):
And then if you’re like a mom and pop person, so Ashley and I have friends and their last name is sas. It’s SAS, which I think is an incredibly cool last name. And she is a photographer. She does wedding photography, she does family photography. And a name like SAS could work well because it’s not just her name, but maybe she wants to do pictures with sas or her style has a little more flare or zest to it. And so it has this double entendre of you’re going to get me as your photographer, but I also provide a level of sass in my photography skills. And so I think if you are not trying to go super big with what you’re doing and you’re kind of staying solo, if you are the solo entrepreneur or influencer that’s a photographer, using your name could definitely work. It depends on your strategy and how big you want to go to
Ashley Elliott (04:27):
Limiting your business growth or not being able to scale or even just if you do go bye-bye, what happens after that? Mike, what are your thoughts?
Mike Carr (04:37):
Well, I think it’s a great conversation and there’re always pros and cons. Back in the eighties when we were doing this, a lot of folks were moving away from having their name associated with their firm or their brand because it made them sound small that they were wanting to compete with organizations and brands that had teams of people. And so when you have just your name on the door, it makes you sort of sound more mom and pop, maybe less professional. Maybe you’re bringing to the table a more restricted set of skills and expertise. It comes across maybe as a little bit just you. The other challenge is just being able to protect the name. Do you guys have any thoughts on the pros and cons of being able to do that? Ashley or Megan, is there any, from a trademark standpoint, are there any issues you’re aware of with being able to register and protect your own personal brand, your own personal name as a trademark?
Ashley Elliott (05:51):
I think of people who have registered companies in their names like Nestle and Ford and all of these things. Those seem like unique names mean they might not be. My name is not unique. I mean, my maiden name was Smith, first name was Ashley, which was the most popular name in 88. I don’t know if we pioneered that or we were following the train. And then my middle name’s Joe, and so you have Ashley, Joe Smith, and it is the most common name I can think of. What are the risks of trying to trademark that? I mean, Smith in general doesn’t sound like a great name to trademark. What protection would I even have if everybody else whose last name was Smith also wanted to trademark their name doesn’t make sense.
Megan Dzialo (06:30):
Then on the side you have somebody like Megan McCall, Zalo, which is my last name is spelled D-Z-I-A-L-O. If I wanted to, I don’t know, start a company after my own name, I probably would have great success trademarking by name because it’s not a common name. And so I think it could be super easy, it could be difficult. The trademark landscape is tricky. It’s complex. And Mike, you obviously know way more than we do. So go ahead, tell us.
Mike Carr (07:00):
One of the things that’s interesting, and we’re not lawyers, none of us are lawyers, so we can’t give anyone listening or watching legal advice. But in talking with a lot of trademark attorneys and in doing research, it looks like just fundamentally you don’t have nearly as strong a protection if you try to trademark your own name as your brand, as if you made up a coined name under trademark law in the US in many countries around the world, the strongest protection you’re granted is if you come up with a very unique, not a real word, a very unique distinctive brand, an arbitrary coin name, you actually are afforded a greater degree of protection. And then as you go down the ladder to something that’s very descriptive and very generic, you lose a lot of that protection. You might still be able to use the name, you might actually still be able to register the name as a trademark, but you can’t prevent others with similar names from using their name because your name is more generic.
And that’s the problem with a person’s name. So if your name happens to be Taylor Swift and you’ve got a famous brand around the world and someone else’s name who’s legitimately Taylor Swift too wants to use their name as their brand, you may have more challenges. Now, Taylor’s a different example because she’s famous and you maybe then have certain protections under the law, but for most folks, you’re not the Taylor Swift and there are other people with the same name. It’s hard for you to prevent them from using their name, the brand, their services. And so it falls into this more generic descriptive space. And with Smith as a last name, there are a lot of Smiths out there. And so you can’t prevent John Smith, who’s that’s legitimately his name or the Mary Smith, her name from using those names on their coffee shop or their bakery or whatever it might be, even though you already have done that.
And so it’s a very nuanced space, but the dangers are lack of protection. Another danger is it may not convey anything about the brand right now, SAS is an interesting example because SaaS, it has some other meanings, maybe not spelled exactly the same way. So if you’re fortunate enough to have a last name that means something and that it’s relevant, that might be a better way to go. But most of us, and so when you have a last name that is generic and doesn’t convey any emotion or any benefit or any characteristic, it’s a heavier lift, right? Then you have to sort of build all that story and that meaning behind the brand. So
Ashley Elliott (09:55):
Luckily she has the sass, but I mean imagine if she was so boring, she’s definitely not boring, but if your last name didn’t convey any, it was the opposite of what it was. I mean, but I agree with the business attributes. Smith tells me nothing. I mean, unless it was back in the day when you were actually a blacksmith or something like that. That’s definitely not the case here. So I agree.
Mike Carr (10:21):
Yeah. So let’s go to the recommendations. So we’ve talked a little bit about some of the advantages and we’ve talked a little bit about some of the disadvantages. And so now we want to leave everybody with a specific recommendation in balance. Which way should you go? And so each of us are going to give you our recommendation. I’m going to go last on this one so I can see what the two of you are going to recommend, and then I’ll recommend against it just for fun. So who wants to start with their recommendation? If you had to say, yeah, you probably should go with your own name as your personal brand, or no, you shouldn’t in balance, for most people, I would recommend yay or Nay. Ashley, where do you weigh in?
Ashley Elliott (11:02):
If you have my name, I would say nay. I think you need to have a unique name, something that maybe you could build a story around. I mean, my ancestral name Native Americans we’re Choctaw, and so our last name was him, which I’ve been told put together as Skilled Hunter. If we wanted to do hunting, a hunting store or something with a, then you could build a lot around that and you could probably trademark that a lot easier. So I think it depends on your name and the target of who you are, who your customers are, like if social media or if it’s not going to be, have a presence on there. My recommendation though, just the liability aspect of things. My husband owns a business and I can imagine if, what does it look like if someone were to go against you personally, and your name is also, I mean, there’s just some intricacies there that I wouldn’t want to touch. And so for liability reasons, I would say it’s a no-go for me, but I also have a very generic name. My name’s not Zalo. If I had Zalo, I might be a go. So let me know
Megan Dzialo (12:05):
Your opinion, Megan. So on that note, if nobody can pronounce my name, and we don’t even pronounce it the correct Polish way, and so if I were to use my last name, I mean nobody could say it correctly. It wouldn’t be memorable because it’s that confusing. And so this is where Mike, I’m having a tough time landing in one camp or the other, because when I think of fashion designers or singers or artists, your name is everything. Your style, it’s who you are. Like I want a Jimmy Chu shoe, right? I want Vera Wang or Vera Bradley, or it’s a style that people know and it’s iconic. So I’m like, if you’re an incredible artist, which most of us aren’t sure go that route. But I tend to agree with Ashley and that I would personally want to, for the reason that you mentioned Mike, it doesn’t say what you do. Typically. If you have your name, it could mean anything. And so if you’re wanting to hit the ground running with people, knowing what you do, what your product is, what your service is, what your company’s about, choosing a name that’s going to be a little bit leaning you in the direction to what you’re offering, I think is a better idea. So if I have to choose, yeah, go for it, or no, I would say, eh, let’s not, let’s go a different route.
Mike Carr (13:19):
Okay, so I’m going to have to vote for yes, you should use your name as your brand and the thinking there. There are a lot of things that almost everyone has to wrestle with when they’re first getting started, and it’s easy to get distracted with a lot of brand strategy and a lot of marketing strategy and trying to go through all the legal harangues and hoops. And before you know it, you’ve sort of lost focus on what’s really important, which is to start to build that following that community and that loyalty. And what easier way to do that than around your own personal name. I mean, your face is associated with that name. If you have a podcast or YouTube channel, or if you’re an influencer on TikTok or Instagram, people see you, right? They don’t want to see a placard or the face of a building or a corporate logo.
They want a person, and I think it’s very much authentic and on trend these days to do exactly Megan, what you were talking about. Where do we go for financial advice? Well, you’re not calling Merrill Lynch, you’re not calling Wells Fargo or Schwab. You’re calling a person or you’re looking at an individual. So I would say go with your own personal name and build that following. It’s going to be an easier lift. It’s very much expected these days. It prevents some hesitation like, Ooh, why are they not using their name? Why are they hiding behind this company? At some point, when you’re large and big and super successful and you’ve got your 2 million followers, then I think you can seriously consider, okay, let’s build a different brand or maybe a new business, or let’s allow other people to come in and sort of have their platforms underneath my personal brand to appeal to other segments, micro segments, other cultures, other countries, whatever it might be.
So I would argue strongly to go ahead and stick with that personal name for a while, get started. It’s going to be the easiest lift in many cases. And then down the road, if the opportunity arises, is the time to consider switching or not. So anyway, that’s where we landed today. Let us know if you have an opinion or you disagree or you agree, and we’ll talk to you again next week about what about trademark screening, which is not a fun thing to talk about, but it is just the necessary beast that has to be discussed in this space. But thank you guys very much.
We’ll make it fun. Don’t worry. We’ll make it fun.