Investment advising team in meeting, discussing documents spread across a desk.

In many industries, branding and marketing is easy. Foods, beverages, vehicles, clothing, and other products can tout their benefits without acknowledging any potential problems. For registered investment advisers (RIA), the rules are substantially different. 

For example, the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requires that an RIA not include a material statement of fact unless the adviser is reasonably certain of being able to substantiate that fact; an RIA is also not permitted to reference specific investment advice unless they do so in a fair and balanced manner. This latter requirement means they must inform their marketing audience of both the benefits and the risks and limitations. Because of these and other advertising restrictions, you may wonder how you can build a distinctive brand without breaching industry standards or trademark laws. Fortunately, it is possible for an RIA to create a strong brand, complete with a registered trademark, without violating any SEC regulations. If you have questions or need assistance creating a brand or trademark, the experienced RIA registration attorneys at Altitude Securities Law Office may be able to assist you. Call (405) 534-9914 to schedule an appointment and learn more about your legal options. 

RIA Intellectual Property & Branding 

In any industry, a company’s brand is the image, including trademark, the company presents to existing and potential customers. This image affects how the public sees and thinks about an RIA, as well. While a brand can be created without registering a trademark, a registered trademark may offer additional legal protection. This legal protection matters because it helps a company protect their brand identity in the event that a competitor tries to damage their reputation by infringing on the trademark with inferior or confusing offerings. 

Distinguishing Among Brand, Trademark, and Copyright

A company’s brand is its identity. The brand includes the perceived character, personality, culture, essence and reputation of a company. A brand is the network of semiotic associations that makes someone remember a company days, weeks, months or even years after the initial encounter, when they find themselves in need of that company’s services. Without a clear and cohesive brand, a company can disappear from a potential customer’s mind almost immediately. 

A company’s trademark is often integral to its brand, but a trademark is a discrete semiotic element, while a brand is a conceptual identity distilled from many related elements. Trademarks are words, phrases, designs, colors, or symbols that identify a particular brand’s goods or services. Trademarks can also be a combination of those things. Copyright, on the other hand, is the name for one form of intellectual property that protects someone’s authorship of an original work, such as an article, book, painting, drawing, or other literary, artistic, or musical work. An RIA is not likely to need a copyright in their business unless they create some kind of original work such as a book or article about investing. However, many RIAs will want or need a trademark.

Why Brand and Trademark Are Critical to Marketing

RIAs are in a very competitive market, and they must distinguish themselves from their competition. Because brand and trademark affect how the public sees and thinks of a business, these elements must be strong in order to be memorable. In addition to being memorable, the brand and trademark should: 

  • Inspire customer loyalty
  • Create consistent advertising
  • Help boost profit growth
  • Create efficient marketing campaigns
  • Target the correct audience or market

How Trademarks Help RIAs with Brand Protection

Creating a brand is more than just creating a logo, choosing some colors, and adding a tagline in an appealing font. Those steps can all be part of developing a brand, but without a trademark, those elements are just graphic design. While trademarks are often put into use before they are registered, registering a trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) provides a brand with legal standing and the ability to create marketing that connects with their clients. 

Registering a trademark helps an RIA protect its brand by:

  • Giving the trademark owner exclusive rights over the use of the brand identifier (trademark)
  • Providing the trademark owner with the power to stop others from creating confusion or unfair competition by using the same or a too-similar mark
  • Offering proof that can be used in a lawsuit to protect the trademark or brand if a competitor infringes 
  • Allowing the trademark owner to use the trademark to invoke intellectual and emotional messaging to their target customer
  • Making the business that owns the trademark easy to remember and find

Additionally, a trademark can appreciate in value over time. This appreciation cements the brand’s reputation and increases its potential to expand or its price for acquisition by a larger corporation, should the owner choose to sell. The trademark’s appreciation in value can also allow it to be sold or licensed to others (such as in franchising) or to be used as a security interest when applying for a loan to grow the business. 

What Is an Example of the Law of Expansion in Branding?

In branding, there are several rules to create strong, lasting brands. One such rule is the law of expansion, which states that as a brand expands and loses focus, it becomes weaker. Examples can be seen in running gear companies that expand their product offerings to athleisure, as well as in fast food franchise menus that offer so many options customers struggle to identify the chain with any particular flavor or specialty. This weakening often occurs because the company puts their short-term interests ahead of long-term strategy in their expansion plan. 

By contrast, there is also the law of contraction, which states that a brand grows stronger when it narrows its focus; and, of course, sometimes a brand can expand its offerings successfully. Expansion can be a good thing as long as it is somehow to the business’s original purpose and makes sense to the long-term goals of the company. 

Types of Expansion

As an RIA, certain expansion options will make more sense than others. An RIA offering tax preparation services would be much more in keeping with an established line of business in investment advising than would offering a clothing line or sports gear. If you are considering expanding your business, Altitude Securities Law Office may be able to help. 

When considering expansion, there are several types of expansion that a business may consider: 

  • Line: Launching a new product already familiar to clients. For example, an RIA may offer a special type of investment portfolio. 
  • Complementary products: Releasing a new product that compliments, or is a companion to, an existing product. An RIA may offer an online portal to make changes to portfolios for clients, so busy clients do not have to come to the office all the time. 
  • Customer-based: Creating a product for a single demographic of the company. RIAs might offer a select portfolio for young single clients who are interested in higher risk investments.
  • Company expertise: Launching offerings that are different but still fall under the company’s area of authority. RIAs might offer retirement planning offer insurance products in addition to their investment services. 
  • Brand lifestyle: Brands that promote a specific lifestyle and culture can create new offerings that fit with that lifestyle and culture. 

Examples of Successful Expansions

While they are not RIAs, some companies have managed incredibly successful expansions that any industry can learn from. A few examples include: 

  • Apple: A small personal computer company turned into a trillion-dollar corporation by paying attention to the needs of consumers. When music went digital, they created the iPod, followed by the iPhone, and then associated accessories such as Airpods and the Apple Watch. 
  • Dove: Well-known for their body-positivity values, Dove has marketed to women for decades. Their expansion created the Men+Care line, which is an extension of the products they offered to women but made for men. 
  • Google: Starting out as a simple search engine, Google eventually expanded its offerings to include Gmail, Google Docs, Google Drive, and Google Meet. Google is now seen as a one-stop option to meet many, if not all, online business needs. 

What Steps Could RIAs Take To Protect Trademarks and Brands in This Environment?

Protecting a brand and the associated trademarks requires complying with trademark laws set by the United States Patent and Trademark Office. There is more to protecting brands and trademarks than just following the laws, however. Some things that an RIA can do to protect their brand and trademark include: 

  • Build your own brand: Confirm that you are building a unique brand and not unintentionally infringing on someone else’s before you invest too much time and money in building the brand. 
  • Register your mark: Whether it is a trademark, which is the mark for goods, or a service mark, which is the mark for services, registration is a critical component of protecting a brand. 
  • Monitor and fight: Monitor competitors and should you find infringement on your brand or trademark, fight it with the appropriate legal force. 
  • Set clear standards for use: Create clear expectations around how the brand is used and make sure that all employees understand the standards. 
  • Correct negative impressions: Monitor the company’s reputation online by watching for negative stories, comments, and reviews and responding appropriately to make things right with whoever wrote them.
  • Maintain the trademark: Once a trademark is approved and in use, it must be maintained by renewing it at the appropriate times. Trademark owners must also monitor new applications and object to any that are too similar to their own trademark. 
  • Manage your domain: Develop a domain name strategy. While a business may use a specific domain name for their website, they may also wish to purchase other similar domain names or their domain name with other common extensions. 
  • Monitor unregistered infringements: While trademark owners should monitor and object to applications for trademarks that are too similar, they also need to watch for unregistered infringement. In some cases, small businesses and others may opt not to register while using a mark that is too similar to a registered trademark. Failure to inform them of infringement and stop it may result in the trademark owner losing their protection. 
  • Carefully consider expansion: Expansion of a business can be a good thing, bringing in more customers and thus, more profit. Carefully consider expansion choices to ensure that they strengthen the brand instead of weakening it.

Are You Ready To Build a Brand for Your RIA and Register a Trademark? 

When you are working with clients’ money, your reputation may be the most important part of your business. Building a solid brand with a registered trademark that follows all trademark laws is critical for an RIA. If you need assistance with registering your trademark or other aspects of registering your business, Altitude Securities Law Office may be able to help. Call (405) 534-9914 to schedule an appointment to discuss your legal needs.