In our previous post, we discussed the right way to adapt the most effective elements of your favorite brands. Branding is an incredibly important part of developing a successful business or organization, but it is also a volatile and unpredictable process. Companies have thrown hundreds of millions of dollars at rebranding efforts that proved to be disastrous, while some of the most recognizable and successful branding elements in the world, such as the Nike Swoosh, were developed for almost nothing. With so much uncertainty in the success or failure of a brand, especially for entrepreneurs, freelancers, and small business managers without the resources to hire branding professionals or focus groups, it pays to seek inspiration from existing brands. However, there is a marked difference between seeking inspiration from other brands and copying other brands, and the consequences of such “stealing” can be devastating to both your reputation and your bank account. What is the best way to seek inspiration without outright copying or creating brand confusion in the marketplace?

Adapt, Don’t Adopt!

It is important to establish from the outset that it is a terrible idea to adopt, rather than adapt, existing branding elements from other brands into your own with no effort to create an original brand or to convert this inspiration into an original branding element. Not only it is simply unethical and derivative to copy another brand, it can result in extremely costly civil litigation and potential penalties if another company sues you for violating a trademark. Even if you believe that your brand doesn’t infringe on another trademark, which you may not be able to properly determine without the assistance of a lawyer, copying branding elements outright is simply in poor taste and can lead to brand confusion, or confusing one brand for another, among your target market. If a savvy consumer believes that you intentionally tried to copy another brand, they will likely be unwilling to trust your or your brand, and that is the death knell for your business. It is important to seek inspiration from other brands, rather than simply seeking out branding elements to copy.

Don’t Simply ‘Cut And Paste’

Aside from the obvious downsides to copying another brand or branding element, it is likely that by simply “cutting and pasting” another brand into your own, you are not going to successfully incorporate these into your own brand without a lot of professional guidance and assistance. A color scheme that works for one brand could look clownish with another, while attempting to adapt an overly minimalist aesthetic for your own brand could make your company look outlandish or even financially strapped.

What’s Ultimately Important

Since it is a bad idea on many levels to copy other brands, how can you turn the inspiration and emotions that your favorite brands inspire in you into an original brand or branding element? Begin by identifying what these brands make you feel, rather than focusing on the literal elements themselves. For instance, many professionals love the brand that Apple has carefully cultivated over the years, and for good reason – Apple has inspired a legion of dedicated fans with a brand that exudes coolness, professionalism, simplicity, and reliability. While it may be a bad idea to try to adopt a black and white color scheme or overwhelmingly minimalist design ethos for your business (especially if you can’t afford the services of a professional design firm), there are many inspirational elements of Apple’s brand that you or your business could adapt for your brand, including simple, straightforward elements of minimalism such as a simplified logo and aesthetically-pleasing color schemes and taglines.