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Indianapolis’ library (formerly known as the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library) has decided to rebrand itself, dropping “Marion County” from the name. With the Indy metropolitan area growing to fill just about all of Marion County, the new, shorter name makes sense from a marketing perspective. It was reportedly focus-group tested over the last year and the decision made based on how people most often reference the library.

From a trademark perspective, however, the Library’s rebrand raises a few concerns that should be instructive to all entities considering a switch to a new name or logo:

1. At a bare minimum, do a Google search for similar trademarks (and acronyms if applicable) already in use.

Focus groups are a nice touch if you’ve got the budget, but a Google search is free. There is no other Indianapolis Public Library and thus little concern about confusion with the name itself (other than self-imposed confusion from using multiple marks…see below). However, the acronym “IPL” is already widely known locally to refer to Indianapolis Power & Light, our town’s other source of enlightenment. Whether the focus group was asked about acronym association is unknown. Either way, we’ll see whether Indy is big enough for two IPLs.

2. Claim your domain name(s), Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. BEFORE you announce the rebrand.

Make sure you’re not focus-grouping your company into real world relevance at the expense of online oblivion. Domain names and social media handles are valuable and that value needs to be accounted for in the decision to rebrand. Here is IPL’s current suite of Twitter accounts:

Of the four IMCPL accounts, only the “readers” equivalent is available for IPL. The other three are claimed, one certified:

I won’t belabor the point by expanding on other social media platforms (The Library has facebook.com/IMCPL and the Indian Premier League has /IPL) but all of them should be proactively addressed in a rebranding effort. Obviously different handles can be chosen but that puts you one step further away from reconnecting with existing fans/followers. Also consider all of the broken links that will be created when you drop your old accounts. Consider how you’ll effectively communicate the rebrand to your existing followers. To smooth the transition, a successful rebrand needs to be accompanied by a continuous monitoring of the old mark and online properties. Congrats, you now have twice as much trademark enforcement responsibility.

If you don’t claim your accounts before rebranding, you’re leaving them out there for cyberprofiteers who can quickly and easily grab them and then demand a king’s ransom. “First come, first served” is the name of the game for most social media platforms, regardless of trademark rights.

3. If you’re going to rebrand, then REBRAND!

Due to budget constraints, IPL officials are introducing the new name and logo in a piecemeal fashion as materials are needed rather than a wholesale change all at once. The descriptive nature of the trademark may help prevent customer confusion, but using two brands at once is typically a sure-fire way to confuse your own customers. Once you’ve decided to rebrand, be swift and decisive.

See what’s going on below? Someone obviously went in to add the new logo but didn’t change the Page Name, About or General Information. Budget is no excuse for that. Instead, it winds up looking to an outsider like an entity that can’t get their trademark straight. If you can’t get your trademark right, don’t expect others to do so. Also, as discussed above, notice the Library is still tied to facebook.com/imcpl and probably always will be as Facebook doesn’t allow simple username switches. That or start from scratch and lose all prior content and those 3,736 followers.

4. Always use a proper trademark notice (“TM” for common law rights).

This is the same advice as for any entity with a trademark they want to protect. In the excitement of the rebrand, don’t overlook sound trademark practices.

5. When budget permits (ballpark $800-$1200), seek federal registration, thus allowing you to use the registration symbol, ®.

Preferably you’d like to file before or shortly after the rebrand. Build the cost of a federal trademark application into your rebrand budget and spare yourself many headaches down the road. Being a geographically descriptive mark, the IML will have trouble obtaining federal registration. However, IPL did register both its name and logo in Indiana. (Those state registration certificates need an update, huh? Todd Rokita?)

Keep these guidelines in mind for your next rebrand. Marketing and trademark concerns should be considered simultaneously if you want to truly evaluate the impact of your new name and logo.

[UPDATE 9/1/11 – For charitable entities, don’t forget to rebrand your Foundation simultaneously with all of the same concerns as above. See images below.]