I generally prefer to stay on the right side of the law, and except for that one unfortunate incident when I looked like a wanted felon but didn’t have my ID to prove otherwise, I’ve been successful in this endeavor. Despite my excellent track record with the civil authorities, I have had more than a few run-ins with the most fearsome and terrible of all policing organizations, the brand police.

The brand police are watching

Brand police are those people assigned to mandate rules and impose restrictions on the use of anything and everything related to an organization’s brand. Cross swords with these modern day zealots and expect repercussions. Serious, painful repercussions.

All joking aside, organizations invest millions of dollars in building their brand, and like all of us, they want to protect their investment. One way they do this is to make rules about where their logos may or may not be used, how they’re used, etc. For our part, it is important we don’t do anything that, in their eyes, is an inappropriate or unauthorized use of their brand.

While most business and sales people would acknowledge the wisdom of that statement, most would also reject this admonition thinking it doesn’t apply to them: “I would never do anything to misuse a potential customer’s brand! I want them as a customer, after all.”  The trouble is it’s these same business people who will copy a customer’s logo onto the title page of their proposal.

The gesture is innocent enough; you just want to show the customer that you’ve taken the time to customize your proposal specifically for them. Including their logo on the cover is nothing more than a sign to demonstrate how attentive you are to them and their needs, right? In truth, most people wouldn’t think twice about your “gesture,” but to the brand police, you just committed a major violation—one of the most serious of all violations; you used their logo without authorization. It’s an innocent mistake, to be sure, but that won’t make it any better when you spend the rest of your life rotting away in brand jail.

The risk/reward ratio

When you copy an organization’s logo into your proposal, you are taking a risk that you might make them angry. Taking risks is nothing new to most sales people. In fact, it’s part of the job; we’re compensated in part on our ability to take reasonable risks in pursuit of revenue goals.

But the thing about taking risks is we only take them if we think they might result in some larger reward. It’s called the risk/reward ratio. In this case, the risk/reward ratio may be expressed like this: what is the potential reward associated with copying someone’s logo onto your title page compared to the potential risk associated with using their logo without their authorization?

The answer is simple. Because there is no reward or potential benefit for including an organization’s logo on your title page, but there is a bona fide risk that you’ll anger brand management, the best course of action is to avoid using the organization’s logo.

David Seibert is a professional salesperson, proposal writer, and proposal consultant. He is also the founder and president of The Seibert Group, a proposal consulting and training organization serving businesses that sell to other businesses and to state and local governments. You can contact him at dseibert@persuasionselling.com.

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