Backcountry or Backasswards?
Backcountry.com is an ecommerce retailer focused on the outdoor industry. They recently made an effort (after 25 years in business) to trademark their name Backcountry. Upon doing so Backcountry started sending out cease and desist letters to other outdoor brands using the common term they’d chosen for their name. As you might imagine, there are a lot of outdoor retailers, adventure groups and brands using the word backcountry. It would be nearly as obnoxious for Capsule to seek owning the word “Brand” or “Design.”
The effort has been going on for a year or so and they’ve finally decided to send an apology letter. You can find the letter here at GearJunkies along with an insiders’ perspective on the history of this fight. Here’s the quote that was most amusing to me:
Backcountry has never been interested in owning the word “backcountry” or completely preventing anyone else from using it. But we clearly misjudged the impact of our actions.
Okay. Seriously. Did your nose grow when you wrote that sentence? Doesn’t it seem a bit odd in a letter apologizing for the bully behavior started around a trademark “ownership” fight to use this quote? It's like a back alley bully saying, "I never meant for my fist to hit your face." Did my face get in the way of your fist, Backcountry -- so sorry.
So, if you thought that the Backcountry debacle was idiotic, this one will help drop your jaw the rest of the way. In this Duets Blog, Seth Godin gives a little more life to the idea of what a "Trademark Bully" is. What’s even more amusing about the case referenced by Seth Godin is Entrepreneur Magazine trying to bully “entrepreneurs” over the use of their slightly descriptive name. And it reinforces the lesson Backcountry is learning right now as their web traffic and revenue slows down enough to cause some biological clenching.
This approach to owning a trademark has so many better solutions (thank you beer brands), if only the team there would have called us. At this point, they might be saying, doing nothing would have been better. Yet, there are still better options when you would like to own your name if you haven’t done the proper work back when you founded it. For this advice, you’ll have to reach out.
The other big lesson here is, building a brand should always include planning for success. If the leadership team at Backcountry could get a note back to the founders (where did I park my time machine?), do you think they’d say “Hey, could you come up with a more ownable name so we don’t have to be a bully to the industry in order to own our brand name.” If the founders had spent a mere $5-50,000 early they would have saved $500,000 to 5 million. If they had merely asked, “What if we become the primary ecomm retailer for outdoor, can we own the word backcountry as a brand?”
And, for the rest of you. If you’re a founder of any venture, plan for success and get help to find an ownable name today -- you’ll make your future self much happier. And, perhaps more importantly, you won’t get this backcountry thing all backasswards.