Why You Can’t Steal a Brand Even if You Try (NSA vs. Michael Hyatt)

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The National Speakers Association was tired of being confused with the National Security Agency that has been stealing American’s information so they decided to steal Michael Hyatt’s brand. Take a moment to enjoy the irony of that. They avoided being the NSA that steals information by stealing. Like most thefts, this one is NOT going to end well for the thief.

This video is like a security camera. It captures the exact moment the crime happened.

 

You can’t steal a brand in 2014 and it has nothing to do with trademark laws.
3DPlatformCover-2Platform is a common word but it’s also already the name Michael Hyatt’s New York Times best-selling book, on-line community with thousands of members and conference. Their decision may have some legal ramifications since Hyatt started the process of trademarking the term a few months ago. The most important lesson we can all learn from their obvious mistake is that you don’t own your brand, your tribe does.


Michael Hyatt has mentioned his disappointment on social media.

What’s more powerful is the response of hundreds of his tribe members.


 
When you build an idea and a brand your tribe will protect it
Popular author Chris Ducker spoke at the event and when they announced branding theft/rebranding he said he was flabbergasted. Chris Ducker Platform response
 
Don’t mess with the tribe
Their Instagram post has over 50 comments from defenders of Hyatt and zero responses by the NSA. Their last tweet points to a FAQ about the name change.

What we’re seeing is a great example of a hyper engaged tribe and a tone deaf organization.

I am part of Michael Hyatt’s tribe so my opinion is obviously biased. Even an outside observer can see that the branding theft is obvious. The red curtain background is the icing on the branding theft cake.

Did the National Speaker’s Association know?
NSA likely hired an outside firm to help them rebrand. That firm decided to use the name Platform with full knowledge of Hyatt’s existing branding and NSA leadership, also aware of Hyatt’s branding, agreed to the branding theft.

The money has been spent. The banners have been printed. NSA has backed themselves into a corner and they’re going to have to decide what to do. Some have suggested they change the name to “Podium”. The NSA has to the least make a statement acknowledging their right to use the name and at the most change the name again. My suggestion is that they do both.

This isn’t going away and it shouldn’t. My guess is that Hyatt is bothered by the move but he’s experiencing more joy than frustration right now because he’s watching his tribe defend him and his work.

There is no win-win
The organization of NSA and the work of Hyatt are too similar for this to be a win-win. Hyatt was there first. He din’t trademark the name because it’s a common word and frankly because he doesn’t have to. You don’t have to defend your brand, your tribe will do it for you.

Other Perspectives
My friend Mike Kim wrote a great summary of this incident as well. Michael Hyatt “Owns” Platform … And 4 More Reasons The NSA Blew It On Rebranding

For another perspective on protecting your ideas in a digital age read this post by Seth Godin -How To Protect Your Ideas In The Digital Age

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Comments

  1. says

    Great post, Andy. An engaged tribe vs. a tone-deaf organization … all the more reason that building a tribe is so important.

    Thanks for the video, too. You could almost hear the confusion when the crowd read the name off the screen. Just another example of why this rebrand is a total headscratcher.

    • Andy Traub says

      I will NEVER watch that again. So awkward. It’s like Burger King changing their name to McDonalds. A total epic fail. They have said NOTHING since the announcement. I’m guessing they’re in “meetings” right now discussing what to do next. Maybe their marketing firm will get some “independence” on July 4th because they should be fired.

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  2. Joseph Iliff says

    Indeed. Perhaps for Michael, this is the test of what he has built. And for NSA, this is a test of who they are beyond their name. They’ll have to deal with the challenge of this somewhat vague or conflicted identity.

    I wonder if NSA will allow the NSA brand to be used by another organization, now that they are dropping it. It would sound hypocritical to protect it against infringement on grounds of causing confusion, as they are doing the same thing with their new identity.

  3. says

    Really sorry to see the National Speakers Association making such a poor move, how they face the reaction will ultimately determine their long-term success. So far, they’re just ignoring protests, which is never a good tactic. We’ll see what happens next.

    But yes, it’s been super encouraging to see how many people have spoken up to defend Michael’s brand. The sense of “tribal” community apparently works!

  4. Anne Marie Miller says

    And they spent $500,000 into this rebrand. Or are spending. Either way…that…sucks.

    • Andy Traub says

      I would ask for my money back EXCEPT NSA had to know that Hyatt had the branding in place already. That’s a really expensive Command+C and Command+V (Control for my Windows friends).

      Not original.

  5. says

    If we eliminate all words that someone has used in a book title, they’re all gone. Michael does great work and his book is good. And NSA certainly didn’t steal his brand by renaming the association PLATFORM. They have a distinctive and iconic graphic treatment of their new logo, and they are in a completely different space doing something way different than Michael. -RG

    • Andy Traub says

      Randy, with all due respect they’re NOT “in a completely different space doing something way different”.

      Mike teaches people how to build their platform which is exactly what the “announcement” in the video was about. Go to the 9:00 mark in the embedded video and see them talk about the larger idea of Platform. It’s what Mike teaches.

      The image is the same – Curtain
      The color is the same – Dark red

      They might as well redirect their domain to MichaelHyatt.com/platform. It’s blatant. Ask 100 people if they logos and branding are blatently similar and 99 are going to say yes. It’s just a DUMB move by NSA. Totally unoriginal.

      • says

        I agree. The amount of chatter this is generating is evidence enough that the branding is too similar in too similiar an industry.

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  6. says

    Great response Andy! I am taken back by how blatant they are being. There is not way they “didn’t know” that Michael had a corner on the Platform brand.

    I hope they go back to the drawing board and correct this train reck of a “re-brand”.

    This is brand theft for sure.

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  7. says

    I have 2 questions for NSA leadership about this:

    1. Would you tell a new speaker to launch his career in the same way as you launched Platform?
    2. Would you tell an experienced speaker, with years of name recognition and brand equity on her side, to dramatically alter the identity and reputation of her business in the same way you’ve done with NSA/Platform?

    Their answers would tell me more about their values and vision than any FAQ ever will.

  8. says

    Andy, I’m not speaking for the association formerly known as NSA, but I do want to respond to a couple of your comments.
    1. I agree with you that the photo is similar to Michael Hyatt’s logo. I’m not sure that this was the blatant rip off that has been implied. I was in the session where the logo was unveiled, and it was black and white. I was actually surprised that red was used when I saw it in the hallway. It could be an unfortunate coincidence, or negligence, or at worst an attempt to copy. I don’t know. I do know that the red background was not present on anything in the official presentation. If there is a conflict with the representation, I’m pretty sure it will get worked out. Michael Hyatt’s tribe has done an exceptional job raising the issue.

    2. Michael Hyatt has done an amazing job creating and extending the Platform brand. Then again, Michael Drew has commented that he is the one who introduced the term “Platform” to Thomas Nelson Publishing years ago (the specific language Drew uses is “two decades” in his comment on Hyatt’s Facebook page). Additionally, there is a marketing agency in Seattle using the name Platform. I completely agree that there is a strong brand perception among Michael Hyatt’s tribe regardless of the current legal status. Beyond that, it is hard to tell. For some, it will mean computing (IBM does own platform.com after all). For others, the first thought might be shoes. The point is that the word has been out there in the public domain. Michael Hyatt’s application for a trademark may or may not have a legal bearing here. It depends on the categories in which he applied. The categories mean everything from a defensibility perspective.

    3. There are many problems with the way NSA/Platform rolled out this change. I have shared my concerns with the association’s leaders. I don’t have a strong position either way on calling an association “Platform.” It is not a word that I would probably use, but I can see their rationale – just like Michael Hyatt apparently saw the rationale for using a phrase that Michael Drew and Ray Bard have used for decades.

    I do know that the World English Dictionary defines “theft” under criminal law as “the dishonest taking of property belonging to another person with the intention of depriving the owner permanently of its possession.”

    Is this a colossal screw up? Probably. Is it something that needs to be addressed and resolved with discussion between Michael Hyatt and the association formerly known as NSA? Absolutely. Is it a dishonest taking of property? I’m not sure. I can see why you would think that as a member of Hyatt’s tribe. But what if it was just a colossal screw up and there was no dishonesty involved?

    In that case, everyone needs to breathe a little. Don’t let it go, but simply remember that messages travel 24-7 on the Internet. In real life, responses, conversation, and resolution can take longer especially over a holiday weekend.

    Just a thought.

          • says

            Thanks for posting – Hopefully, this doesn’t come off wrong but it sounded as if ‘legal’ wrote the outline for the video. I am sure someone on the planning team heard of Michael Hyatt’s Platform long before the ink dried on their signs. If it were two different industries I could understand but within the same industry?

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