Customers · Marketing

Need Permission To List Customers, Use Logo?

Tim Scott

February 25th, 2015

How do you handle listing customers and perhaps their logos on a customers page? And maybe featuring some on the home page? Do you ask permission or not?

The customers I want to show off are top tier universities: Harvard, Stanford, Yale, etc. The users are mostly admin staff in various academic departments. A few are paying, but most use my site for free. It seems like it might be a hard road to get permission. Should I go ahead and list them, or always get permission. What about logos?

(By the way, I very well might reach out to some for testimonials, which would be much more powerful, but I'm not asking about that.)

Karl Schulmeisters Founder ExStreamVR

February 26th, 2015

>>We're more like B2C. Or maybe B2E. That is, employees of companies use our site as a productivity tool to do their job. A few of them get thier boss's permission to charge $60 on a company credit card for an annual subscription.<<

In Other Words these universities ARE NOT your customers.   John Smith, Departmental Assistant for the Mechanical Engineering Department at Harvard is your customer.

Thus claiming that Harvard is your customer

  1. False Advertising
  2. Use of Harvard's legally protected name without their permission (copyright violation)
  3. #2 is worse if you use their Logo

Unless The university's purchasing department or a department within the University formally buys your product with a Departmental or University invoice THEY ARE NOT YOUR CUSTOMERS... Claiming they are is dishonest

Unless you have permission from a big name customer to use their logo - the reputational harm that can come from being forced to take down a logo can be much worse lack of such a logo.

The common practice I've seen is to use generalizations and only name drop if doing so verbally.  FGZMPLE

your website says  "This product is in use at 1/3 of the Ivy Universities in the USA"

your sales engagement script says:  "Our Application is in use by Harvard's Mechanical Engineering Department, as well as Stanford's business school"

Karl Schulmeisters Founder ExStreamVR

February 26th, 2015

>>By not including such language, there is technically nothing saying you *do* need permission <<

This simply is NOT TRUE!

Most business names are at least Trademarked and many are Registered, thus using them "for profit" is a legal violation. And Logos are the same. So if you use either in written advertising or publicity, you are asking for a Cease and Decease order and getting banned from doing business with them. your "earned" forgiveness may be in the form of legal fees and fines

Hai Habot Growth | Business | Marketing

February 25th, 2015

A few great points on this thread, but in some cases the context was missing (i.e. size of company, timing, objective, etc.), I'll try to add it below. 

My assumptions based on the info in the thread:
#1 you are an early stage startup (i.e. still a young business with an initial customer base)
#2 you are looking to optimize your acquisition/growth efforts (i.e. increase pipeline of potential customers and improve conversion of those already in the funnel)
#3 you focus on the high ed space (where like with other large orgs, getting an approval can take ages and is less likely given your size and type of product)
#4 purchasing (or using) your product doesn't require a complex decision process or a significant budget.

Given #1 and #2, the use of logos (as well as names, testimonials, seals, certifications, etc.) is going to be important from a marketing and conversion stand point. such validation points play a key role in getting consumers over the line and can significantly improve landing page conversion/optimization. there are some differences in the psychology of b2b vs b2c customers when it comes to conversions but at the end of the day all of the decisions are made by humans and we all convert better given an offer that resonates with our needs, mitigates our risk and plays on our biases.

So the interim conclusion is that you need to have the logos out there... in fact, you will also need them in your decks (partners, investors), marketing materials and any other place where validation is required to improve the % of someone voting in your favor... 
For a different product/business (e.g. heavy enterprise software, small/closed ecosystem) or at a later stage of the company (e.g. well known brand) the use of validation points can be less critical and may be more limited. 

So now it's a question of asking for permission or not.... to me, this is mostly a matter of balancing the risk (not high) and resources (limited).
As a small startup that needs to execute fast and has limited resources + given bullet #3, there is no point in getting approvals from each university. that's why most similar startups in this situation prefer to simply do it and if anything goes wrong, ask for forgiveness. from a practical stand point, based on bullets #3 and #4 the risk you are taking is not too significant, it's not likely that one of the institutes will take you to court for using their logo and if they reach out (i.e. friendly email or C&D letter), you can remove the logo, apologize quickly with a look of surprise and defer to one of the "defenses" below.

If you want to play it a bit more safe, you can add a few "defenses" that can allow you some plausible deniability in case anyone asks (not from a legal stand point, more from a moral and best practices stand point):
* get testimonials/blurbs from your consumers (=employees) - even short ones.... in many cases the admins will be happy to provide a testimonial where you can use their name/title and they won't even know if they need to ask for permission from their employer... (your product is not expensive and used as a daily tool, it's not something they will need to think too much about). this will allow you to use the name of their employer as part of that blurb and a justification to add the logo in that context. you will be surprised how easy it is, most consumers would be glad to help if they like the product.
* use some text that distinguishes the specific use of your product next to the logos, e.g. "as used by employees from the following institutes" vs "as used by the following institutes". do not be blunt and say that employer X is directly using your service if this is not true.
* since your main focus here is better conversion on the landing pages, use smart design that would put the right emphasis on the call to action areas and have the "defense" elements in a visible but less prominent location on the page. 

The suggestion to add some publicity language to your license/TOS  that will allow you to use the marks is a good one in general but keep in mind it's mostly a way to cover yourself with small print in case someone big finds out and gets mad at you for using the logo. in reality most of your costumers will not read the TOS + if the employer doesn't like the fact the logo is there, there is no TOS document in the world that can help you keep it on the site...

As the company grows you will add more validation points and new marketing materials, including case studies, PRs, mutual promotions, etc. producing them will take some more time and you should use them to get the employers more involved and provide you with direct endorsements (instead of hacked ones), these will come with publicity clauses and proper marketing support. but until then, you can hack...

Good luck, happy to provide more specific advice if needed. 

Do not use any of the above as legal advice, just a few insights based on experience in similar situations.

Tim Scott

February 25th, 2015

We're more like B2C. Or maybe B2E. That is, employees of companies use our site as a productivity tool to do their job. A few of them get thier boss's permission to charge $60 on a company credit card for an annual subscription.

Eva May Purposeful Program Developer and Marketing Professional

February 25th, 2015

If you did not sign confidentiality agreements with the companies (and it sounds like you didn't), I would recommend notifying your customers that you would like to post their logos on your customers' page, asking them to notify you by a certain date if for any reason they object to the use of their logo or name. You could include the logo of theirs that you plan to use on your site in this notification, and request that they provide you with the updated artwork if the one you provided is not the correct one (by the same date). You might even consider sending a customer satisfaction survey at the same time, in which you can include the request to reach out for testimonials if they are willing to provide one.

I agree with Alan that you should include the publicity clause in your terms of service going forward. 

Steve Hanov I know how to make and sell software online, and I can share my tips with you.

February 26th, 2015

I use the logos of large companies that have been customers on my web site ( and have never had a problem in four years. Having worked at a large corporation before, I suspect that unless they have someone coordinating these activities, nobody really knows who has permission and who doesn't. I know Apple's really strict so I don't list them.

When they do notice their logo, the typical response is, "Cool, we already have a license? Do you know who manages it?" I have lost a few sales this way as well.

Howard Postley Advisor / Investor / Designer / Entrepreneur

February 25th, 2015

You might consider changing your TOS to have an opt-out for that and then reset everyone's acceptance so they see it again the next time they log in. 

Lawrence Lerner Digitalization and Transformation Coach

February 25th, 2015

Tricky. In this case I would err on the side of caution and not use the logos.  

Ron Boyd Website Consultant / Business Owner / Speaker & Trainer

February 25th, 2015

Large companies usually have posted limitations, requirements etc. For using their brands and logos. I have it in my contact, that we have their permission to list them as a client and/or use their logo, linked with our privacy policy that we cannot make false classics etc. Only had one client had their legal dept. remove it. -- Ron Twitter: @boydrw --- Save a tree - Think before you print ------- This message & attachments may be private & confidential, and is intended for the above-named recipient(s) only. If you are not the intended recipient of this message please delete this message. Thank you! -------

Tim Scott

February 26th, 2015

Thanks everybody for the great responses! By the way, if any one is curious, here's my site:

@Hai Habot - You really nailed it in terms of the context, which I think it really significant for this kind of issue. The only thing you got wrong is that I'm not an early stage startup but a 3 year old side project that's been neglected in terms of marketing. For some reason EDU seems to have found me, which I'm curious to see if I can use to kick start some marketing efforts and turn if from hobby to decent passive income stream.

@Karl Schulmeisters - Thanks for the answer, and I respect your opinion, but I must disagree. I don't see how a purchasing department or Invoice suddenly flips a binary switch from honest to "dishonest." Harvard staff use my site to schedule office hours for some of it's professors, book speaking slots, make class assignments, etc. Is Harvard more of a customer of Charmin than of Slotted because the purchasing department bought the toilet paper? The money for both came from Harvard's bank account. Also, I think it's incorrect and unhelpful to cast it as a moral question. Just my opinion.