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"

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.

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

Lawrence Lerner Digitalization and Transformation Coach

February 25th, 2015

Are you a B2B or B2C product/service? Most B2B contracts call out the use of logos and names. It all depends on the company. Some have strong policies against using their name logo. It's something we try to work out in advance.

If you can point to something in the public (you're both named in an approved press release) that is usually fair game. 

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.

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.  

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. 


February 25th, 2015

I categorically list current and former clients on the 'About Us' page with a link to their web site. I do not to list logos as I wanted this page to look professional, not like an ad. Whenever possible, I secured permission for each listing. Testimonials are included on another page. Tami Belt Blue Cube Marketing Solutions "The great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it." - William James

Stuart Frederich-Smith Director of Product at PlanGrid

February 25th, 2015

I've found reaction to this kind of request to be highly variable. One company I worked with was absolute in refusing to allow their logo to be used in association with our product because they felt that it was a marketing value to our (much smaller) company and was only permissible in exchange for a discount in fees. Other companies of similar size were far more permissive. I know a lot of people take the 'beg forgiveness' approach to things like this, but your reputation with your customers is on the line here and it will suffer if they feel there has been a transgression. I would suggest reaching out to the closest person you know at the companies using the product and ask their advise about how to proceed. It will be easier for them to say no than yes, but you'll sleep better.

Erik Molander Executive in Residence at ITEC at Boston University

February 25th, 2015

Hi Tim, Always ask your customer / client. Always. A firm we were hosting in our accelerator did not ask their client. A prospective customer called the client's office and instead of getting the VP, they were transferred to a disgruntled IT employee that panned the software. The team lost the sale. Always ask the client and ask it it is appropriate if prospective customers could call her directly. Cheers, Erik Molander Erik Molander Executive-In-Residence Strategy and Innovation Department School of Management 143 Bay State Road Room 502 Boston, MA 02215 617-358-5864 _molander@bu.edu_ Logo*/entrepreneurship@BU/*