Helen Lom, Director-Advisor (Brand Development), Sector of Trademarks, Industrial Designs and Geographical Indications, WIPO1
Once an enterprise has created and protected its distinctive signs, also possibly one or more industrial designs, and may have even identified a geographical indication under which to market its goods and services, what does it do with such objects of intellectual property protection? How does it use them creatively to bring value to its business? Among the most important things it can do with such intellectual property assets is to use them as tools in developing a brand image for itself and the goods and services it provides.
Brands today are generally recognized as a key asset for creating value for a business. Any “enterprise”, in the wide sense of that term, be it for-profit, not-for-profit, small, medium-sized or large, even a country or geographical region, can develop a brand image. So why are enterprises still paying so little attention to developing brand value for their goods and services?
Perhaps many entrepreneurs do not yet understand or are not truly convinced that a brand image can be a powerful tool for promoting and marketing goods and services. Some may recognize its importance but prefer to focus their priorities elsewhere and devote the major part of their resources to other aspects of the business, such as research and development. Still others, especially entrepreneurs of small and medium-sized enterprises, may not know how to go about developing a brand image or perhaps erroneously believe that brand development is a privileged sphere reserved only for large, multinational enterprises.
Yet these are all short-sighted attitudes indeed, which may eventually even prove fatal for a business. Experience has shown that the potential commercial value of a brand cannot be underestimated. The brand is the central nexus of communication between an enterprise and its consumers.
Moreover, developing a brand image should not be left as a last priority, to be addressed only after a business is established and running. To the contrary, a brand image should be developed in parallel to the business, and a branding strategy should constitute an integral part of any business plan. What is the use of making major investments into developing quality goods and services if that quality reputation cannot be captured and developed in the form of a brand image? It is through its brand image that an enterprise will attract and, more important, retain consumer loyalty for its goods and services and thus bring very real and concrete value to its business, whether it is large, small or medium-sized.
In fact, developing a brand image is not an out-of-reach venture for small and medium-sized enterprises. It does require time, effort and commitment, and certainly some financial resources, but not as much as might be expected. Moreover, experience and knowledge of the market, a creative and flexible approach to problem solving, enthusiasm about one’s products or services, and the courage to take risks are just as important factors in developing a powerful brand image, and these are common attributes of most successful small and medium-sized entrepreneurs.
What is a Brand?
Although the term “brand” is sometimes used as a synonym for a “trademark”, in commercial circles the term “brand” is frequently used in a much wider sense to refer to a combination of tangible and intangible elements, such as a trademark, design, logo and trade dress, and the concept, image and reputation which those elements transmit with respect to specified products and/or services. Some experts consider the goods or services themselves as a component of the brand. This wider, more flexible, definition of “brand” is more useful for our purposes here.
Although, strictly speaking, a brand is composed of the sum of its individual parts, the brand ultimately exists independently of and its value is greater than the mere sum of those parts. In fact, the value-added of a brand is precisely the concrete and direct result of the synergy that is created among its component parts. The brand thus takes up a life of its own and leads us beyond the limited functions of such objects of intellectual property protection as a trademark or a design and the generic product or service differentiated and rendered more appealing by those objects of protection. The concept of a brand reminds us that creating and protecting a trademark or design is not an end in itself. These are only tools (albeit important ones) in the process of developing an effective brand image for one’s goods or services. It is the brand image as a whole, and not merely a trademark or design as a stand-alone element, that differentiates one’s goods and/or services from those of competitors, denotes a certain quality, and over the long term attracts and nourishes consumer loyalty.
What Makes a Brand Successful?
Many factors go into making a successful brand. There is no single miracle formula. Brand development is as much a science as it is an art. Nevertheless, to be successful, a brand must at least be clear, specific and credible in terms of its message, its differentiation power, and the quality it symbolizes. It should also be attractive and appropriate in relation to the goods and services which the brand embodies.
Among the various factors that determine a brand’s success, one of the most important ones is the brand’s differentiation power. The brand must have a “point of difference” as far as the target group of consumers is concerned. This point of difference must be:
1. recognizable (in terms of the good and/or services marketed);
2. desirable (in terms of the quality and value of the goods and/or services offered);
3. credible (in terms of reliability); and
4. properly communicated (in terms of how the message is formulated and to whom it is targeted).
In today’s highly competitive global market place, with its overwhelming selection of similar and frequently identical goods and services, if a brand cannot differentiate itself and the goods and services it is meant to promote from those of the competition, then it is useless and thereby worthless. Inversely, the stronger the differentiation power of a brand, the greater its effectiveness and therefore its value both for its owner and for consumers. Only a brand with a strong differentiation power can serve as a focal point around which to promote an enterprise’s products and services, develop their reputation and thereby attract and maintain consumer loyalty, the essential reasons for justifying the investment of time, money and effort required to develop a successful brand.
How is a Brand Image Developed?
A brand image is developed through an effective branding strategy, which, as already stated, should constitute an integral part of any business plan.
A successful branding strategy should both anticipate and shape consumers’ needs and desires. Knowing your consumer is therefore a key to a brand’s success. A successful brand cannot be created, developed and maintained in a vacuum. Such a process must form part of an organic relationship or dialogue between the producer or service provider and the consumer. Good consumer research therefore constitutes a pre-condition of a successful branding strategy, but not the only one. Statistics, polls and graphs are certainly valuable indicators, but so are the knowledge and understanding gained through personal contacts with customers and the experience accumulated in running the business. For this reason, a successful brand strategy does not depend only on a few (frequently outsourced) marketing experts. It is the result of a partnership of those experts together with management and ultimately employees at all levels and in all areas of the business.
How is a Brand Image Put into Practice?
Once the brand image is developed, putting it into practice is the least glamorous yet most important aspect of ensuring a brand’s success. Otherwise, all efforts that preceded and were invested into creating and developing a brand image go to waste.
Effective communication is one important part of this process. The other is effective quality control and maintenance.
The brand image must be communicated and certain expectations instilled in the mind of consumers. However, there is no use in developing expectations in the mind of consumers, if those expectations cannot be satisfied. To the contrary, if the consumer feels disappointed and let down, the brand image that is being projected may prove counterproductive and even destructive for the business. For this reason, it is essential that employees (and not only some outside marketing firm or in-house marketing expert), at all levels of the organization (including high and mid-level management, staff of administrative departments and, of course, employees in direct contact with customers), be involved in developing the brand image. Staff involvement is essential not only because it is important to tap into staff members’ experience and knowledge of the market, as already indicated, but also because staff must eventually implement the branding strategy. For this reason, employees must be genuinely convinced of the brand’s value, identify with the branding strategy, feel personally responsible for ensuring that the brand lives up to the expectations created, and understand that the successful implementation of the branding strategy is in their personal interest as much as it is in the interest of the employer. Employee commitment to the brand is crucial. Without such commitment, even the best conceived branding strategy is doomed to failure.
Some Do’s and Dont’s in Developing a Successful Brand
Articulate a Meaningful Corporate Vision: If an enterprise is unable to articulate a clear vision of its overall goals and values, it will find it even more difficult to proceed to the more concrete and focused task of defining its brand image. Therefore, first and foremost, an enterprise should be very clear about what it wishes its corporate vision to be. That vision should be broad and long-term in scope, it should be convincing and sincere in its content (meaning that it should not consist merely of an empty platitude), and once formulated, it should be articulated and communicated on all appropriate occasions and at all levels, within and outside the enterprise.
Communicate a Forceful Brand Image: The brand image should be consistent with but distinct from the overall corporate vision. Remember, the corporate vision should be broad and long-lasting. The brand image, on the other hand, should be strictly focused on the product or services it embodies and the consumers it is meant to target. It should articulate precise values and qualities that are relevant and of direct interest to the target consumers, and it should do so clearly and credibly. Moreover, the values and qualities articulated should be limited to a digestable minimum. An overly broad brand image runs the risk of becoming meaningless. In an effort to speak to all consumers, the brand can end up speaking to none.
Motivate Employees to Identify with the Brand Image and its Success: It is not enough for employees to carry out their specific tasks competently. It is just as important for each employee to understand his/her role in the overall system and his/her contributions to the brand’s image. This is part of creating a team spirit and commitment and loyalty to the company’s brand. If the employees themselves do not develop loyalty for the brand, how can they transmit enthusiasm and loyalty for the brand to the consumer? Moreover, a positive, friendly attitude by employees is an essential element in communicating an attractive brand image. Commitment, loyalty and a positive attitude are not only important among employees who are in direct contact with customers but at all levels of the company’s organizational ladder as well. Such commitment and loyalty are achieved mainly through appropriate training, human resource development, and recognition and reward of employees’ contributions to the company.
Integrate the Brand Image Consistently into All Operational Levels of the Company: Everything the enterprise communicates, produces and provides should reflect and reaffirm its brand image, consistently and repeatedly, both internally and externally. This is accomplished by encouraging and facilitating horizontal communications and cooperation within the company. Every sector of the company should understand the relevance of the brand to the corporate vision and to achieving and preserving marketing success, which in turn is in every sector’s and every employee’s interest.
Keep the Brand Flexible: Brand development and implementation is not static. It is an organic and continuous process. Just because a company has developed an effective brand image does not mean that the work is done. We live in an ever-changing world, and it is primordial to ensure that the brand preserves its relevance and attractiveness for consumers. This requires constant re-evaluation of the market, the competition, and the shifting needs and desires of target consumer groups and then consequent readjustments and updating of the brand. Ultimately, there is no miracle formula to ensure a brand’s continuing success. However, a refusal or inability to continue to re-evaluate and adjust a brand to the changing realities of the market place is a sure formula for failure.
Make Your Brand Image a Priority: Always keep your brand image on the top of the list of your agenda. It is the heart and spirit of your business.
Trademarks, industrial designs and other objects of intellectual property protection can be powerful tools for creating value for your business. However, they will not live up to those expectations if they sit passively on some register. They must be used and used creatively, pro-actively and with imagination. They must be transformed from mere legal concepts and enforceable rights into commercially valuable assets, and that can be achieved primarily by putting them to work as tools for creating and developing a brand value for your business.
1 The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of WIPO.