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Intellectual Property

Authentic values grow in importance for brands

As consumer loyalty becomes increasingly focused on brand identity, companies need to know what they stand for – and be prepared to invest in protecting their brand values

In this world of increasingly tough competition, brands need to find new ways to differentiate and win new customers while maintaining their core customer base.

Staying true to your message and keeping it authentic is crucial as companies seek to woo customers, says Rebecca Robins, Chief Culture and Learning Officer at global consultancy Interbrand. “Whatever decisions you make, they have to be aligned with your brand. You have to mean it, you have to be able to show up and you have to be able to deliver on it. Consumers will see through the cracks in a heartbeat,” she says.

Interbrand, which ranks the top 100 global brands by value every year, bases one of the three elements of that assessment on a brand’s strength. “Brand strength is where it gets really exciting, because this is where we get into the engine room of the brand. As we have seen from the top growing brands in our 2018 Best Global Brands study, focus is absolutely crucial. These are the brands that have succeeded in aligning their moves over both the short term and long term, and that’s how real value creation is sustained ” says Robins.

Today’s sophisticated consumers are more inclined to reward brands that chime with their values, but equally they are more critical and examining of their choices. Social media and the growth of online has allowed brands to create more direct relationships with consumers, but brand values will be tested more quickly, deeply and easily, and counterfeit brands are more readily available and more difficult to spot.

Lewis Cohen, IP Partner at leading law firm Mishcon de Reya, says companies should not overlook the importance of thinking more broadly about the factors that will result in customers making judgements about a brand. “Finding the right partners, be it manufacturers, franchisees, distributors, licensees, retail partners and brand ambassadors, and managing those relationships via strong commercial agreements, can build brand value. However, many businesses are failing to investigate partners adequately or put in place suitable contracts to ensure they espouse the same values or deliver an experience that reflects the brand. Businesses need to provide consistent messages throughout all aspects of production, the supply chain, marketing and promotions, and all elements of the customer purchase.”

Customers expect high quality standards and strong values that conform across the entire supply chain – and the same can be said for a brand’s fanbase. For example, earlier this year, the Spice Girls were “deeply shocked and appalled” when news broke that their Comic Relief “gender justice” T-shirts were made in a factory in Bangladesh where employees were paid just 35p an hour. The all-girl band, which is reuniting for a UK tour this year, said they would fund an independent investigation into conditions at the factory.

Brands are also increasingly expected to police areas that are outside their direct control. Being able to deal with such threats swiftly often comes down to the intellectual property protection a brand has in place.

There have been numerous recent examples of businesses taking action to prevent copycat products. In the long-running dispute between Nestlé and Mondelez, Nestlé is seeking to protect the four fingers of its KitKat chocolate bar. The actions of Nestlé have been widely reported in newspapers and international news broadcasters from the BBC, Reuters and Bloomberg to CNN, and many reports commented on how much consumers loved its product, something that could not have been replicated via traditional advertising.

Efforts to deal with counterfeits and copycats should also be consistent with brand values, as Burberry learnt from the backlash it received when it was discovered to have burnt several million pounds worth of unsold stock to stop it getting into the hands of the counterfeit market where it would be sold off cheaply.

“There is an expectation that you have control over your intellectual property and that you will be policing copycat and counterfeit products, websites and social media,” says Sally Britton, IP Partner and Head of Brands at Mishcon de Reya. “However, when taking action against third parties, businesses should aim to enhance rather than detract from their brand values. To maximise their investment, businesses should think about their approach to IP enforcement creatively and in conjunction with other parts of the business such as the marketing and sales teams.”

The reward for brands that successfully market an authentic message, deliver on it and protect it well is the loyalty of their customers.

This article first appeared on FT.com.

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