Search and Protect: The Process of Creating Great Brands

4/2015 5.11.2015
Pretty much every word in the English, French, Spanish and German languages is taken, and probably 95% of the names that companies create should not even be considered for ‘Branding’. How do you choose to create a unique Brand for your product that you can defend?

One of the most significant decisions any Brand leader will make is whether to create a new brand.  The recommendation for change may come from product innovation or simply a desire from senior management to shake things up – pressure is pretty significant inside any business, whether fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), service, software or engineering driven.  Creating a shiny new brand name is often seen as a great solution to pushing new ‘stuff’ into the market or giving the PR people something new to talk about to the media.  So what’s the big deal?

We need to consider what a brand actually represents.  Creating brands can be extremely expensive – but also valuable.  Indeed, if your company is lucky enough to be called Apple Inc., that value amounts to about $170BN, according to the latest Interbrand study.  But the Apple brand didn’t become so valuable overnight – no brand does.  To create and cultivate a brand takes time and lots of money – even in this digital age – because it is an investment and it will only provide benefit to your company with significant financing of its creation, protection and promotion.

The problem is that – as a Marketeer – you can never have enough money to promote your products and the more brands you are persuaded to create, the more complex your messaging to the consumer becomes and the thinner your budgets are spread.  Common sense dictates that you need to pick your battles and create a strategy that puts your Marketing muscle behind the most appealing products and side-line brands that don’t generate the returns on investment. 

Brand Architecture – like running an art gallery

This requires a high level of control over your Brand architecture – the principle of crafting exactly what branded components make up your company’s portfolio.  Good Brand leaders understand that the Brand Architecture of the company is a bit like running an art gallery – you have spent money acquiring a range of valuable assets and you must consider how best to put them on display.  Some need to be showcased, others can be stored away for use at a later date, some can be sold on for a profit. 

Values and appeal can rise and fall as tastes change, but fundamentally you want your gallery – your collection of Brands – to appeal to the consumers who are passing by.  You need to consider whether the new additions you are asked to add to the collection will actually add any value – will they make sense within the overall collection, will they appeal more to the consumer than what is already there?

Fundamentally, Brand creation and marketing is all about the investments that companies choose to make. Whether you operate a Branded House model or a House of Brands, you need to choose carefully which brands you will invest in – where you will create, where you will promote or where you will nurture. 

The decision to create a brand commits you as a company to invest in it.  That means €000’s spent on searching for viable options, €000’s invested in protecting new trademarks (potentially in multipleterritories) and then €000,000’s spent promoting the brand.  If you let that process get out of hand, there are two inevitable consequences.  One, the consumer will be confused because you are promoting too many brands or sub-brands within your overall product portfolio; and two, you will split your marketing investment so thinly that you cannot achieve any kind of breakthrough within your competitive set.

The truth is that probably 95% of the names that companies create should not even be considered for ‘Branding’. In the technology sectors in particular, there is such a mess of sub-brands, ingredient brands and feature brands that it becomes difficult for the consumer to understand what it all means.

But let’s assume the conditions are right for such an investment to be made.  The next step leads us to the treacherous world of IPR where we must search for and protect our chosen identity.  Any good Brand leader will encourage a close working relationship between their team and the legal experts, because working in tandem with IP specialists is fundamentally important to navigating through these dangerous waters.

Tension between branding and IP

There will always be tension between creative process and IP risk so it becomes crucial that brand and legal agree both their goals and strategy up-front. The Brand team will want the best, most interesting, expressive and unique name possible. Legal wants to minimise the risk of litigation in a world where there are basically no names left to take.  And this is the central problem.  In a world where pretty much every word in the English, French, Spanish and German languages is taken, how do you choose to create a unique Brand for your product that you can defend?  If you are like Apple, you might famously not care about potential lawsuits, or have deep enough pockets not to worry about the financial penalties.  But this is a risky strategy as Microsoft proved when they

had to rebrand their cloud services platform ‘SkyDrive’ to ‘OneDrive’ after 7 years, when the UK broadcaster BSkyB won their trademark infringement case in 2014.

Companies have turned to different strategies as the search process becomes more complex, creating their own evocative words (Lumia, Fabreze), re-tasking unrelated words (Amazon, Uber) or utilizing the more universal (and difficult to trademark) combinations of numbers and letters.  The more global your remit, the more difficult the situation becomes.  Not only do you have the problem of trying to find a name that isn’t taken in any of the countries required, but you run into the issue of connotations.  What can seem like an innocuous name in the UK and Italy, could mean something highly offensive in Qatar or Indonesia…

The alpha-numeric approach can be invaluable for global products because it requires little translation across multiple markets and is less likely to have negative connotations with consumers – hence its frequent use in the Auto industry.  But if it has to be a ‘word’, the best approach is to keep things simple and descriptive so that they can easily translate into different languages and the consumer can tell what the product or feature does without you having to invest money trying to tell them.

A good Brand Architecture should provide a framework for the business that reduces complexity, guides decision making but has enough flexibility to allow the company to move in different directions if required.  Ultimately, the benefit of working with talented and knowledgeable IP professionals is the capability to craft this framework and drive the creative outcome as close to perfection as possible but obtain – and fully protect – a brand asset that the company can invest in over time.

Chris George

Chris George

Brand Marketing Expert, specialist in the field of global Brand Architecture and Product Naming at Microsoft and Nokia.