The Value and Visibility of Brand

A company’s brand is one of its most valuable strategic assets, and one of its most visible ones. Despite this, many executives struggle to understand the true scope of what their company’s brand entails, and therefore, how to fully protect it.

Although there are many working definitions of a brand, one definition states:

A company’s brand is the combination of unique elements, attributes, experiences and perceptions that define the presence of that company in the marketplace for its customers

This is closely related to, but not the same thing as, a company’s reputation.


Reputation vs. Brand

By way of example, consider the distinction between Apple and Hewlett-Packard (HP). Both companies have cultivated well-deserved and longstanding reputations for building quality products and bringing world-class engineering innovations to the marketplace.

In that sense, both firms’ reputations contribute powerfully to their brands.

But if we take this a step further, we see that Apple has cultivated a brand that emphasizes simplicity and elegance whereas HP has developed a brand focused on power and complexity.

In conclusion: Both firms possess similar reputations in the marketplace, but control very different brand positions.

And that difference holds enormous economic value, considering that nearly a decade ago, Apple’s market capitalization exceeded that of Microsoft, Dell and HP…combined.


The Elements of Brand

So, what elements go into the carefully crafted brand that Apple has developed? And how can identifying a wide variety of brand elements help us strengthen the power of our own brand? Some of these assets may include:

  • Visual Identity – The components we generally think of when we hear the word ‘brand’ in a commercial context. These typically include the brand name(s), logotype, font system, graphic design elements, tagline, color palette, etc.
  • Design Standards – Going beyond the core of visual identity, trademark law allows for the protection of design elements that evoke a brand’s sensibility in the mind of the consumer or business buyer. In the Apple case, for example, a competitor who elects to always present a large amount of whitespace in their advertising, combined with drop shadows and the use of black fonts, could be viably accused of violating trademark even though they may never use a logo similar to Apple’s or use a brand name that looks or sounds anything like it.
  • Content & Communications – Your web and print communications themselves fall under copyright protection and when tightly integrated with other brand components, they can become powerful contributors to the brand experience. Specific language, phrasing and presentation all contribute.
  • Product Designs – Part of the challenge in identifying product design elements as part of the brand up-front is that we often have no idea what elements will become iconic later on. Nonetheless, everything about your product designs — shapes, angles, curves, material choices, etc., can become a key part of the brand. Did you know that the MTA New York City Transit Authority recently sued the developer of an alternative system map because, in part, the designer used curves in his maps that were of the same degree as those on the official one? This was enough for the MTA to claim infringement.
  • Packaging Designs – Excellent packaging design is so seamless we rarely even think about it, and yet more and more companies in a wide range of industries are applying packaging design principles to their work. Today, a health insurance carrier’s customer welcome packet may be designed to evoke the simplicity and precision we associate with unboxing a new laptop computer or cell phone.
  • User Experience Design – From product naming and user interface nomenclature to the ‘look and feel’ of a product, whether it be hardware or software or both – all of these elements work together to create a unique experience that becomes a valuable brand component.
  • Customer Terminology – One of the elements that weaves through many of these other brand components is terminology. It’s hard to envision that words can become a part of a brand portfolio outside of brand names, but in fact many other words and phrases can become brand assets.


Next Steps: Moving Toward Brand Success

With the role of a brand well-defined and the elements specified, you’re now well-positioned to leverage brand strategy as a major part of your evolving . Some key next steps you can take include:

  • Step 1: Assemble a brand leadership team that includes your Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Product Officer, lead engineers, product managers and the executive in charge of the customer experience. This team can collectively develop and deploy an integrated collection of brand assets.
  • Step 2: Bake brand strategy into your business plans. Recognizing the enormous value of building brand equity, you should also incorporate brand strategy and execution into the plans and strategic planning priorities for your business and its new product development initiatives this year.
  • Step 3: Protect your brand vigorously and proactively. Brand protection is essential not only to ensure that you maximize your market position and don’t allow competitors to steal from or unfairly leverage your hard work, but also because lack of protection results in weakened legal standing over time. Put another way, if you don’t treat your brand as a unique and highly treasured asset, the courts may not either.

This may be an ideal time to speak with your intellectual property legal counsel and engage in a wide-ranging discussion about how your company can build, leverage, protect and grow your brand as a strategic intellectual property (IP) asset over time.


Want to learn more about how you can protect your company’s brand assets? Continue with the second article in this series: 10 Essential Steps You Can Take to Protect Your Brand.

-Michael Dilworth 

This article is for informational purposes, is not intended to constitute legal advice, and may be considered advertising under applicable state laws. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only and are not necessarily shared by Dilworth IP, its other attorneys, agents, or staff, or its clients.