So much rides on company reputation in this era of modern business. The way customers, suppliers and other market players view your business can affect its bottom line in huge proportions.
Yet, many upcoming and even seasoned entrepreneurs lack an intricate grasp of what goes into building a formidable brand strategy. Branding isn’t just how creative your logo is, or how catchy the business name is, or how cool your packaging designs are. Branding involves having a consistent mission, purpose and vision, and clearly communicating them to your target market. Good brands often must strike an emotional connection with their customers.
Like personal reputation, a good brand should, by all means, be protected. In an internet age where word spreads like a virus, years of hard work spent in growing a reputable brand can be erased by a single mistake.
Why is Branding Important?
It Enhances Company Value
A strong brand is an investor magnet. Investors - especially venture capitalists - want to be associated with standout brands because they easily attract customers, and that means more revenue. Entrepreneurs with strong brands also have an advantage when taking the companies public. Although companies are usually valued by their physical assets and financial projections, stronger brands are usually worth more than the sum total of their tangible assets. They can float their share prices at higher rates and investors will still scramble for a piece of the pie.
It Communicates Company Culture
Vison, belief, values, habits and norms are just some of the key aspects of company culture. Communicating this culture to the world helps people to understand and appreciate what the company stands for. Branding can be a perfect way to share this message. Just take a look at Coca-Cola, a global soft drinks and beverage products manufacturer. While the company is certainly not licensed to provide happiness therapy services, many consumers across the world know that the brand stands for happiness, fun, optimism and refreshment.
It Increases Employee Attraction and Retention
Gone are the days when fresh graduates would submit applications to countless companies and take the first offer that is thrown their way. Today, most job seekers consider employer branding before taking up a job offer. With a strong brand, you have a greater ability to attract top talent and inspire existing ones to work toward helping the company achieve its goals.
It Carves Out a Spot in the Market
Every day, thousands of new brands enter various markets. With competition for market share at an all-time high, breaking into a market with a bang and commanding a position can be a very difficult task. However, a strong brand can gradually grow into a force in the market, acquire its fair share of customers and even knock off dominant brands from their perches.
It Supplements Advertising
For growing businesses, advertising costs can constitute a big share of their annual revenues. It’s the most effective way a business can increase awareness about its products and services. Businesses with strong brands often don’t need to spend as much in advertising, since they are easily recognised and can quickly penetrate new markets. Such brands can also achieve higher success with word of mouth advertising because organic conversations about good brands are more likely to happen.
Why is it Necessary to Protect Your Brand?
To reap the benefits of a strong brand, you must guard it with your life. This is why:
It Prevents Brand Theft
The market is a jungle where only the fittest and most proactive survive. If your idea or product has the potential to become the next big thing and it leaks before you launch, unscrupulous entrepreneurs won’t hesitate to undercut you. Although there are legal means to seek redress if you have taken appropriate protection measures, it’s difficult to completely wipe off the stolen product or service from the market. It is also common for people to slightly redesign the logos and other trademarks of an existing brand and pass it off as an entirely new business. When you protect your band, crooks will be discouraged from counterfeiting it, and even if they do, they can’t get away with it.
It Shields Businesses from Unnecessary Expenses
As a business owner, you should dedicate your time and money to running and growing the company. Anything that distracts you from the enterprise can negatively affect your ability to reach your business goals within a specific timeframe. But this is exactly what happens when some dishonest entrepreneurs steal your designs, logos and other pieces of intellectual property. Unless you want them to get away with it, you will probably report to relevant authorities or hire a lawyer to litigate on your behalf in a court of law. Litigations costs can siphon huge sums of money from the business, especially where cases take a long time to complete. According to a study on the impact of litigation on small businesses published by the Small Business Administration, litigation can also send business owners into emotional hardship and force them to change their business plans.
It Eliminates the Need to Rebrand
Sometimes, businesses are forced to rebrand: perhaps their current branding strategy isn’t delivering the expected returns, or they want to rebuild after a major mistake. Businesses with a steady, growing business model should be least concerned about changing their image. However, without adequate brand protection, counterfeits can flood the market, such that it is hardly possible for customers to differentiate between the original and the fakes. When this happens, the business' recognition and value sinks, and, if unable to combat the counterfeits, the need to rebrand and create a new unique identity becomes inevitable. Rebranding costs time and money, and there is no guarantee the company will regain the market position it held.
It Can Lead to the Development of an Iconic Brand
One of the toughest tasks entrepreneurs face is growing a business from a garage venture into a dominant, iconic brand like Apple, Nike or Coca Cola. It’s doable, but it takes several years, a genuinely industry-breaking product and a consistent branding strategy. If you can protect and maintain your trademarks over a long period of time (think Nike’s 'Swoosh' which has been in existence since 1971), you stand a chance of creating an iconic brand.
Strategies for Brand Protection
So, how can you protect your brand from theft?
Register Brand Trademarks
Trademarks are all signs, including logos, pictures, letters and numbers, slogans, names, sounds and colors that distinguish your company from competitors. Register your brand trademarks with the competent authority in your country. In the U.S., for instance, go to the Patent and Trademark Office, or, if you are in the UK, go to the Intellectual Property Office.
Copyright Your Content
With many businesses putting out content online, copyright infringement can become a big issue. As such, it is important to copyright all your content (including videos, images and written posts) to prevent plagiarists from stealing and using it as their own.
Get a Patent
If you are in the business of inventing new products, be sure to get a patent from the relevant government office in your jurisdiction. With a patent, only your company will have the exclusive right to manufacture the product.
Stay on the Lookout
Utilising the legal channels for brand protection alone doesn’t fully protect it from theft. If you are not on the lookout, someone can still use your trademarks on the other side of the country and you will have no idea about it. Although it can be difficult for local or offline entrepreneurs to track brand theft, online businesses can sign up for Google Alerts, a service that sends you a notification when someone steals and publishes your copyrighted content. It can also notify you when your brand is mentioned on the web.
Create a Legal Department
Creating a legal division that is dedicated to fighting copyright infringements, trademark thefts and other legal violations can also go a long way in protecting your brand. Sometimes sending notices of violations and asking the culprits to cease using your trademarks or threating them with lawsuits is often enough to put them off.
Keep Your Trade Secrets Confidential
While it is possible to legally protect your trade secrets and other pieces of confidential business information in many states, taking simple steps such as locking your filing cabinets and securing your computers can help you protect confidential information that can otherwise be used by competitors to hurt your brand.
Listen to Your Customers
Customers have the potential to be great brand ambassadors or aggressive brand destroyers. Bad customer reviews on social networking platforms can spread faster than you are able to respond appropriately. The best way to prevent your customers from saying bad things about your business is to listen to their feedback and offer great customer service.
Don’t just focus on protecting your brand in your home country. Move into other jurisdictions and register your trademarks and patents, especially if your company has the prospects of opening foreign branches or subsidiaries in the future.
The modern business environment is no doubt changing how entrepreneurs run their establishments. Branding is now a prime business objective that can drive the growth of a company into a market leader. Just as prime is the need to safeguard the brands and ensure no one exploits them for their personal gain. Identify potential threats to your brand and take the necessary actions to manage the threat.