IP Strategy Is Part of Brand Strategy

brand brand management brand strategy brand tuned branding intellectual property podcast Nov 17, 2021
IP Strategy As Part of Brand Strategy

My book Brand Tuned discusses, among other things, that IP should be considered whenever you choose or change a brand identifier such as the name or logo, symbol, sounds, tagline, colours etc by which a brand is recognised - what Jenni Romaniuk calls Distinctive Brand Assets.  

Anyone who understands IP will know how closely intertwined it is with brand creation, and hence why the lack of training in IP in the branding industry is a potential barrier to effective branding. That’s why I think there is a need for a program to plug this gap in training. The training program should discuss IP in the context of branding, rather than treating IP as a standalone topic that leaves practitioners to work out how to apply it to their real-world needs. 

Initially, I was considering offering an Accelerator program, and envisaged a course to  suit entrepreneurs, marketers, designers and brand strategists alike. However, judging from the expressions of interest, it is apparent that the program should double down on the needs of practitioners who are designing the brand or brand strategists briefing designers. So, the idea of an Accreditation program was born.

Why Accreditation?

When deciding what program to create I spoke with a few designer friends. One suggested a short course focused on teaching branding agencies how to make IP a profit centre. The thinking was that creatives would be motivated to learn about IP if they realised that taking an active part in their clients’ IP protection would increase their own income. I had indeed run a few workshops back in 2015/2016 using this very angle. The courses were well attended too.

However, while agencies can indeed make IP a profit centre if they want to do so, that’s just one aspect of taking IP on board. The downside with the workshops I’d previously run is that a short workshop does not allow enough time for creatives to learn what they need to know about IP. Indeed, even reading Brand Tuned cover to cover, is unlikely to equip a designer to address IP adequately in their branding work.

That’s because there are subtleties in IP, that is essential to grasp( for example, see this blog I wrote on Oatley v Glebe Farm Foods about choosing names). Seeing a few case studies, doing practical exercises, being able to ask questions of an IP practitioner is more likely to instill the necessary skills. Otherwise, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. You want to experiment during a course rather than in real life on other people's brands.

To make effective choices of name and other brand identifiers in the variety of branding contexts that arise needs a more in-depth understanding of trademark law. The concept of distinctiveness is pivotal in branding, and trademarks are what  help you to create distinctive brand elements that can be unique to a brand..

Practitioners who want to work independently of IP lawyers and to only involve them for availability checking and registration of trademarks need to equip themselves with a solid understanding of how IP  impacts their decisions.

So when a friend suggested an Accreditation program this struck me as more appropriate to the needs of designers and brand strategists because they need to be able to discuss IP with their clients, and to explain some basics to them, so IP can form part of their clients’ brand strategy. They should understand that their clients’ business needs, such as the geographic scope of their operations, or the categories in which they operate, affects the name and other identifiers that are suitable for them. 

The other issue is that even if branding practitioners wanted to involve lawyers during the branding process, the problem (which I highlight in the epilogue of Brand Tuned) is that it is difficult to find suitable lawyers to work with who have the right skills. The fact that someone is an IP lawyer does not necessarily mean they have the right expertise for branding. Lawyers might be able to look up names on the trademark registers or offer a trademark registration service, but that is a far cry from having the depth of knowledge to provide valuable guidance during the brand creation process. 

So it seems appropriate to develop the Accreditation program so branding practitioners who want to develop a brand and IP strategy for their clients’ projects can receive the training to do the job confidently.

Also, clients of branding agencies need a way to identify branding professionals who are properly trained. Even if they’re working with large branding agencies, it does not necessarily follow that the professionals working on their brand have the necessary understanding of IP to choose effective brand names.

So, the Brand Tuned Accreditation program will be a differentiator that branding practitioners can offer their clients, many of whom may be unaware of the significance of IP. In my experience business owners who do not know what IP means, are very interested to do the right thing for their brand, once IP is explained to them. So, a practitioner who can discuss IP with their prospective clients could use their knowledge and Accreditation status to win work

Writing Brand Tuned

Although I wrote Brand Tuned before attending Mark Ritson’s Mini MBA in Brand Management and Marketing, it was thanks to his articles and my interview of him for the Brand Tuned podcast that I was able to develop my thinking around brand strategy for the Brand Tuned book.

Mark’s courses helped me to notice that most of the courses I’ve attended during my 15+ years’ in business, were largely exploring an aspect of marketing in detail without explaining how it related to established marketing or branding principles. I would have been better off attending comprehensive courses such as Mark’s instead. Before I did so, I must have spent several thousand pounds on courses, some of which I now realise in retrospect gave bad advice because they didn't consider wider implications. For example, one thought leader’s course was big on offering discounts and half price deals. I’ve since discovered that discounting is very damaging to brand value.

Invariably, those courses I’d attended had been offered by people with no formal training in marketing and brand. To avoid a narrow focus on IP that didn't take account of the wider implications of marketing and branding, I decided to invest my time and money to write a book on branding, as well as to attend both Mark’s courses to plug any gaps in my knowledge before introducing my program. I want it to be comprehensive.

Small Business Needs Are Different

While Mark’s courses are hugely valuable in terms of the knowledge and insights they impart, one major drawback with them is that they’re focused on big business. So, it can be difficult to translate his wisdom to the small business context.

For example, he devotes 3 of 10 modules in his marketing course to market orientation, market research, and segmentation. However, unless you have the sort of budget a big business has, it is challenging to know how to actually do the research and segmentation work in a small business context.

And his brand management course is largely silent on IP. This is fair enough given that when you’re deciding your annual strategy for managing an established brand, you wouldn’t need to consider IP strategy unless you’re creating new identifiers or changing them.  However, when you’re creating new brands, IP strategy needs to be a central component of your brand strategy because you’re creating IP.

Talking of IP, I should mention that IP as a term is often misunderstood to mean knowledge, skills, a way of thinking or doing things etc. But informal “IP” of this type is not IP that the law protects, except insofar as the IP is a trade secret.

It’s so important to take IP laws into account when you put ideas out in the world, such as when a new business is started, and when developing its brand. When you turn informal IP into a business and brand, IP laws impact your decisions. IP is property, and needs to be dealt with in the same way as for any other type of property, namely at the very start. It is quite wrong to leave it till after the name and other brand identifiers have already been chosen because IP laws determine whether the choices are sound. IP goes beyond simply checking availability and registering rights.  It also impacts wider considerations, such as how easy it would be to own and protect a brand identifier. 

Practitioners who want to do right by their clients need to learn and develop their knowledge and skills in order to provide effective help to their clients. As IP is integral to their work, they should embrace it, rather than seeking to treat it as a legal subject that can be left to lawyers to consider separately. It would increase a practitioner's effectiveness and confidence to learn what they need to know about IP.

So anyone who is primarily working with small business should develop curiosity about IP's role in creating distinctive, ownable brands. IP strategy needs to be a central component of the brand’s strategy during its early years.

A course such as Mark Ritson’s brand management one is not suited to the needs of practitioners who create new brands, or rebrand existing brands, because branding work is all about creating intellectual property. It's also about understanding the issues that a young, small business faces. Mark's course says next to nothing about IP and is focused on large established brands.

Also, the brand strategy for a new brand should aim to set a strategy that can see the brand through its first 5 years of life. It should address IP strategy, and long term brand building. The Brand Tuned Accreditation program explains how to do that and is in line with Mark Ritson’s thinking. As mentioned although I wrote Brand Tuned before attending his Mini MBA in Brand Management and Marketing, I was influenced by his thinking in developing my own ideas around branding and strategy. 

Having now also attended both Mark's courses my approach is informed by his ideas, which are in turn biased towards evidence based thinking along the lines of Byron Sharp's How Brands Grow and Les Binet and Peter Field’s The Long and the Short of it.  

The Brand Tuned Accreditation program will focus on the needs of small businesses, because invariably new brands are small businesses. Having supported small businesses with their brand protection needs since 2005, I understand their needs well, and am well placed to adapt the latest thinking in marketing to the circumstances of new brands.

Here is a link to find out more about the Brand Tuned Accreditation program. Do register your interest to find out more.