Branding Strategy Insider

Size and prominence of wording on business signs, product labels and hangtags will often emphasize brand signals. Yet, sometimes decisions are made to scream generic names instead.

Never having seen the above shown wacky fresh fruit until recently, my assumption was that Buddha’s Hand represented a clever brand name for a certain type of citron fruit. Nope, generic.

The source-indicating information on the above shown Buddha’s Hand hangtag — the trademark — is barely legible, so I’ll help readers out: Ripe to You represents the above shown brand name.

So, what are the best practices when it comes to marketing commodities over brands and vice versa? The Branding Strategy Insider had an informative take on this topic just yesterday, here.

From my perspective, since brands manifest reputation, relationships and experiences, there must be accountability, and sometimes apologies are needed. Commodities, nope, not so much.

I’m thinking that while Ripe to You apparently is working to create market demand and interest in the unusual Buddha’s Hand fruit, more emphasis on the fruit’s generic name may take priority.

It also stands to reason that as Buddha’s Hand citron fruit becomes as understood as cherry tomatoes, tangelos, and bananas, the thing will speak for itself, and the brand will be paramount.

It’s also important to remember that when work is needed to create demand for a new category of products, attention on a memorable generic name can be as important as the brand name.

Otherwise, a brand owner launching a new category might find itself forever working to avoid the slippery slope of genericide, can you say, Rollerblade, Velcro, Band-Aid, and Peppadew?

Thankfully for Ripe to You, the clever and memorable Budda’s Hand generic name was handed to it on a silver platter, leaving the field wide open to focus on and emphasize its brand name.

I’d love to hear more insights from our extraordinary marketers and designers about when and how to balance the marketing of commodities/brands — when do you lead with Buddha’s Hand?

On this Cyber Monday, I’m left wondering, will we ever have a day when the metrics and automated tools available are so accurate and reliable that intangible assets like brands (and trademarks) regularly will be valued, bought, and sold online?

At rock bottom, a brand’s value is at least what another — in an arm’s length transaction — is willing to pay for it.

At least, because at any given moment, there may be no buyers willing to pay the brand owner’s lowest price, so in that instance, the owner values it more than others and keeps it, at least for the time being, until a buyer emerges who shares the same value determination.

The far more difficult question to answer is to put an actual number on the value of a brand, explaining exactly what factors must be considered to determine value.

No doubt, accountants play an important role in deciding, but they cannot and should not do so in a vacuum without collaboration from other relevant disciplines.

To that point, just last week, Branding Strategy Insider published an interesting piece on Brand Equity and the Center of Value. Last month Brad VanAuken also wrote at BSI about brand value: “Ultimately, brand value is a perception. It is a perception of the ratio between benefits and cost.”

Yet, Seth Godin appears to be skeptical of many beliefs about brand value:

“The vast majority of products that are sold are treated as generic by just about everyone except the naive producer, who believes he has a brand of value.”

“If we (the user or the observer) can’t tell who made it, then there’s no brand. That’s the distinction between generic and specific…”

Actually, that is one more place where trademark types might differ, because in our world, knowing who puts out a product under a certain trademark is not required to own the legal right to exclude others. Trademarks exist even when their owner is anonymous or unknown.

And, while the value of an underlying trademark is not necessarily coextensive with the brand’s overall value, it must be considered, as one of the important intangible assets forming the ultimate value of a brand.

As Brad Walz articulated here earlier this month, a trademark strength analysis is an important consideration to determining a brand’s value. Part of trademark strength would be the legal ability to expand the use of a brand name and should be considered too.

In addition, the extent and validity of registered rights must be considered. For example, if a brand owner has begun to expand with sales and distribution overseas, and it has laid the legal foundation for not being excluded from using the brand name in those countries (by winning the race to the trademark office in those countries), these valuable legal rights must be considered in the overall value of a brand.

At a minimum, it seems to me, marketing types, trademark types, and other intellectual property types, must be part of the team to determine a brand’s value.

Who else must be represented at the accountant’s table to arrive at an accurate and reliable number for a brand’s value?

Yesterday Thomson Dawson of the Blake Project published an interesting blog post on the Branding Strategy Insider called “The Importance of Color in Branding Strategy.” It is an important read for both marketing types and trademark types, both for what it says, and what it doesn’t say.

How color impacts and induces certain responses in the human brain, how colors can convey a mood and a defined emotional state, the importance of color to a brand’s visual identity, and the importance of selecting the right color for your brand, are very worthy points of discussion in the article. Mr. Dawson goes on to explain: “Selecting the appropriate color to represent and differentiate your brand must be based on several criteria.” And, these are the three most important criteria, according to Dawson: (1) The Target Audience, (2) The Brand Archetype, and (3) The Culture.

What is missing from the discussion, at least from the perspective of a trademark type, is any discussion of the legal implications of color selections in brand strategy. Indeed, it would appear to most trademark types, I suspect, that an important fourth, fifth, and sixth criteria could and should be added to the list: (4) The Competition, and (5) Availability from a Legal Perspective, and (6) Ownability from a Legal Perspective.

Knowing what the competition is doing in the industry — in terms of their color choices and visual identities — would appear to be a key bit of knowledge that should inform how new entrants visually brand themselves (to differentiate from others), and how stalwarts might consider rebranding themselves within a market segment (again, to differentiate from others). This key information also opens the door to the fifth and sixth criteria I’m proposing here.

We have spilled a lot of digital ink discussing examples of when single colors can be owned as trademarks. The reality that color can be owned as a trademark — and be subject to exclusive ownership for specified goods and/or services — must invite the timely inquiry of whether the desired path to adopt and use a particluar color or trade dress carries a significant risk of trademark infringement, dilution, and any liability or damages that might flow from those kinds of legal claims. In addition, again, as a trademark type, what can be owned as a trademark would appear to be an important part of the calculus in determining whether investment in a particular color selection makes sense from a business perspective, resulting in the need for a close analysis of the question of functionality, which is an absolute bar to ownership of a color as a trademark.

In the end, while I have no doubt the Dawson piece provides helpful insights to brand managers and marketing types, readers should take note that it also provides a helpful roadmap for skilled trademark types who might be interested in steering their clients to safe ground based on functionality grounds and also undermining or invalidating the claimed color trademark rights of competitors. As we have seen before, a careful balance is often required in preparing marketing communications that avoid undermining claims of trademark ownership — a balance best struck when legal and marketing types are working together early in the process.

If you’d like to refresh your recollection of these oldies but goodies from the DuetsBlog Archive, please check them out again for more details on the legal implications of making color selections in brand strategy:

By the way, what do you think about the additional three criteria we’ve added to Dawson’s list?

The importance of “storytelling” seems to be the buzzword lately when it comes to branding communications and decisions. For example, last August Branding Strategy Insider wrote that “Brands Must Master the Art of Storytelling,” and just last week it wrote twice on the subject, about “Shared Values in Brand Storytelling” and “5 Pillars for Brand Storytelling Success.”

Branding Strategy Insider’s guest-blogger Susan Gunelius, President and CEO of KeySplash Creative identified “five pillars that brand storytellers understand and use to intrigue, engage, and connect emotionally with consumers”:

  1. Speak truthfully;
  2. Infuse personalities into stories;
  3. Create characters your audience will root for;
  4. Include a beginning, middle, and end; and
  5. Don’t give it all away.

With a healthy dose of humility I’d like to suggest the consideration of a sixth pillar, from the perspective of a concerned trademark type: Don’t permit the storyline to kill the IP!

The stories being told about Pepsi’s new bottle design inspired my suggestion for this intellectual property-focused pillar. AdAge recently reported on Pepsi’s new bottle design:

AdAge Image

“The twisted-bottle shape is a standard the brand hopes to build on — Coca-Cola has long been known for its iconic contour bottle shape. [VP of Marketing Angelique] Krembs said the team, including Chief Design Officer Mauro Porcini, who was brought onboard last June, looked in Pepsi’s archives for inspiration and features that were consistent over time.”

“The swirl on the new bottle is an element that goes back to some of the early glass packages,” Ms. Krembs said. “We didn’t want to create a shape that came out of nowhere,” Ms. Krembs said. “It’s not uniform, it’s a little asymmetrical, there’s a little edginess and playfulness, which is consistent with Pepsi’s equities and youthful spirit.”

While marketing types might debate on the persuasive power of the story behind the bottle design, from a trademark perspective, to this point, at least, it appeared totally consistent with a claim of non-traditional trademark ownership in the product packaging. That is, until the unfortunate emphasis on the “swirled grip” bottom portion.

The Dieline elaborates with this quote from Ms. Krembs: “The etched, grip-able bottom allows consumers to have a more stimulating, tactile interaction with the bottle itself.Brand Channel adds: “The new bottle bottom makes it easier to hold and the label covers less of the contents, showing more of the actual beverage.” And, Pepsi answered a question from Chief Marketer, this way: “Consumer testing has shown positive results, with our consumers finding that the new bottle design reflects Pepsi’s playful spirit while providing a grip-able bottom.” It might be best to “get a grip” on the IP, by leaving the focus of the branding storyline on the “playful spirit.”

Of course, the danger of a branding storyline that focuses on a bottle’s “grip” may be viewed as touting function over form, the death-knell for trademark protection covering the shape of product containers and packaging.

An additional risk of functionality is highlighted in the online comments to the AdAge article: “[T]he redesign’s main purpose is to keep the Pepsi logo visible while someone is holding the bottle. Why does that matter? Because the ubiquity of camera phones and social media. They’re leveraging free advertising opportunities to ‘capture the excitement.'”

And, this matters too — from a trademark perspective — because if the “grip-able” portion of the bottle below the label is so designed for “gripping” and to render the label more visible, the specter of functionality begins to enter the storyline. So, it will remain to be seen whether the USPTO holds the “grip-able” part of the storyline against Pepsi’s attempt to secure non-traditional trademark ownership of the bottle shape on functionality grounds.

PTO Drawing

As you may recall, we’ve previously issued a few related warnings to those brand storytellers who have seemingly forgotten about the fragile nature of intellectual property:

So, what do you think, will Pepsi’s applied-for bottle design trademark fail on functionality grounds or will this story have a happier ending?

Brad VanAuken of The Blake Project and Branding Strategy Insider Blog wrote an interesting post about Branding Clichés And Hollow Claims:

“It seems that every good idea, every admirable quality, at some point gets overused and eventually becomes a cliché. Some qualities become so popular that every organization aspires to possess them or at least claim that they possess them.”

I like his recommended solution of letting your actions do the talking when the clichés come knocking:

“By all means, embrace them as a way of conducting your business and perhaps even as a point of difference. In support of this, even include them in your internal brand strategy documents. But, don’t integrate them into your taglines, elevator speeches or marketing campaign themelines. These are admirable qualities to possess so by all means strive to possess them, but don’t scream to the world that you possess them. Let your actions scream that for you.”

Of special interest to me is that “leader” made the top of his branding clichés list, a term we have dubbed, one of the L-words.

As you may recall, I wrote about Losing the L-Word — a year ago, almost to the day, in fact — a post inspired by attending an excellent Padilla Speer Beardsley program, called: “Thinking Local in EMEA: The Next Wave in European Program Execution.

Thanks again to Matt Kucharski for putting it all together and sharing some of his pearls of wisdom.

The Blake Project did a nice post yesterday on their Branding Strategy Insider blog, sharing insights about effective taglines that “communicate the brand’s ‘unique value proposition’ powerfully, succinctly, and memorably,” I’d encourage you to check it out, here.

I couldn’t help but notice there was only one fast food restaurant tagline on their list of “effective” taglines: KFC’s “Finger-licking-good” tagline; and on their list of “ineffective” ones, only one restaurant tagline appeared: Denny’s “A good place to sit and eat.” 

As you may recall, a couple of years back, I had quite a bit of fun with a variety of apparently “effective” fast food taglines, prompted by McDonald’s adoption and use of the “Who’s Your Patty?” tagline, already in use by a local hamburger joint in a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

And, last year, I had about as much fun juxtaposing a few different retail jewelry store taglines, here.

What I’m left wondering is, how effective can a tagline be, if it includes the brand name or house mark as part of the tagline?

Isn’t that cheating on creativity?

For what it’s worth, none of the “effective” taglines identified by The Blake Project included the brand name as part of the tagline, and one “ineffective” one did.