Developing a robust brand strategy – despite internal obstacles

In previous iterations of the Global Trademark Benchmarking Survey we have explored the departments from whom counsel would welcome increased support; for instance, last year we revealed that there appears to be a growing appetite among corporate trademark departments to collaborate more with the commercial/sales team (when asked which internal department they would welcome increased support from, 17% of respondents in 2018 cited the commercial team – equal to senior management).

However, while the burden of breaking down barriers to engage with other internal stakeholders often falls on the shoulders of the trademark team, corporate culture is shaped at the C-suite level. This year, we explored whether senior management is facilitating a brand-strategic culture.

A key finding in this year’s survey is that less than half of the companies surveyed (44.7%) discussed and set the organisation’s brand strategy at board level. As a result, while most companies (83.5%) had adopted a formal IP/trademark strategy, for almost half of respondents this was primarily for the IP team – only around one-third communicated the strategy across the company. In terms of internal IP training, in only one-fifth of instances was this conducted company-wide.

While this creates a clear obstacle to corporate awareness of the trademark function, it appears that teams are working hard to increase communication and training efforts with key stakeholders.

Positively, despite this, the fostering of IP awareness and delivery of the trademark message are occurring across the universe of companies that responded to the survey. Four-fifths of corporate teams reported that they have a brand manual in place. While this is mostly used internally (65.1%), just under 15% stated that it is published publicly.

Where the policy is communicated to the public, posting information on the company website (64.4%) or in the annual report (31%) is the most common means of doing so.

Is your company’s brand/trademark strategy discussed or decided at board level?

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Has your company adopted a formal IP/trademark strategy?

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Which internal department would you say is the trademark department’s main business partner?

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Does your company conduct internal IP training?

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Does your company have a brand/trademark manual?

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In terms of internally communicating the policy, the go-to tools are the company intranet and internal presentations. In addition, 95% stated that they conducted internal training. For three-quarters of respondents, this is with select teams and functions, with marketing likely to be top of the list. When asked which internal department was the team’s main business partner, 71% identified the marketing function.

Less positively, just 7% pointed to ‘design/product development’ – suggesting that in too many instances trademark counsel are plugged into the product pipeline relatively late in the development process, rather than at the earlier stages when they can more effectively guide naming and protection strategies.

Ultimately, this comes down to C-suite support. Were senior management to ensure that the trademark team was fully plugged in across the enterprise and empower it to make a wider contribution, they would undoubtedly derive more value from their investment in the legal function.

So what is holding them back? It has long been felt that patents – which are more expensive to acquire and can be more easily traced to profitability/revenues – have an edge over trademarks in terms of attracting attention from senior management. Too often the trademark team is seen as a cost centre, while patents and R&D serve as profit centres. In short, it is still too often the case that companies do not fully appreciate the value of the brands on which they have built their business and use to extend market reach for their products. This suspicion is backed up by the finding that less than one-third of responding companies had had their brands valued by a valuation firm. While an additional 17% said that their company was considering a valuation exercise, more than half (53%) were not.

Such a project would effectively communicate the dollar value of that key corporate asset – the brand – in language that the C-suite understands. However, to secure the funds required to obtain a valuation, counsel must win over the same senior management colleagues that the project is designed to inform. It is the classic Catch 22.

Across your entire organisation, how would you rate the level of awareness of the importance and value of the company’s trademarks?

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Have you had your brands valued by a valuation firm?

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In general, what are your company’s trademarks registered in the name of?

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How do you communicate your company’s trademark/brand protection policies internally?

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How do you communicate your company’s trademark/brand protection policies externally?

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