In today’s dynamic and global world, brands are generally recognized as a key asset for creating value for any business entity or corporation. Any business or enterprise, in the wide sense of that term, be it for-profit, not-for-profit, small, medium-sized or large, even a country or geographical region, can develop and use a brand image. There are enormous intellectual property benefits that accrue from using a brand name. Sadly though, a large number of businesses and enterprises pay so little attention to developing a brand and creating brand value for their goods and services. Perhaps many entrepreneurs do not yet understand or are not truly convinced that a brand image can be a powerful tool for promoting and marketing goods and services. Some may recognize its importance but prefer to focus their priorities elsewhere and devote the major part of their resources to other aspects of the business, such as research and development. Still others, especially entrepreneurs of small and medium-sized enterprises, may not know how to go about developing a brand image or perhaps erroneously believe that brand development is a privileged sphere reserved only for large, multinational enterprises whose business earnings and profits run into hundreds of thousand or even millions.

However, developing a brand image should not be left as a last priority, to be addressed only after a business is established and running or popular. To the contrary, a brand image should be developed in parallel to the business, and a branding strategy should constitute an integral part of any business plan. What is the use of making major investments into developing quality goods and services if the quality of the reputation in question cannot be captured and developed in the form of a brand image? It is through its brand image that an enterprise will attract and, more importantly, retain consumer loyalty for its goods and services and thus bring very real and concrete value to its business, whether it is large, small or medium-sized. In fact, developing a brand image is not an out-of-reach venture for small and medium-sized enterprises as is mostly the perception of many business owners/businesses. It does require time, effort and commitment and certainly some financial resources but not as much as might be expected and of course the gains far outweigh the initial financial obligations that are required in obtaining a brand name. Moreover, experience and knowledge of the market, a creative and flexible approach to problem solving, enthusiasm about one’s products or services, and the courage to take risks are just as important factors in developing a powerful brand image as these are common attributes of most successful small and medium-sized entrepreneurs.

The term ‘brand’ is sometimes used as a synonym for a trademark but in commercial circles the term ‘brand’ is frequently used in a much wider sense to refer to a combination of tangible and intangible elements, such as a trademark, design, logo and trade dress, and the concept, image and reputation which those elements transmit with respect to specified products and/or services. Many intellectual property experts consider the goods or services themselves as a component of the brand. This wider, more flexible, definition of “brand” is more useful as this means that any of the terms/elements mentioned above are all in one way or another, components of the term ‘brand’.

Strictly speaking, a brand is composed of the sum of its individual parts. The brand ultimately exists independently and its value is greater than the mere sum of those parts. In fact, the value of a brand is precisely the concrete and direct result of the synergy that is created among its component parts. The brand thus takes up a life of its own and leads us beyond the limited functions of such objects of intellectual property protection as a trademark or a design and the generic product or service differentiated and rendered more appealing by those objects of protection. The concept of a brand reminds us that creating and protecting a trademark or design is not an end in itself. These are only tools (albeit important ones) in the process of developing an effective brand image for one’s goods or services. It is the brand image as a whole, and not merely a trademark or design as a stand-alone element, that differentiates one’s goods and/or services from those of competitors, denotes a certain quality, and over the long term attracts and nourishes consumer loyalty.

To be successful, a brand must at least be clear, specific and credible in terms of its message, its differentiation power and the quality it symbolizes. It should also be attractive and appropriate in relation to the goods and services which the brand embodies. Among the various factors that determine a brand’s success, one of the most important one is the brand’s differentiation power. The brand must have a “point of difference” as far as the target group of consumers is concerned. Simply put, the consumers of a particular brand should be able to tell it apart from other brands because it is substantially different from others. This point of difference must be:
1. Recognizable (in terms of the good and/or services marketed);
2. Desirable (in terms of the quality and value of the goods and/or services offered);
3. Credible (in terms of reliability); and
4. Properly communicated (in terms of how the message is formulated and to whom it is targeted).

In today’s highly competitive global market place, with overwhelming selection of similar and frequently identical goods and services, if a brand cannot be differentiated and the goods and services it is meant to promote from those of the competition, then it is useless and thereby worthless. Inversely, the stronger the differentiation powers of a brand, the greater its effectiveness and therefore its value both for its owner and for consumers. Only a brand with a strong differentiation power can serve as a focal point around which to promote an enterprise’s products and services, develop their reputation and thereby attract and maintain consumer loyalty, the essential reasons for justifying the investment of time, money and effort required to develop a successful brand.

A successful branding policy should both anticipate and shape consumers needs and desires. Having adequate knowledge of the consumer or class of consumers is therefore a key to a brand’s success. A successful brand cannot be created, developed and maintained in a vacuum. Such a process must form part of an organic relationship or dialogue between the producer or service provider and the consumer. Good consumer research therefore constitutes a pre-condition of a successful branding strategy, but not the only one. Statistics, polls and graphs are certainly valuable indicators but so are the knowledge and understanding gained through personal contacts with customers and the experience accumulated in running the business. For this reason, a successful brand strategy is the result of a partnership of marketing experts together with management and ultimately employees at all levels and in all areas of the business.

Once the brand image is developed, the brand image must be communicated and certain expectations instilled in the mind of consumers. However, there is no use in developing expectations in the mind of consumers, if those expectations cannot be satisfied. To the contrary, if the consumer feels disappointed and let down, the brand image that is being projected may prove counterproductive and even destructive for the business. For this reason, it is essential that employees, at all levels of the organization (including high and mid-level management, staff of administrative departments and employees in direct contact with customers should all be involved in developing the brand image. Staff involvement is essential not only because it is important to tap into staff members’ experience and knowledge of the market, as already indicated, but also because staff must eventually implement the branding strategy. For this reason, employees must be genuinely convinced of the brand’s value, identify with the branding strategy, feel personally responsible for ensuring that the brand lives up to the expectations created and understand that the successful implementation of the branding strategy is in their personal interest as much as it is in the interest of the employer. Employee commitment to the brand is crucial. Without such commitment, even the best conceived branding strategy is doomed to failure.

Everything the enterprise and business communicates, produces and provides should reflect and reaffirm its brand image, consistently and repeatedly, both internally and externally. This is accomplished by encouraging and facilitating horizontal communications and cooperation within the company. Every sector of the company should understand the relevance of the brand to the corporate vision and to achieving and preserving marketing success, which in turn is in every sector’s and every employee’s interest.

Another crucial element in branding is the correlation or connection to intellectual property. In a broad sense, branding is or could be encapsulated in the trademark of a business or enterprise. This means that a trademark in all its intents and purposes is synonymous with branding. On the flip side however, branding within the context of the image of the enterprise or business might not fall under the purview of intellectual property. It then follows that generally speaking, there is a nexus between branding and intellectual property and where the brand of a business is violated or breached, an action in court might be sustained and successful.

Brand development and implementation is not static. It should be an on-going and continuous process. Just because a company has developed an effective brand image does not mean that the work is done. We live in an ever-changing world and it is elemental to ensure that the brand preserves its relevance and attractiveness for consumers. This requires constant re-evaluation of the market, the competition, and the shifting needs and desires of target consumer groups and then consequent readjustments and updating of the brand. Ultimately, there is no miracle formula to ensure a brand’s continuing success. However, a refusal or inability to continue to re-evaluate and adjust a brand to the changing realities of the market place is a sure formula for failure.

Sokombaa Alolade