21 Sep’18

Burberry Extinguishes Flames on Unsold Goods

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In a recent post I explored the luxury fashion industry practice of burning unsold goods. Proponents would argue that this is necessary to protect the brand equity these companies have spent billions building by preventing theft, discounted sale, etc. However, when this topic became mainstream, Burberry and its high-end competitors faced massive backlash from the general public and environmentalists specifically. Ironically, the measures taken to prevent damage to these brands is threatening to diminish their value in a very real way. As public perceptions shift, it is imperative that marketers and brand managers navigate these changes (ideally proactively) to ensure that their brand messages align with what consumers want. A representative example of a failure to do so can be seen with brands such as Marlboro. Once one of the world’s most valuable brands – ranked #9 by Interbrand and valued at over $24 billion in the year 2002 – Marlboro has since fallen out of the Interbrand top 100 global brands as the medical community’s and general public’s perception of tobacco products has shifted 180-degrees.

Undoubtedly, some high fashion companies will continue to burn millions of dollars in unsold goods, as this practice has proven itself “successful” to this point. Others, however, have chosen to tackle this problem head-on. According to a recent BBC article, Burberry has announced its intention to eliminate the practice entirely. In fact, the company has gone a step further and pledged to eliminate the use of animal furs in all of its products – a move that undeniably aims to better align Burberry’s brand image with an increasingly environmentally and socially conscious public mindset. In a recent post on Brand Extendibility, I looked at In-N-Out Burger’s efforts to mitigate a potential negative impact on its brand, which may have actually served to increase the company’s brand equity. Similarly in the case of Burberry, management has internalized the negative press surrounding its inventory furnace and taken the opportunity to shift the message in a way that may actually increase the value of the brand – currently ranked #86 and valued at just over $5 billion by Interbrand. In an industry where products don’t “[cover] the true cost of their manufacture in terms of the environmental costs and human rights costs,” Burberry is taking the initiative to build a brand that is associated with positive change and progressive thinking.

Full article here
13 Sep’18

Should Your Toothpaste Company Launch a Frozen Food Line? A Closer Look at Brand Extendibility

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Brand equity (often equated with brand value) is an all-encompassing measure of the benefits that a company receives from its brand as a result of its cumulative marketing and brand maintenance efforts. There are various valuation methodologies that attempt to assign a specific monetary value to a given brand which range from simple cash flow models to complex combinations of various rankings and analyses (such as the methodology used by Interbrand). In an article titled Brand Equity: An Overview published out of the University of Virginia, brand equity is said to encompass the following measures:

Brand Association: What triggers consumers to think of the brand and what comes to mind when they see the brand

Brand Vision: The way the brand presents itself and reflects the overall business strategy

Brand Positioning: How to brand positions itself in the target market relative to competitors

Brand Image: How consumers view the brand and what target personas the company wants to associate with the brand

Brand Awareness: A measure of how well consumers recognize the brand; on a scale from “Unaware” to “Top of Mind Awareness”

Brand Loyalty: How likely consumers are to switch between brands within the same product category

 Brand Extendibility: Potential to leverage the positive perceptions associated with the brand to new customers

Each one of these components of brand equity deserves to be explored at length; however, this piece will focus on exploring Brand Extendibility in further detail. As mentioned in a previous post, the direct monetary benefits that a well-constructed brand offers the company are traditionally boiled down to 2 main categories; the ability to charge premium prices, and diminishing marginal marketing costs as a company expands. Brand Extendibility is the main value driver of the second category. A company can introduce its brand to new customers in 1 of 2 ways. First, a company can launch a new product in a new product category. Modern tech companies are a great example of utilizing Brand Extendibility in this way. For example, Amazon has successfully launched products in the e-reader, virtual assistant, tablet, and smart TV product categories (among many others) all under the Amazon name which has become known for its highly efficient and customer centric image. The second method of brand introduction to new customers is extending to a different target market within the same product category. Proctor & Gamble has done an excellent job of this over the years. For example, P&G has extended the Tide brand to many different subcategories within the broader detergent category, and has extended its Crest brand to many different subcategories of the broader oral care category. Under both of these brand extension methodologies, a strong brand relieves the parent company of a great deal of marketing and other brand building expenses. Similar to the concept of economies of scale, where a company’s fixed costs become less significant as production of a product increases, Brand Extendibility reduces the significance of marketing costs as the brand extends to new products and customers.

It is important to remember, however, that a brand can be over extended. When this happens, the value of the brand can actually take a hit, as the intended messages and associations begin to get diluted (appropriately called “Brand Dilution”). Think Harley-Davidson Perfume, or Colgate Beef Lasagna. You can imagine the rugged image of Harley taking a hit as bottled fragrances hit the shelves, and Colgate’s association with freshness and cleanliness beginning to fade when depicted next to layers of marinara sauce in the frozen foods section. The lesson is not only to intelligently manage the brand internally, but also to develop restrictions on who licenses your brand and under what terms. Unfortunately, there are times when a brand extension is attempted without the company’s permission.

Such was the case with In-N-Out Burger, when a micro-brewery launched a new beer called the “Neapolitan Milkshake Stout” back in July. The Neapolitan Milkshake may be ubiquitous with the burger chain for some west coast residents, but the real problem was the proposed can design for the beer, which mimicked the In-N-Out soda cup design almost exactly and used a clear copy of the company’s logo bearing the text “In-N-Stout.” You can imagine the In-N-Out executives’ reaction to seeing their clean-cut brand being used to market what some would consider a vice. If this were a deliberate move made by In-N-Out burger to try and extend their brand to the adult beverage market, we would have to question the thought process behind the decision and wonder whether or not this would actually serve to damage the family-friendly brand. In this case, however, the release of the product was out of the company’s control, and thus, swift action was the only way to mitigate such potential damage to brand equity. Fortunately, In-N-Out’s legal team crafted arguably the perfect response; issuing a pun-filled cease and desist notice which has received a great deal of publicity to date. One could argue that this response and the press coverage that followed may have actually resulted in increased brand equity.

Surprisingly, this is not the sole case of a questionable brand extension into the beer arena. Back in 2015, breakfast cereal brand Wheaties teamed up with a micro-brewery in Minnesota to launch the “HefeWheaties” beer in an intentional brand extension effort. Whether or not this extension positively or negatively affected the Wheaties brand equity can be debated; however, the value-add of Brand Extendibility is clear. When a recognizable and respected brand is used in the marketing of a new product, the marketing team benefits from all past branding efforts and is relieved to a certain degree of expenses that they would normally have to incur in launching an entirely new brand. Imagine the relative expenses that Apple (the world’s most valuable brand) will undertake when it finally launches its rumored Apple Car, compared to the expenses that will arise when Wheaties inevitably launches its own electric vehicle.

Full article here
31 Jul’18

Preventing Brand Value from Going Up in Flames

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A brand can be one of a company’s most valuable assets. As written in a previous post, the value of a brand has the potential to cover millions of dollars in debt and fees during liquidation events, and can even represent values greater than 100% of a company’s publicly reported asset values.

Traditionally, the value that a brand (including all accompanying trademarks, copyrights, etc.) provides to a company can be boiled down to 2 main categories; ability to charge premium prices, and diminishing marginal marketing costs as a company expands. A strong brand can allow a business to charge premium prices for its products and/or services, above and beyond what a consumer would typically be willing to pay. The most obvious example of this branding power at play is with Apple. Fanatics (myself included) will argue that Apple products are superior to the competition in many different ways, which results in higher priced phones, computers, tablets etc. While superior product features certainly contribute to the company’s premium prices, it is undeniable that the brand – which has become synonymous with quality, design, and innovation – drives consumers to pay excessive prices.  The value of the Apple brand is on full display when looking at industry profit statistics. According to an Investor’s Business Daily article published in February of this year, Apple claimed 87% of total industry-wide smartphone profits while only accounting for 18% of unit sales in the previous quarter.

Given the immense value that a well-established brand can provide, it is unsurprising that many companies take extreme measures when it comes to protecting that asset. The traditional measures that companies take to protect their brand include setting strict internal regulations on how the brand is used, as well as air-tight restrictions on how the brand is used externally for brand representatives or licensees. A good example of these “traditional” brand protection efforts is the Louis Vuitton lawsuit against My Other Bag, claiming that the parody handbags dilute the “distinctive quality” of the Louis Vuitton trademarks. In fact, many companies actively police the use of their trademarks and copyrights by employing staff to search for instances where such use does not comply with their standards in an effort to intervene and avoid any lasting damage to the brand.

Aside from these traditional efforts, some companies take brand protection to the next level. According to a recent BBC article, luxury fashion retailer Burberry literally burned £28.6 million worth of clothes, accessories, and perfumes last year. In an effort to protect the Burberry brand from dilution via unwanted discount sales or theft, the company incinerates its excess stock in a specially designed furnace that captures the energy from the process for re-use (which does little to please the environmental proponents who oppose this process). Over the past 5 years, it is estimated that more that £90 million worth of Burberry goods have suffered the fate of the furnace – which gives us a pretty good understanding of just how highly the company values its brand. For further context, we can examine Burberry’s most recent Annual Report, dated June 6, 2018. The company reports roughly £19 million and £40 million in “Additions” to its “Intangible assets in the course of construction” over the last 2 years. From this, we gather that Burberry incinerates tangible goods for the sake of protecting its brand that are valued at amounts nearly equal to, if not greater than, the amount it spends on developing new intangible assets.

It is important to note that Burberry is not alone in the practice of destroying its unsold goods for the purpose of protecting its brand. Constant pressure from shareholders for expansion and production often pushes fashion companies to produce excess stock – presenting them with the choice between costly inventory repurchases (regularly followed by destruction) or running the risk of brand dilution and devaluation. The measures that these companies go to in order to protect their brand is a clear indication of just how valuable they are. Burberry and its peers watch tangible value go up in flames to secure the massive future cash flows made possible by their intangible assets.

Full article here
16 Jul’18

One Step Closer to Economic Justice: Commentary on WesternGeco LLC v. ION GeoPhysical

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The United States Supreme Court issued a 7-2 decision in WesternGeco LLC v. ION Geophysical Corp., regarding a patent owner’s ability to recover lost foreign profits for US patent infringement damages.  This ruling is a major blow to Parties seeking to evade US patent. It reinforces the strength of the US patent system by aligning foreign lost profit damages with the definition of infringement, which includes the act of supplying components of patented invention that were intended to be incorporated into a device in a manner than would trigger liability as an infringer, had the acts been committed in the US.  As stated by the Court: “The damages themselves are merely the means by which the statute achieves its end of remedying infringements, and the overseas events giving rise to the lost-profit damages here were merely incidental to the infringement.”

The Court’s opinion that the overseas events were merely incidental to the infringement is a common-sense approach that will prevent future bad-faith actors from leveraging the US patent system to their benefit, while at the same time seeking to shield themselves from its reach through the intentional act of exporting the infringement. When infringement can be proven, there necessarily must be infringement within the territorial reach of the US patent laws. The damaged party is allowed to recover damages, including lost profits, that are adequate to compensate for infringement and the Court has determined that the recovery of lost profits is not limited to domestic lost profits. The expansion of lost profits to include foreign lost profits enhances the ability of a patent owner to recover the appropriate amount damages that would make them whole, without artificially excluding foreign lost profit damages from the pool of available damages.  It’s economic justice.

** Foresight’s commentary to WesternGeco LLC v. ION Geophysical, along with the commentary of other industry leaders, was published by  IPWatchdog.

Full article here