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Securing your brand

Updated Thursday, 2nd February 2006

How do you build value into a brand? More to the point, how do you preserve that value?

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Branded iron: Margaret Thatcher and the 1997 Tory team

A brand may be defined as:

an identifiable product, service, person or place, with relevant added values that match the buyer’s or user’s perception of their needs

To develop a brand takes time and money and is in effect an investment, which if properly managed should produce healthy rewards.

Unfortunately, some organisations do not take a sufficiently long-term view about brand building and, because they do not achieve rewards early on, cut back on investment.

In fact, in some markets where there are retailers with strong own labels some manufacturers have taken this short-term view, been disappointed by poor returns, and become an own-label supplier! United Biscuits is an example of a brand that floundered because it focused on financial strategy instead of brand investment.

An important term in the definition of a brand is identifiable. Of the many roles brands play, one is rapid recognition. The reason for seeing brands as being effective recognition (and therefore differentiating) devices arises in part because of the confusion with the term trademark.

A trademark is a name, a sign or a symbol used to distinguish the products or services of an enterprise from those of others. This could consist of:

  • words (e.g. Kodak)
  • letters (e.g. IBM)
  • numbers (e.g. No. 5)
  • symbols (e.g. the ‘golden arches’ of McDonald’s)
  • signatures (e.g. Ford)
  • shapes (e.g. the triangular shape of Toblerone chocolate)

What differentiates a brand from a trademark is the presence of added values.


Brands can be based around products, as exemplified by Coca-Cola, which has been estimated as one of the most valuable global brands. Services organisations are awakening to the importance of brands and seeking to learn from the experience of product marketers. They are succeeding by adding value to the consumption experience.

Examples include British Airways striving for a seamless service in their global alliances; American Express with their emphasis on global service; and First Direct, which deliberately recruited staff who believed in delighting customers and launched the first all-telephone banking service in the UK.

Brands have also been built around people. For example, in the UK Saatchi & Saatchi contributed to a Conservative Party election win through the projection of Margaret Thatcher as a brand. This ‘iron lady’ had a clear set of values which were projected as representing the values of her political party. It is now increasingly common to see politicians, pop stars, company chairpersons and entertainers being groomed by advisers to ensure their success as brands.

Places such as cities and countries are being developed as brands. During the 1990s, Catalonia capitalised on hosting the Olympics and used this as an opportunity to try to position itself as the cultural museum of Europe. Similarly, Egypt used the year 2000 to position itself as the ‘cradle of civilisation’.

Each town or country attracts people with core values common to that location, enabling them to make lifestyle statements. The challenge when branding locations is to identify these unique values, then develop a coherent strategy that can be used by all the organisations in the locale. These include such diverse groups as:

  • government agencies
  • environmental groups
  • chambers of commerce
  • trade associations
  • civic groups

so the task of co-ordinating a coherent approach is significant.


Brand naming can take several forms. The company’s name can serve as the brand’s name (like Canon), provide strong endorsement of the brand (for example Microsoft Office) or provide weak endorsement of the brand (for example Nestlé KitKat).

Alternatively, the brand may have an individual name, completely separate from that of the company. For example, Whiskas cat food is produced by Mars Incorporated.


Choices interactive, how green is your journey, competing brands, BA, Virgin, rhs Added value
To move from a commodity to a brand, the core offering needs to be augmented with added values. These are the extra functional or emotional benefits that differentiate the organisation’s brand from the core commodity or other competitors’ brands. For example, Rolls-Royce’s added values might include its 24-hour service support (a functional added value) or the confidence it inspires in its customers (an emotional added value).


Our definition of a brand talks about relevant added values. Some organisations have devised added values that are more relevant to their managers than their consumers. We knew a Sales Director from a firm manufacturing kitchen kits who argued that his brand had the added value of quality. When probed about what he meant by ‘quality’, he explained that when the flat packs were dropped from a height of five metres they did not break. The problem is consumers do not consider quality in this way!

Brand values
Values are an important ingredient of a brand because they drive behaviour. Whereas added value is about offering something extra to differentiate a brand from competitors, a brand’s values effectively say ‘This is what we believe in and this is how we think our business should be run’. For example, Rolls-Royce’s brand values are reliability, integrity and innovation. Identifying a set of values that are to characterise a brand helps staff to understand how they should behave and helps customers better appreciate the brand promise.

In the case of services, where the staff are the brand, by understanding their brand’s values staff have a better feel for the types of behaviour they should adopt.

For example, Virgin Atlantic’s values are:

  • fun
  • value for money
  • sense of challenge
  • innovation
  • quality

By contrast, British Airways’ values encompass:

  • safe and secure
  • responsible and honest
  • innovative
  • team spirit
  • global and caring


One has only to see the cabin crew on these two airlines to recognise how different clusters of brand values result in different types of staff behaviour.

Brand values offer an opportunity for brand differentiation and attract people whose values match those being projected by their chosen brand. These people are employees who are proud to align themselves with these values, as well as consumers. A brand with a clear set of values is particularly welcomed by some groups of consumers because it enables them to make symbolic, non-verbal statements about themselves. For example, having an account with the Co-operative Bank in the UK, which has a policy of ethical banking, enables customers to portray something about themselves.

Thus values are critically important in brand building. With corporate branding, where the company name is the brand name, there clearly must be similarity between the brand’s and the organisation’s values. With line branding, where the product or service has a different brand name from the organisation, there may be some difference between the brand’s and the organisation’s values.

Protection against brand counterfeiting
It is important to take legal actions to register a brand, so that competitors who develop counterfeit brands can be prosecuted. However, while legal protection is a strong barrier, a more sustainable barrier is from the emotional values of the brand, driven by the culture of the organisation.

To reduce the scope for counterfeiters, the brand team needs to consider investing in registering their trademarks, employing firms to track down copiers and devising more sophisticated packaging and batch-numbering processes. While these will deter counterfeiters, the more creative ones will continue to find ways of circumventing these barriers!

A balance needs to be struck between the distinctiveness of the brand name and the extent to which it describes the goods. The more descriptive the name, the more difficult it is to register. PaperMate launched an erasable ball-point pen, branded Replay, which suggested the rational benefit, yet wasn’t so descriptive that it couldn’t be registered.

To ensure their brand name is not being infringed, some firms employ staff to monitor retail activities. For example, Coca-Cola staff visit outlets, order their brand without identifying themselves, and samples are sent for chemical analysis. If it transpires the outlet was not selling Coca-Cola, it is asked to refrain from such activity or face legal action.

Some firms invest in packaging to deter counterfeiters. For example, Glaxo printed holograms on its packets of the anti-ulcer drug Zantac. In some markets, such as car parts, it is much more difficult to apply such security devices.

Counterfeiters will always try to copy major profitable brands, making use of their value added qualities. Services are obviously far more difficult to copy than products. However it is essential for all major brands, whether service or product, to take positive steps to protect themselves.

About this article

This article is taken from the Open University Business School course Marketing in a Complex World (B825).


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