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September - 2008 - issue > Profiles in Innovation
Effective Branding
Ash Tankha
Monday, September 1, 2008
The IT Sector Branding evolved in the fast moving consumer goods industries, where substantial profits accrue when the consumer can identify himself with the source or origin of the goods. Branding in the service industry took a different path, where the service delivered was not tangible. As such, the focus shifted to the brand itself, which encompasses much more than just the product.

One usually thinks of branding in the context of consumers. In the IT sector, we have a B2B context. The environment is different, but the goals are the same. A successful company must be easily recognized by its customers and must have a good reputation. “IntelliNet offers telecom software products and services to the world’s leading telecom equipment vendors. Our track record is our calling card,” says Anjan Ghosal, CEO, IntelliNet
Brands are now treated as strategic assets in their own right by many firms, and brand valuation is a rapidly emerging business. As technology became commoditized, it became harder and harder for the consumer to distinguish between brands as well as for brands that position themselves based on technology. The accelerating and turbulent nature of technological change poses problems for those trying to establish, develop, and manage their brands. The technology-based companies are faced with perpetual change, and on the surface this appears to go against the very basics of branding, which includes consistency of the quality or goods or services marketed under the brand name. So, one of the dilemmas for tech companies is how to balance the two. The cautious nature of consumer decision-making with regard to technology products is a big challenge. A good brand will help overcome these problems by the virtue of trust and a reliable track record which in turn are the elements to good brand building.

Branding is extremely important in the light of today’s economic conditions, when IT budgets are being squeezed even further. It’s important to build and establish a brand that communicates strong value (quality, customer satisfaction, safety, etc.), no matter the product price point. “Taking a look at the name ‘Solidcore’ we wanted to leave no doubt about the integrity of the products. ‘Solid’ conveys a message of bulletproof engineering, and ‘core’ shows we are focused on the essential elements of the IT infrastructure and those at the heart of improving IT operations and security,” elucidates Rosen Sharma, Founder and CTO, Solidcore.

Technology companies are venturing into branding in a significant way. As if product proliferation and life cycle decompression were not enough, technology companies now find themselves surrounded by collapsing market boundaries, driven by the convergence of technologies. Companies can leap industries by simply acquiring the necessary technology, and where companies thought they understood the nature of the competition, they can be astonished by how quickly things can change. For IT services players, brand has become an important issue, services players rely on intangibles like people, trust, ideas, and solutions - not the hard, perceivable facts inherent in products and boxes. Because services are intangible, the question of who to buy from is a more and emotive and irrational criterion than if they are buying a product.

“Technology purchases are more than just the purchase of a good – they are the beginning of a relationship between the customer and the vendor. This interconnectedness means that the customer is implicitly assuming that the vendor will continue to perform well over the years, will continue to keep its products relevant, and will step in and address issues quickly. A lot of this cannot be spelled out in a contract. The customer must rely on the vendor’s reputation, their ‘brand’ – they are betting that the vendor values their brand and will go to great lengths to protect it and keep it strong,” says Jai Shekhawat, CEO, Fieldglass.

Recommending a services company is an outcome of satisfaction and is intrinsically attributed to having some attachment to the company. Without a constantly monitored and solid brand, service players may not even get their foot at the door for extended business opportunities. Unfortunately, not all services companies have the luxury of constant brand building and monitoring. In a slowdown, companies cut discretionary spending that would help them in maintaining a strong brand. Sometimes they focus only on the short-term. Brand and reputation management are critical skill sets that technology and services companies need to have. For companies with a vision, brand building is the future of marketing.

“Customers simply don’t buy; they buy because they value something. Branding always is present at the back of the mind during innovation. Innovation gets customers, and brand building requires continued service and dedication to keep the brand moving. We at INSZoom cater technology only to Immigration compliance and Mobility. When the prospect or customer hears about INSZoom, they think of Immigration and Mobility. We let go many opportunities to adhere to these branding principles, which results in a long term gain,” explains Umesh Vaidyamath, CEO, INSZoom.

For any business, brand equity is a source of cash flow, lower cost of sales, lower cost of capital, higher market valuation, and durable corporate wealth. Powerful brands produce repeat purchases and competitive platforms for higher market impact. For research and other internal innovators, brand equity is a source of greater funding, lower cost of funding campaigns, and ability to hire top talent. Profitable collaborations, greater visibility outside the parent organization, and more effective outreach in terms of being able to penetrate international barriers for an expansion are some of the payoffs of good brands. It also enables stronger partner loyalty, better negotiating position during a deal or trade and the ability of the firm to generate competitive platforms for market impact. Brands develop around trust, and around commitments made and kept -.the core of trust essential to any relationship. Businesses today carefully craft their core values and then state them visibly and audibly through a name and a logo or slogans or USPs to connect a brand to their service or product.

“Once the value proposition is clear in the eyes of the customer, the brand must aspire to something loftier - trust, reliability, innovation – to separate it from other competitors. Lastly, brands, like reputations, are the result of hundreds of small actions. Once damaged, they can be hard to rebuild,” clarifies Jai Shekhawat, CEO, Fieldglass.

Protecting Brands
Establishing a strong brand as a pivot to business success is essential. Protecting that brand is equally important. Enterprises, in their drive to stay ahead of competition in the market place, strive to retain distinctiveness and quality in their products and services so that a discerning customer is repeatedly drawn to them in preference to their competitors. Another area of global concern has been rampant counterfeiting creating confusion that results in loss of sale and profits to genuine producers. The small and medium sized businesses get hit most hard, as they do not necessarily have adequate resources and infrastructure to deal with such predicaments. Yet many small businesses overlook this important first step in securing their brand.

A trademark is any unique word, symbol, or name used to identify and distinguish the goods and services of one company from that of another. The creation of a distinctive brand image of the product or a service involves judicious use of the Intellectual Property Rights tools that help to nourish a brand image and extend the products’ life cycle. They also provide a basis for international expansion of the business, supported by legal protection, for licensing, franchising, acting as a buffer to survive market or product pressures, and also allowing to lower the cost of brand extensions. Brand equity is protected by filing and obtaining trademark(s) for the goods or services marketed. Several related products with or without individual trademarks may get clubbed together under a common brand. Initially, many companies make a beginning with a trademark for single product or for a group of products.

“Intellectual property is at the heart of any good business, and it must be secured and guarded. We have filed a number of patents around our technology and will continue to protect our innovations. We also have great industry partnerships, and for an organization like Solidcore, it is important to continually leverage the value of working with these industry leaders. We need to protect the value that our investors have allowed us to develop through the use of patent filing, trademark, and copyright protection,” says Rosen Sharma, Founder and CTO, Solidcore.

“We trademark our brand names and we recently acquired a number of patents when we purchased Azaire Networks. We intend to build on that patent portfolio as a means of building our reputation as well as the value of the company,” explains Anjan Ghosal.

When these products become popular and the trademark becomes well known and used, these companies begin to ride on the reputation of their trademark, leading to the creation of a brand. The trademark remains valid over time so long as it is renewed and or used, whereas ‘brand’ is a marketing concept and the brand profile or positioning may vary over time.

“Fieldglass uses its trademarks in the protection of its products and processes and also utilizes other forms of intellectual property protection such as trade secret and copyright protection, but does not currently patent its software or business methods,” says Jai Shekhawat, CEO, Fieldglass.

The author is US Patent Attorney, Gosakan and Santosh Ravindranath patent service providers. They can be contacted at ash@ipprocure.com or through www.ipprocure.com.

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