Branding conference logoThe driving force behind a recent conference bringing Government, brand companies and key influencers together, was John Noble, Director of the British Brands Group. The event’s raison d’être was to involve a diverse group of 100+ key influencers, to listen to significant names behind brand creation, to brainstorm and to advise Government on whether the UK could be a better place in which to build brands.  “I see this conference as a defining event in making sure branding, and its place in the UK economy, begins to be recognised as the significant force that it is”, said John Noble.

Using an “iceberg” analogy for successful brands, conference Chair Rita Clifton of Interbrand claimed that “Most brand tangible benefits lie under the “sealine.” citing one of the world’s most successful investors in history, Warren Buffet, who rates “The Brand” as the first in his top three priorities in which to invest, followed by people – and surprisingly in third place, finance. The UK spends £32 billion on building brands and Clifton emphasised the compelling onus on Government to protect this investment from counterfeiting and free-riding.

Outlining his objectives of the day, conference host The Rt. Hon David Lammy, Minister for Intellectual Property said, “I want to establish a place for a branding policy within Government. It is important not only for the UK to emerge from recession but by recognising branding’s contribution to the UK economy; brands have and will play a significant role.  Underpinning new thinking will be the results of the workshops to distil ideas and possible action points which I will consider to influence future policy decisions. Government’s priority will be to establish clear ”next steps” to maximise benefit from UK’s established brands and encourage development of new and emerging brands.”

Pharmaceutical brands were represented by James Hallet of GlaxoSmithKline consumer healthcare division whose simple  decision-making process for acquiring a new brand is, “Can we manage the brand better?” By identifying the importance of brand credentials offering choice, trust, differentiation and innovation as the clear benchmarks, Hallet said, “There is a huge role for Government to recognise the importance of brands to the UK economy, intellectual property being critical to brand success. This is a golden opportunity for the Treasury to harness and develop a creative fiscal change and approach to tax advantages.”

According to Professor Christine Greenhalgh of Oxford University, brands and brand building provided employment for 1 million in the UK. Out of 2,240,000 UK companies trading by size in 2005, the proportions of those who used the registered system were large firms 5.4% SMEs 4.8% and Micro firms 0.8%. It is fair to say that within any five year period around 95% of SMEs and larger firms and 99% of Micro firms do not apply to use the registered IP system. In total this represents approx 3.6% of UK businesses. (A micro enterprise is up to 10 employees, an SME is up to 250 employees). Since 1996 the Community Trade Mark has become increasingly popular with the UK lying 2nd in Europe with 65,930 registtations, behind Germany with 91,196.

The man behind global brands such as Audi, Vodafone, BA and Johnnie Walker, Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s Nick Kendal said his brand message was simple, “Excellence created by a combination of ideas and strategy” though the BRIC countries posed a real ongoing threat to western brands fuelled by cost reduction and ease of access through digitisation.

Relatively new brands ‘kid on the block’ Richard Reed of Innocent emphasised the importance of defining the vision for the brand and the effective connection between the brand and the end user. He cited brand gurus like Richard Branson as having paved the way to raise awareness about the significance of successful brands and the entrepreneurship that underpins all successful names. Innocent’s Reed tried more than 20 times to raise initial start-up funds and his key message to Government was, “Unlock the door to funding availability, simplify it and make it more accessible”.

Finally Simon Anholt, whose claim to brand fame lies in the tricky and diplomatic job of advising Governments on country branding, said, “Brands sit squarely in the minds of the consumer and in the context of brand messages”. And Anholt’s message to the UK Government? “The UK brand is outdated, we used to be a nation of shopkeepers, now we are a nation of creative entrepreneurs. Where are the foot soldiers? The UK should be known by its brands – it is a vector of national identity and we are missing a trick!”

Rounding up the event was the new Director of Trade Marks and Design, Andrew Layton, whose words ignited a beacon of hope for those who feel that the UK Government has sidelined the importance of brands to the UK economy. Layton admitted that whilst preparing for the conference, he googled “Government Policy on Branding” and found nothing! Not a surprise to the more cynical amongst us, but he reinforced that now is the time to match policy with business needs to emerge through recession into an improved and changed global market competitiveness through UK brands.

ACID CEO Dids Macdonald said, “There needs to be a much more robust framework for regulation and enforcement, something I believe the UKIPO has thus far sidelined. I hope that the UKIPO will look seriously at improving the Civil Justice system and act positively on recommendations from the recent Jackson Review.” Heartening for organisations such as the British Brands Group, representing UK brand owners, was Layton’s, “Commitment to press for a review on the issue of look alike packaging in line with Gowers’ recommendation.” At last, through Andrew Layton on behalf of the Government, there has been a public commitment regarding the importance of brands to listen, understand, consider and act – hallelujah!

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