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Guide to Intellectual Property: What is a Brand?

Intellectual Property

Throughout our “Guide to Intellectual Property” blog series, we’ve emphasized that the process of bringing an invention to life does not end with the development of the invention itself. Once an invention has been produced, it must be protected through the intellectual property (IP) system and promoted in the marketplace.

How can a new product or service make the greatest impact as it enters the marketplace? A brand can make all the difference.


What is a brand?

A brand is the collection of elements, both tangible and intangible, that make up the full identity of an organization and its offerings.

Tangible brand elements include:


  • Brand and product names
    Unique and memorable names can help a business make a positive impression from the start. For example, a brand name like Apple is instantly recognizable, and so are the names of this brand’s products, such as the iPhone.

  • Logos and symbols
    Show a preschool student the Golden Arches, and they are likely to know that symbol represents McDonald’s, even before they’ve learned to read that name. A distinctive logo can ensure immediate brand recognition, even when no other brand elements are present.

  • Color palettes
    As noted in our recent blog on trademarks, a company can trademark specific colors associated with its brand. John Deere has been using its familiar combination of green and yellow since as early as 1918, demonstrating how a company’s color palette can help it develop and maintain a successful brand image.

  • Messaging
    The most recognizable component of a brand’s messaging is its slogan. When you see the phrase “Just do it,” for instance, you likely think of Nike, even when you see that message out of context.

Intangible brand elements include:

  • Values
    The philosophy behind a brand can influence its mission, its positioning in the marketplace and the social causes with which it aligns, ultimately swaying consumers’ opinions about the brand.

  • Associations
    When you think of brands in the automotive industry, what associations come to mind? Subaru likely makes you think of the outdoors, while BMW connotes luxury. These associations are not accidental — they’ve been carefully curated by the brands in question.

  • Voice and tone
    Just as individuals have distinct voices and personalities, so do brands. In order to reach the right audiences in the right ways, a company must develop the appropriate brand voice and ensure its tone remains consistent through all brand communications.

  • Emotional connections
    It has been said that brands don’t sell products, they sell emotions. The most powerful element of any brand may very well be its ability to evoke specific feelings. For instance, few brands can tap into emotions like nostalgia and wonder as effectively as The Walt Disney Company. This brand thrives on building long-term connections that are passed on through generations like a treasured family tradition.

Though you might never have given much thought to what makes up a brand, you’re surrounded by these elements each day. Every product or service you use is attached to a brand, and each of those brands has its own look, voice and personality.


Why is it important for a business to build a strong brand?

The value of a brand lies in its ability to set a product or service apart from its competitors and make a memorable and appealing impression on consumers.

Strategic brand elements can allow an organization to establish and grow:

  • Visibility
    If you are introducing a product in a marketplace that is essentially a sea of competitors, the right logo, imagery and color palette can immediately help your product stand out from the crowd while setting the tone for what your audience can expect from your organization.

  • Credibility
    In addition to keeping your product from blending in, visual and written branding elements also tell consumers that you are running a legitimate business. Consumers expect cohesive branding components, and if they find a product lacking these, they are likely to assume that product is of poor quality. Your brand tells consumers they can believe in what you’re selling.

  • Affinity
    Once you’ve captured your audience’s attention, your brand can help you keep it. Distinctive, carefully crafted brand messaging can not only communicate key differentiators and benefits, but it can also help to build a personality designed to make an emotional connection with the audience that can grow and strengthen over time.

  • Loyalty
    Brand affinity, if nurtured effectively, will grow into brand loyalty. This means that your customers can reach a point where they’ve come to trust, enjoy and rely on your brand so much that they would rarely if ever consider trying a competing product or service offered by another brand. By making brand loyalty your goal, you can help ensure the sustainability of your business.


How does IP add value to a brand?

While a brand adds great value to a business, IP plays a significant role in creating and maintaining that value.

Not only should the products you’re offering be protected by patents and/or copyrights, but the branding elements used in promotion of your products, from your logo to your tagline, should also be trademarked. IP protection ensures that you own the rights to each of the ideas that make up your brand, and that these components cannot be copied or misused by anyone.

Learn more about topics related to IP by visiting the National Inventors Hall of Fame® blog and reading more of our “Guide to Intellectual Property” series.  

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