The trademark strategies behind Switzerland’s most valuable brands

Chantal Koller, Managing Director – Trademarks at Novagraaf Switzerland, shares some of the approaches used by leading Swiss companies to achieve both brand dominance and market success.

Brand Finance’s annual report on Switzerland’s top 50 companies, released last month, provides a valuable reminder of how dominant many Swiss companies are on the world stage. While Nestlé remains the country’s most valuable brand (valued by Brand Finance at CHF18.9 billion), Rolex was revealed as its strongest (with a strength ranking of 89.3%) and TAG Heuer its fastest-growing, with a 55% bump in brand value since last year, making it the ‘brand to watch’ according to the report.

The strategies driving brand growth

While brand league tables can differ in the methodologies used to calculate the percentage of a business’s revenue contributed by the brand name and related assets, what is clear is that corporate success is now driven more by intangible assets, rather than tangible goods. If a business wishes to thrive, locally and/or globally, it needs to identify those assets and protect and export them as IP. The closer aligned the IP strategy is with the overall business strategy, the more likely it is to have a positive effect.

In the case of TAG Heuer, for example, the Brand Finance report directly attributes the company’s remarkable growth to the launch of a product strategy that builds upon the brand’s luxury expertise in the smartwatch sector, and to the introduction of significant online customisation options for buyers.

Likewise, Rolex, Switzerland’s strongest brand according to the report, has benefited from a highly regarded series of innovative product launches, which have focused on the company’s reputation for high quality and reliable devices.

Indeed, the watchmaking industry as whole stands out in the Brand Finance league table, with seven world-class watch brands featured in the top 50. What is it that Swiss companies are doing so well in this sector – and can it be replicated by other businesses and industries?

Getting started

Based on our experience working with such companies, there are clear lessons to be learned for other corporations looking to emulate their success. While the exact implementation strategy may vary by business or industry, the following is a useful step-by-step guide to getting started:

  • Step 1: Consolidate what you own – and where you hold it: Companies formed through merger or acquisition, or operated as subsidiaries, will invariably hold their IP records in multiple databases or with multiple suppliers. The benefits of consolidating IP data and processes in one central database cannot be overstated: in the short term, it removes duplication of effort, and boosts processes and cost efficiencies; in the longer term, it informs decision-making, budgeting and enforcement efforts. After all, if you don’t know what you own, how can you hope to exploit those assets?
    Where to begin: Start by examining where IP assets are currently held in your business (units/subsidiaries, etc) and in what form (IP management software/Excel spreadsheet, etc). How are the rights maintained? Who is responsible for acquiring/renewing those rights? Which third-party suppliers are involved? What are the advantages, disadvantages and hurdles to managing them centrally and/or on one system? How can they be overcome? While consolidating the management of IP rights centrally does require time and effort, it is possible to build an efficient solution that is fit for your business. We find that beginning with the key strategic questions outlined above is the best foundation for designing and implementing the right approach.
  • Step 2: Align your IP with your business and/or product strategy: We always recommend undertaking regular IP audits as part of any proactive IP strategy. Such audits can also help to deliver the brand clarity needed to support wider business or product strategies; for example, by identifying the key markets and main brands in terms of sales figures, market share and legal necessity (e.g. if counterfeiting is an issue). This insight also enables businesses to make informed choices when budgets need to be reduced or spending justified. Equally, it can identify gaps in coverage that may leave a business vulnerable in its core markets or geographies.
    Where to begin: We find that regular meetings between our attorneys and our client stakeholders help to efficiently build alignment between IP and business/strategy. Depending on the company, these meetings should include those responsible for the legal, marketing and product departments. By including such stakeholders and their business plans in the process, we can both deliver IP strategies that support a company’s overall business plan, and demonstrate how a well thought-out IP campaign can make all the difference to brand positioning, especially in industries where the value of IP is a key indicator.
  • Step 3: Make sure the IP data you hold is accurate and up-to-date: This is especially important where records have previously been held or maintained by different stakeholders, acquired companies or subsidiaries. If the chain of title hasn’t been sufficiently maintained or updated, you may find yourself unable to rely on that right when you need it most. The ability to be nimble and react promptly is crucial, not just when seeking to launch a new product, but also when looking to object to potentially infringing trademark applications or act against online counterfeiting.
    Where to begin: Taking the time to cleanse, update and rationalise your IP data can save you both time and money in the long run, as it will identify potentially costly errors in the records. To identify and rectify common errors, consider the following questions: Which entity is recorded as the owner? What is the status of the right? Is it in force? Are licences recorded against any rights? Are charges or other interests recorded against any rights? Do the registered rights match those used in the business? Are there any unregistered rights that should be protected? A prompt approach to IP record management forms part of sound IP portfolio management in general, and that means updating all changes to ownership records (whether assignments, name changes, mergers or address updates) in a timely manner, wherever possible.

In our experience, centralising, prioritising and checking IP assets in this way provides the foundation for companies to build success and longevity for their brands. For further insight, as well as tips and advice on implementing the three steps above, download our white paper: ‘Best practices in trademark management: a practical guide’.

Chantal Koller is Managing Director – Trademarks at Novagraaf Switzerland.

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