Who Owns Your Brand? Not You

One of my favorite quotes about brands comes from John Stuart, former chairman of Quaker Oats. He said "If this business were to be split up, I would be glad to take the brands, trademarks and goodwill and you could have all the bricks and mortar - and I would fare better than you." In other words, the really valuable asset that is owned is the brand. I share this quote with students in my Promotion class early in the course to make a point about the importance of brands. After all, that is what we are "promoting" when using promotion tactics- building a brand by attempting to create awareness, build associations, achieve preference, or influence purchase. 

It's Not Yours
John Stuart's legendary quote about the power of brands is poignant, but unfortunately it is misguided. His statement suggests the marketer owns the brands. Of course, the firm has legal rights to using the brand's name and marks. But, who really owns the brand? The world around you, namely your customers and product users. One dimension of a brand is that it is an image, which is a collection of perceptions. Where do those perceptions reside? In the minds of customers and others. Another dimension of a brand is that it is an experience, an interactive consumption engagement. Who is the central figure? The customer, without whom there is no experience. Finally, a brand is also a relationship- no customers, no relationships, and no brand. So, three out of four dimensions of a brand (image, experience,and relationship) are customer owned.  If you don't believe me, just ask the marketers responsible for Nutella.

Nutella Knows... Now
Nutella has been sold in the United States for more than 25 years. The hazelnut spread enjoys a committed fan community. Two Americans living in Italy, Sara Rosso and MichelleFabio, created World Nutella Day, a website that celebrates the product that they love. On February 5 of this year, the 7th annual World Nutella Day was observed. However, the future of World Nutella Day was uncertain when Rosso and Fabio received a letter from Ferrero, Nutella's corporate owner, demanding they cease and desist use of the Nutella brand assets. Rosso took to her blog to let the Nutella fan community know about the action. Response was swift and condemning of Ferrero's stance. The company backpedaled and said that after reaching out to Rosso a "positive conclusion" was reached. The company's explanation for the threat of legal action was that "the case arose from a routine brand defense procedure..." triggered by alleged misuse of the Nutella brand on the World Nutella Day site. The legal explanation did not necessarily win over Nutella lovers, but the legal department was doing what it is charged with managing- the one dimension of the brand that Ferrero actually owns.

As one reads the events that unfolded in this situation the immediate thought is how many brands would love to have advocates so passionate that they start websites and create brand holidays? Nutella is fortunate to have built a passionate brand community (World Nutella Day has more than 40,000 likes on Facebook). You may own the legal rights to your brand, but understand your territorial dominance ends there. Customers, the community, and others interacting with your brand own the rest of it. This external domination of your brand is why it is crucial to be involved in building community. You do not have to own it, just as World Nutella Day is not corporately owned. But, you want to be an engaged member- it is your brand, after all (sort of). 

Ad Age - Nutella Day Likely to Survive Unscathed

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