The question arose, almost by accident, during a meeting with a young faculty member at the business school. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss her research on branding issues connected to the luxury goods business. No secluded ivory tower academic, this faculty member had worked in the branding department of a major luxury brands company before joining the faculty. The combination was particularly intriguing for me.
And I was not disappointed. For over 45 minutes, I listened to an exposition on luxury brands, brand image, brand experience, all set against the backdrop of customer psychology and the broader socio-psychological context. No field within the social sciences was neglected, with equal amounts of psychology, sociology and anthropology laced within the analysis, and even a bit of economics was considered. The scope of the research and the reach of the analysis were genuinely impressive.
No area, seemingly, had been neglected in the analysis, save one--trademarks. Except for a cursory mention of trademarks as enabling the product to be easily identified, the scholar had simply made no reference to trademarks. When I attempted to ask a pointed question about how trademarks fit into the analysis, I was given short and laconic response, to the effect that "of course the brand owner needed to make sure that no one was "trespassing" on its mark." That having been said, the discussion reverted immediately back to the "real" branding issues that so occupied this genuinely impressive young scholar.
I should have not been surprised by this state of affairs. After all, wasn't it less than a year ago that I had given a talk on brand valuation and had innocently asked a member of the trademark department of a leading entertainment company the nature of the involvement of her department in connection with brand valuation activities by her company. The answer was simple and short: "We are never involved in brand valuation." If the people involved in brand valuation are separate and distinct from those who register and protect trademarks, why should I have been surprised that trademarks play almost no role within the context of world class research on branding. Trademarks and branding appear to be two distinct worlds.
However, this separation between trademarks and branding is less clearly evident within the INTA context. There, the corporate members of the organization are usually referred to as "brand owners", rather than what I would have more naturally expected, namely "trademark owners." This is conceptually odd. After all, within the INTA context, set against these brand owners are myself and thousands more like me, namely, "the lawyers", who typically don't interact with the brand manager but rather with the trademark department of the company. While I don't have any hard data, I suspect that company delegates at INTA come from the trademark rather than the brand management, department.