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Mergers and acquisitions dominating in the intellectual property arena

When Zimbabweans think of “Coca-Cola”, they often reminisce on playing checkers with coca-cola bottle tops and the consistent Christmas adverts telling them to “Taste the feeling”. Nike told us to “Just Do It” and even following the sweat shop scandal, we were still doing it. Lastly, what would a conversation on the importance of branding be without an honourable mention to the brand that told us to “Think Different”.

Indeed, marketing experts like Marc Gobe, author of “Emotional Branding”, argue that Apple’s success has nothing to do with products like iMac or iPod but rather its branding, stating “without the brand, Apple would be dead”. Perhaps that is why Apple has sold the same phone multiple times and still manages to get us excited for the next update which promises to be slightly thinner, just a tad faster with a barely better camera and we rally out, armoured in loyalty to buy it.

As stated by Kurt Badenhausen, senior editor at Forbes, in a May 2018  article, “only Apple, thanks to its hardcore fanbase, could get away with pricing a phone at $999 and proceed to sell 29 million of them in less than two months, as Apple did per Canalys research.” Evidently, it is no longer just about having a memorable logo but rather an emotive brand that represents the sum of people’s perception of a company’s customer service, reputation and advertising to such an extent that customers begin to buy into it from an emotional place. That is what increases the value of a business and can multiply its profit exponentially.

Increasingly, as companies realise the importance of branding, intellectual property (“IP”) law has gone from being a niche, to a necessity. Particularly in mergers and acquisitions (“M&A”) as it becomes clear that a successful brand is not made overnight therefore if you can’t make it, buy it. As stated by Marc Cloosterman, head of VIM Group, in a “Branding Strategy Insider” article, the importance of branding, “should be an incentive to immediately treat the brand as a strategic asset at the start of an acquisition”. He goes on to say that “Brand managers should be invited into the war room and they should demonstrate how a brand can be leveraged in a commercial and strategic way. In fact, brand awareness should be the warm blanket that covers the merger”.

With a wave of brand motivated mergers sweeping the United States, for example, Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods, Michael Kors buying Jimmy Choo, Meredith obtaining Time Inc. Zimbabwean businesses must invest in their marketing budgets and building their brands in order to attract strategic mergers or acquisitions particularly from abroad. Gone are the days of memorable advertising with jingles and catchphrases on ZBC TV. Whilst the economy may have presented challenges for Zimbabwean businesses to dedicate capital to brand marketing, social media has made money a non-factor. There certainly are some companies in Zimbabwe who are using social media technology and IP to bring band awareness however, job titles such as ‘social media marketer’ remain rare and are often seen as luxuries than necessities which may be indicative of opportunities missed. Per an article published on The Herald website in June 2018, the Zimbabwean Government has launched the Zimbabwe National Intellectual Property Policy and Implementation Strategy with the intention of spurring innovation and creativity in various sectors of the economy. Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister Ziyambi Ziyambi went on to urge universities to review traditional teaching conventions and modernise their knowledge bases to transfer knowledge for economic development. Evidently the importance of IP is beginning to show in legislation signalling progress. A strong brand leads to stronger IP rights and ultimately more leverage in M&A. There is undeniable value in creating strong local brands that can attract foreign investment and as a result boost the economy.