2021 Brand Resilience Conference: Practitioner Roadmap for Guiding Change
Published: August 18, 2021
The only constant in the world today is continual, rapid change.
At INTA’s 2021 Brand Resilience: Risk, Recovery, and the Future of the Brand Practitioner Conference (September 22‒23), brand professionals will confront this change head on and look at how to best adapt to the new world that we are all encountering.
The Conference co-chairs are Megan Bannigan (Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, USA) and Adraea Brown (H-D U.S.A. LLC, USA). Ms. Bannigan, a partner at Debevoise & Plimpton, is a member of the Brands for a Better Society Committee and chair of the Committee’s Promotions Subcommittee. In 2017, she received INTA’s Award for Advancement of Association Objectives for helping to develop and implement INTA’s Pro Bono Clearinghouse. Adraea Brown, assistant general counsel-trademarks at H-D U.S.A., is a member of the Commercialization of Brands Committee and the co-chair of its Global Brand Transactions and Due Diligence Subcommittee.
In an interview with the INTA Bulletin, they discuss why the Conference will take a dive deep into whether brands should address political and social issues and look at some of the other sessions on the agenda—as well as share how brands are evolving due to the pandemic, how brands have been affected by revolutionary technological changes, and how shifting priorities of consumers have changed the marketplace.
We are entering a new world that reflects learnings from a global pandemic, revolutionary technological changes, and shifting priorities of brands, their consumers, and their employees. How has the brand legal practice changed over the last 18 months?
Adraea Brown (AB): I don’t think it’s changed such that the work is drastically different, but it has evolved to cover the needs of the world today. Whether that’s expanding the brand to cover new products previously not thought about or abandoning an existing brand that’s been around for 50+ years in favor of one that is more culturally appropriate, the brand legal practice has adapted to meet the needs of the business, the customers it serves, and culture in which it exists.
Brands must adapt to evolving culture or risk getting left behind. Today’s culture is quite different than it was ten years ago, five years ago, or even two years ago. As brand practitioners, we must adapt the advice and guidance we provide to ensure continuity and brand strength in an ever-evolving world. In many ways, this is what we as brand practitioners have always done.
Our goal through all the sessions is to provide a toolkit for brand lawyers to face the unexpected and get through those times when they need to continue be resilient.—Megan Bannigan
Megan Bannigan (MB): The volatility of the last 18 months has certainly shaken up brands and caused a major change in all industries—and we haven’t seen the end of it yet. Our already digital world has become even more digital, with consumers more than ever looking to get what they want, when they want it through the click of a website or mobile app. As consumers spend even more time online, there has been a decline in some of the spontaneity that used to go into buying decisions. Brick and mortar stores have closed, and brands have had to quickly transform.
As this is happening, stakeholders are demanding more and more from their brands. They want to support and work for brands with moral consciences that care about the world they live in and focus on causes that are important to them. Trustworthiness, transparency, sustainability, and diversity, equity, and inclusion are among the core values that today’s consumers expect from the brands they support. Now more than ever it’s important for brands to express their values.
The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the world significantly. What are some of the most surprising challenges that you faced as a brand professional during this crisis, and how did you overcome them?
MB: We’d be remiss not to mention the transformation of working conditions and how they have impacted our lives. We all spent months facing the challenges of learning how to work from home. It was a challenge to engage our employees and keep them happy and connected in an environment where they can learn and excel. I found it was important to schedule one-on-one meetings to check in with each other.
We’re now seeing great results, including an influx of new flexible working policies and a focus on a more balanced work-home life. While these are exciting changes, they leave brands with questions about how to continue to build a cohesive working environment. It will be interesting to see how this develops and important to take steps in advance to stay resilient and make it workable for everyone.
AB: Working remotely and being away from colleagues and my team was a challenge that I didn’t expect to encounter. Apart from learning how to work remotely, I had to learn to work alone. There were no longer discussions that happened spontaneously in the cafeteria or in the hallway. While it made me feel a bit disconnected at first, my team and I embraced the challenge and technology we had and started connecting virtually.
The heart of brand resilience is adapting to new technologies.—Adraea Brown
We were collectively meeting more than we ever had in person. These conversations allowed us to grow closer and more connected even while being physically far away. This was especially helpful for team members who are outside the U.S. We’re a stronger, more connected team now than we were in January 2020.
Increasingly, consumers want brands to align with their values. There are risks—and rewards— involved in brands taking a stance on political and social issues and entering the public discourse around hot-button issues. Ms. Bannigan, you are moderating a panel on just this issue. What can registrants expect from the kick-off session on this topic?
MB: I’m so excited for our kick-off session that will address these issues. We’re going to talk about what happens when brands wade into more controversial topics, like politics, social justice reform, and other forms of protected expression. It’s important for brands to believe in the stand that they take, but, at the same time, to be prepared for any public backlash that might come.
We’re going to hear from Mars [Food] about its decision-making process to transform the UNCLE BEN’S rice brand to BEN’S ORIGINAL in the wake of social justice movements. We’re going to hear from PATAGONIA, an activist brand that most recently has taken a strong stand on protecting the right to vote. We’ll spend some time talking about the recent Satan Shoes case and when art and expression are protectable, even if it may invoke another’s trademark in a way that may be offensive to some.
One of the sessions at the Conference is on new digital assets and most notably, non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Why is this a must-have topic for brand legal professionals?
AB: The heart of brand resilience is adapting to new technologies. With that, it’s important to stay on top of developing assets such as NFTs to understand the potential benefit for your brand or be able to advise when a brand wants to go in that direction.
Admittedly, I’m looking forward to this session because the most I know about NFTs is what the acronym means. I’m sure there are others in my boat, so I invite people like me to come and learn more.
[The Conference Project Team] strived to add elements that were new and unique and would provide opportunities to network and meet others in a collaborative and worthwhile way.—Megan Bannigan
MB: For better or for worse, brand professionals accustomed to working with clients on the cutting edge must be prepared to handle questions regarding blockchain, cryptocurrencies, NFTs, and other digital assets. Brands are doing so many exciting things with these technologies and that is going to continue to evolve. Failing to understand the capabilities—and potential risks—will put you at a disadvantage, so we’re going to make sure to address these issues.
The Conference includes a workshop with an intriguing title of “The Adventure Begins….” What is this unique workshop all about?
MB: Our Project Team spent a lot of time brainstorming ways to make this Conference more than just another virtual conference. Since we can’t be fully together in person yet, we strived to add elements that were new and unique and would provide opportunities to network and meet others in a collaborative and worthwhile way.
The workshop is one of our plans to do so. We’re going to team up Conference registrants to work through a fun, relevant, and maybe even slightly controversial fact pattern. It will not only prepare brand professionals to face these issues in the future, but will provide some much needed, quality face-to-face time with others. We are really looking forward to it and encourage everyone to block out this time in their schedules.
As social issues continue to move to the forefront of the cultural conversation, “cancel culture” has fast emerged as an issue for individuals and brands alike. Ms. Brown, what do you think has led to a proliferation of “cancel culture,” and how should brands and brand practitioners respond to it?
AB: Consumers want brands to be aligned with their morals and beliefs. With widespread access to social media, consumers have a powerful platform to share their opinions and have a place for powerful protests. With this power, consumers are no longer willing to sit idly by. Consumers will stop their support of a brand and spark widespread protest designed to essentially eliminate the influence of that brand.
Agility and flexibility are strengths that many brand practitioners possess, but sometimes it just needs a little exercise to remain strong, and that’s exactly what we aim to provide.—Adraea Brown
The viral nature of cancel culture can make brands instantly want to shift positions or walk a very fine line to avoid cancel culture. While doing something quickly can feel like a must, I think it’s best for brands to be patient and let their brand ethos be their guiding star. I think one of the worst things a brand can do is to make quick choices to try to appease the cancellation crowd. These attempts will likely be seen as disingenuous and cause further damage. Brands should always endeavor to be authentic, regardless of the situation. I think that’s the best way to weather the storm. It’s important to note that it helps if your brand is on the right side of history as it relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion too.
“Agility” and “flexibility” are increasingly becoming buzzwords for businesses around the world. How will the Brand Resilience Conference help attendees adopt this mindset?
AB: It’s true that agility and flexibility are buzzwords being thrown around, and sometimes it can be a challenge to understand what these words mean when they’re said. The Brand Resilience Conference aims to provide opportunities to hear from brand owners about how they’ve adopted this mindset and what they’ve done to demonstrate agility and flexibility, but also to provide registrants with first-hand experiences to demonstrate agility and flexibility through workshop scenarios.
Agility and flexibility are strengths that many brand practitioners possess, but sometimes it just needs a little exercise to remain strong, and that’s exactly what we aim to provide.
MB: Our goal through all the sessions is to provide a toolkit for brand lawyers to face the unexpected and get through those times when they need to continue be resilient with the most ease and efficiency possible.
This Conference has been in the works for well over a year, during which our fantastic Project Team has taken note of everything their own brands have faced and have spent a ton of time building the most informative panels we could to address just these topics.
Register now for the 2021 Brand Resilience: Risk, Recovery, and the Future of the Brand Practitioner Conference.
Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of this article, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest.
© 2021 International Trademark Association
Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings.
If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.
This website uses Google Analytics to collect anonymous information such as the number of visitors to the site, and the most popular pages.
Keeping this cookie enabled helps us to improve our website.
Please enable Strictly Necessary Cookies first so that we can save your preferences!
This website uses the following additional cookies:
(List the cookies that you are using on the website here.)
Please enable Strictly Necessary Cookies first so that we can save your preferences!