The most visible and recognizable intangible asset for a firm is its brand. A brand contains legal protections that trigger value. But knowing how to quantify the latter in view of the former can be perplexing to even the most experienced valuation professional.
According to intellectual property valuation expert Mike Pellegrino (Pellegrino & Associates), author of BVR’s Guide on Intellectual Property Valuation, there are some fundamental, underlying legal rights that provide brands monopoly protection and, ultimately, their value.
A trademark, which is a protection on a brand, slogan, or logo, is generally the most valuable type of intellectual property (IP) because there is no statutory life associated with a trademark. If you maintain a trademark and continue to use it in the classes for which it is registered, you will just have to go through a registration process every 10 years to maintain it. And, as long as you do that, you will have perpetual ownership of that mark for the particular goods and services to which it applies. That perpetual life gives it a very long runway of economic-value creation opportunity that you do not get with some of the other assets.
Trademarks and brands can create value for otherwise commodity products. For example, diamonds sold by Tiffany are made of the same substance—carbon—as diamonds sold by other stores. While a Tiffany diamond may cost quite a bit more, the price it commands does not necessarily relate to the intrinsic value of the asset, but there is a brand associated with that. A trademark creates value in several ways:
- Reduced consumer search costs. By making it easier and quicker for consumers to buy a company’s product or service, the trademark reduces customer-acquisition costs on the part of that company.
- Increased market penetration. Thanks to its brand, a company might be able to get greater market penetration, so its market share becomes disproportionately higher than its competitor’s, even if the pricing is the same.
- Lowered sales and marketing expenditures. Let’s say two companies have competing products that cost the same and the companies have the same market share. If one company can get its product or service into the consumer’s hands for less cost than the consumer would otherwise have to spend because of that brand, then that is a value source.
- Reduced risk of failure. You might have a greater chance of success or a reduced risk of failure, and that has a value-creating aspect. Why? Because it changes the risk profile associated with the investment, and that will ultimately affect the discount rate.
- Increased revenue per unit. Through incremental revenues, the “brand” company can get a higher revenue per unit for a particular product or service. Table salt is nothing more than sodium chloride, but Morton Salt, for example, gets an 18% premium at a local grocer for its product. If you did a blind taste test on Morton Salt versus your local grocery store’s brand, you would probably find that they are indistinguishable.
Value can be fleeting
A disadvantage of trademarks and brands is that they can lose value instantly, especially in today’s connected world. Social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook can disseminate information very efficiently. The bad news is that it is not always correct information. Even more, it may impair the trademark, even though the information might be incorrect.
For example, several years ago, a law firm issued a class-action suit against Yum! Brands (which owns KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell), making such claims as Yum products did not contain meat and had filler materials in them. This made a lot of splash in the headlines and the media, and people stopped buying this brand’s products for a while. Eventually, the lawsuit was dropped because independent scientific analysis showed that the product was composed primarily of meat—in fact, 88%—and that the rest was made up of seasonings. The basis for the lawsuit was basically unfounded but it still did damage to Yum in that case, even though there was not much mention of the suit in the press. Some brands might never recover.
To quantify brand value, certain items of due diligence are worth noting:
- See who owns it. Credible due diligence on a brand starts with figuring out who owns that title. As with patents and trademarks, it must be assigned and searchable. What if you discover that a client does not own a particular mark? If they don’t, you need to ask, “Why don’t they own it? Is there impairment there or might they not even be allowed to operate under that mark?”
- Verify the history. The history and creation are important because they might help lay the groundwork for legal strength at some point if it is ever tested in court. There is a correlation between the strength of the brand or trademark and its value. Look at the trademark’s registration and understand the status of the trademark.
- Check for look-alikes. Make sure no one else is using a similar trademark. That search provides a reasonable expectation of freedom to operate. Not searching is expensive. If a company is told that it must move away from a brand, then it has to design a new logo, reprint everything, get a new website, etc. It is a remarkably expensive process to fix that.
Building a credible forecast
The following tips can help build a credible forecast for brand valuation:
- Toss out the yield-capitalization method. A brand value is volatile, and you are using a one-point predictor when you use a yield capitalization method. It represents an income perpetuity. Although trademarks may have a perpetual life associated with them at a legal level, that may not be the case from an economic level.
- Look at the economic activity surrounding the brand and its associated time series. You have to spend a fair amount of time looking at such factors as marketing expenditures, marketing effectiveness, and analysis of earned media—especially for products that do not have a lot of technical differentiation. Earned media can have a direct relationship to the economic income attributable to an asset. The establishment of relationships of all those analyses together ultimately has to come into a free cash flow forecast.
- Be prepared for a low or indeterminate value, especially if the relationships are indeterminate. In such a case, a brand may carry little value. Business owners do not like hearing that. They may believe they have a legitimate and viable brand but cannot show any sort of economic value creation attributable to it.
- Focus only on the economic activity attributable to the brand. Also look at its associated allocated overhead.
- Consider the discount rate. Discount rates for brands are unobservable in the market. There is no capital asset pricing model (CAPM) for brands. Conventional discount rates used by the profession developed using CAPM are not appropriate for brand valuation.
Credible brand valuation is difficult, and the values are volatile. The market failure rates for branded products can be very high and the value creation can be difficult to measure. Many brands are not as valuable as their owners think. Further, many companies do not want to pay for a credible brand valuation analysis because it is expensive. It is labor-intensive and will almost always be an income-based model, which requires specific product measurement and demand forecast. Bottom line: There are no shortcuts for building a credible forecast for brand valuation.
For more on the topic, check out Mike Pellegrino’s evergreen guide on Intellectual Property Valuation that covers not only brand valuation, but also the different valuation approaches to use, due diligence for patents, copyrights, and trademarks, plus discount rate development, managing an engagement, an auditor’s review guide, and much more.