After more than 10 years as president and CEO of Zippo Manufacturing Co., Greg Booth is still amazed by the product’s brand recognition.
In many places, there’s 90 percent brand awareness. When Japanese consumers were asked to name top American brands, their first responses were Coke, McDonald’s, Nike and Zippo.
“Prior to coming to work at Zippo, I worked for two large companies — a $2 billion and a $10 billion corporation — and on a regular and ongoing basis we worked hard to build our brand and increase brand awareness, and so forth,” Booth says. “And we were very successful in the category. But to get to the level of brand awareness that Zippo enjoys, that is Herculean at best.
“In the oil industry, if we had 25, 30, 35 percent brand awareness in a market, we were thrilled, and just wouldn’t think of spending the next umpteen-million to get to a level of 60 or 70 percent.”
Two of Zippo’s biggest challenges, however, stem from its name recognition — maintaining a strong presence in more than 160 countries while trying to diversify into new products.
Here’s how Booth and Zippo’s employees — 610 at Zippo and 300 at W.R. Case and Sons Cutlery Co. — are keeping the 82-year-old company growing today.
Protecting the brand
Hard work, determination and luck brought global success, and now Booth says the company’s No. 1 challenge is maintaining or protecting its brand.
“And I find it unfortunate, quite frankly, that we have to spend the time, the money and the energy we do just to protect something we already own,” Booth says.
“But trademark owners recognize that if you don’t aggressively protect your brand, you always stand a chance of losing it or having it diluted by others using all or a portion of your name.”
Booth, and owner George B. Duke, grandson of Zippo’s founder, fight an ongoing battle to protect Zippo’s name and shape. It’s something that comes across Booth’s desk weekly.
“Counterfeiters and knock-off artists build products that resemble ours and sell them either with our brand name on them, pure counterfeits, or sell them using as much of our trade dress as they possibly can to pass it off as a Zippo lighter,” Booth says.
The company employs people who spend nearly all of their time surfing the Web for trademark infringers. It also spends time lobbying in China and Washington, D.C.
Luckily, the fight has become easier, Booth says. China, now part of the World Trade Organization, is developing its own brands, thus getting a better feel for the plight of trademark owners.
Along with trademark registrations, Zippo has shape registration in about 60 countries. Booth says shape registration is difficult to obtain because other lighter manufacturers block them, saying that they make that shape, too.
“The brand is what’s worth all the money, not the metal we bend and the lighters we make. It’s Zippo — the trademark is worth who knows how much. We say the billion-dollar trademark. But that’s what you have to protect, and protect aggressively — and sometimes your hair gets grayer as a result of those kinds of battles,” he says.