I do a lot of work with exporters and many of these are also having products manufactured in the emerging big economies. One of the great fears they express is that their intellectual properties will be stolen and their products copied. The obvious solution is to try to protect their property with patents and other copyright protections. These are fundamental things to try to get right, but it can be very costly – often prohibitively so for many businesses.
The ultimate protection, I believe, lies in strong brands. The key reason customers choose brands is reliability. They know what they are going to get because they have used the brand in the past or it has a reputation. Me-too and copycat products will always follow, there is hardly a product or service out there that does not have its imitators and competitors. But when price is not the overarching consideration the reliabilty of the brand is a major factor.
Manufacturers seeking suppliers in regions like China and India are particular concerned about imitation. But strengthening their brand is a strong protection. As the economies prosper people want the reassurance of a brand and the promise it makes. Wealthy Chinese entrepreneurs don’t want to wear an imitation Rolex – they want the real thing.