Strategy and Branding

Strategy and Branding – Nick Booker

 “I have always believed that the company name is the life of an enterprise. It carries responsibility and guarantees the quality of the product.”

The founder of Sony, Akio Morita

 

What is branding?

 

Branding in the classic sense is all about creating unique identities and positions for products and services, hence distinguishing the offerings from competitors. The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines a brand as a “name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of competitors. But branding is much more than that. It’s a tool for building reputation, and not splashing out simply on activities to promote an image,

 

A brand has been described as “the sum of the good, the bad, the ugly and the off-strategy,” It is your best and worst product and your best and worst employee. It is communicated through award-winning advertising as well as those ads that somehow slipped through the approval cracks and sank anything riding on them. It is your “on hold” telephone music and the tired voice of the receptionist who puts that valued customer or prospect on hold. It is the carefully crafted comments by a managing director as well as negative buzz by the water cooler or in chat rooms on the Internet. Brand is expressed through written, audio and visual content. It is interpreted through the emotional filters that every human being has and here anything can happen. As one branding consultant has said, “Ultimately, you can’t control your brand. You can only hope to guide it.”

 

Competition in both local and global markets is tough and achieving a unique position and competitive advantage becomes increasingly difficult and expensive. The high level of investment necessary to maintain production and service capabilities and the rising cost of R&D for product and service differentiation makes strong marketing capabilities and unique brands pre-requisites for modern companies to cover these heavy investments. How can companies and management teams catch up? Companies are increasingly becoming aware of the enhanced value that corporate branding strategies can provide for an organisation.

 

Why is corporate branding important?

 

Corporate branding or corporate identity employs the same methods and tools used in product branding. However it lifts the approach a step further into the board room, where additional issues around stakeholder relations eg investors, banks, employees, shareholders, media, competitors, governments and many others, can help the company benefit from a strong and well-managed corporate branding strategy. Not surprisingly, a strong and comprehensive corporate branding/identity strategy requires a high level of personal attention and commitment from the managing director and the senior management to become fully effective and meet the objectives.

 

Corporate branding is often, but wrongly, referred to as an exercise where the company logo, the design style and colour scheme are changed. Naturally, these are important elements to evaluate and potentially change at a later stage once the strategy has been decided upon. It is often accompanied with a new corporate slogan, and then everyone expects results to occur during the project. Corporate branding is a serious undertaking that entails more skills and activities than just an updated glossy marketing facade with empty jargon.

 

Corporate identity can project three things:

Corporate identity manifests itself primarily in three major areas that you can see:

 

and one which is not visible

The fundamental idea behind a corporate identity programme is that in everything the company does, everything it owns and everything it produces or provides, the company projects a clear idea of what it is and what its aims are. The most significant way in which this can be done is by making everything in and around the company – its services, buildings and communications – consistent in purpose and performance and where this is appropriate, in appearance too. 

Outward consistency of this kind will only be achieved if it is the manifestation of an inward consistency – a consistency of purpose within the organisation.

 A strong corporate branding strategy can add significant value in terms of helping the entire company, management team and staff to implement the long-term vision, create unique positions in the market place of the company and its brands, and not the least to unlock the leadership potential within the organisation. Hence, a corporate branding strategy can enable the company to leverage on its tangible and non-tangible assets leading to branding and performance excellence throughout the company.

 

There are thousands of unique corporate brands. Companies like Microsoft, Intel, Eddie Stobart, JCB, Caterpillar, Virgin, Singapore Airlines, Disney, Mercedes and many others are good examples to think of. Global companies such as HSBC and the insurance company AXA have both in recent years acquired a vast number of companies across the globe and adopted them fully under their international corporate brands with great success and within a surprising short timeframe. A strong brand is about building and maintaining strong perceptions in the minds of customers. This takes time to establish and many resources to keep, but eventually no one remembers what the companies used to be called and they manage to transfer the brand equities from the acquired brands into their own corporate brand equity.

 

The differences between business to business/industrial and consumer brands

 

If we look at the particular aspects of industrial or business to business brands and services, what are the differences between them and consumer products?

 

Generally:

 

 

So building a reputation is often more important in marketing in these environments than creating an image. Whereas image can be created through sheer advertising spend, reputation has to be earned over a period of time. It is built by what organisations do, how they do it and with whom they forge relationships.

 

Various studies indicate that approximately 70 percent of brand equity in industrial/B2B/IT companies is directly related to tangibles eg price, specifications/quality and distribution. However, the other 30 percent is related to intangibles – perceptions of the technologies, industry leadership, and corporate issues such as management visibility, corporate governance and how an organisation conducts itself.

 

In the past, purchase decisions were typically made on technical or engineering grounds by an individual, usually at the shop or factory floor level. However, intangible factors have gradually become more important as companies choose suppliers on a wider range of criteria than ever before, with the decision now often elevated to a much higher level.

 

 

Standing out from the crowd

 

We all know that in both consumer and industrial markets, standing out amid a massive chorus of competitors is a challenge for any company in today’s business climate. The number of offers and sales pitches one receives on a daily basis is simply staggering and increasingly ineffective. The multiplicity of communication media including conventional print advertising, texting, emails, direct mail and television, means that a consistent identity as well as a consistent message is ever more important.

 

It’s no wonder, then, why businesses are seeking new and more effective ways of increasing the influence of their brand strategy in the marketplace. A strong brand strategy can increase the awareness of a company and its offerings in such a way that establishes strong feelings and reactions and a favourable view towards the company as a whole. To create this sort of “brand awareness” in your market, takes skilful Brand Strategy know-how.

 

Successfully out-branding your competitors is a continuous battle for the hearts and minds of your customers. The proposition your brand strategy makes must be very compelling, attractive and unique among competitive offerings. The proposition must also be consistently reinforced throughout all phases of an organisation, from senior executives to customer service, research and development, business development and even your business partners.

 

What’s involved in a comprehensive and effective “Brand Strategy process?

 

The answer to that question requires more space than we have here, plus it varies from industry to industry. However, here are some very basic guidelines about what makes a good Brand Strategy.

 

Apart from deciding on the visual system of a corporate identity eg: the name, subsidiary names (if appropriate), symbol/logo and typefaces, there are the issues of the items to which the visual elements are applied such as:

 

 

Then who is it aimed at? There may be:

Internal and quasi internal audiences such as

 

and

 

External audiences such as

 

 

Why bother to introduce a new identity?

 

Many companies will have an existing brand or corporate identity so why bother to change it? Apart from the macro economic factors, already mentioned, there are other reasons why an identity may need to be changed or developed. Sometimes the identity has been developed intuitively, in a fragmented perhaps muddled fashion. Frequently a company identity is a manifestation of the personality of the founder – it bears his or her name and imprint. There can come a time when this gets out of step with reality – for example

So corporate identity can be a massive catalyst for change; it can be the corporate strategy made visible.

Here are three examples of where companies or organisations changed and or developed their identity with successful results.

 


Case Studies in corporate branding

 

Acorn Group

 
 

 

Acorn Group’s three executive directors previously managed Lichfield Motors, a Ford dealership for many years in the 80s and 90s. Acorn was set up in 1999 following the restructuring of the Ford franchises. The company has grown rapidly over the last six years on a number of sites in the West Midlands and Acorn’s activities now include:

 

 

In the mid 90s, Booker & Hopkins Associates persuaded the Acorn directors to develop a corporate identity and this has enabled them to develop a stronger  business identity both in Staffordshire and beyond and to develop their advertising, web site and promotions activity much more effectively. So for example, they ran a highly successful schools voucher programme branded as Acorn, that significantly boosted fuel sales at their filling stations. In 2005, the company integrated its activities and the three franchises of Ford, Kia and Daihatsu, on to one purpose built site in Chase Terrace, Burntwood, Staffordshire to give “Three great brands under one roof”!

 

What branding has given Acorn is a high degree of independence from their franchise owners, a more secure market presence, the ability to develop public relations, advertising and promotions under the Acorn brand and stronger company loyalty and teamwork within the staff and management.

 
Quality Films Ltd

 

“We operate in a commodity market so we have to bring additional benefits to customers, to compete effectively and differentiate ourselves from the big UK manufacturers and importers of film. We’re applying some classic marketing techniques in order to develop the business”

Rhon Willingham Managing Director of Quality Films Ltd

 

Quality Films Ltd (QFL) is a manufacturer and distributor of stretch films for the packaging industry. QFL has a small manufacturing capacity (4,000 tonnes) when compared to its UK rivals and this makes it difficult to compete on standard stretch film which is seen by the marketplace as a commodity, where price and availability are the key purchasing drivers.

 

The Company needed to diversify into niche areas where the manufacturing capacity could be better utilised by producing high quality films. In 2003/2004 a new range of stretch films was developed which QFL believed would bring major benefits to the packaging industry. The company planned to be the first UK manufacturer of pre-stretched film.

 

The management aimed to move the company from an inward looking manufacturing orientated business to become a “Packaging Solutions Provider”, specialising in high performance, high margin film products.

 

Booker & Hopkins Associates worked with Quality Films management to develop a marketing strategy and campaign plan for pre-stretch film.

 

The project moved the company from selling purely on price to selling differentiated branded higher margin products such that the branded products now represent around 80% of turnover.

 

The branding is reflected in their packaging, warehouses, literature, web site etc and gives them the ability to develop advertising and PR stories based around their brand as well as to sell head on against some large multi nationals.

 

Shugborough

 

Shugborough is a country estate owned by the National Trust but funded and managed by the Staffordshire County Council who regard it as their flag ship visitor attraction. In 2001/2002, the estate was attracting an estimated 250,000 visitors a year, although many of these were either walkers or visitors to the many events held in the grounds. Despite these numbers, it was in financial deficit.

 

For many years, Shugborough had been packaged and promoted as one venue, but without any clear view of what it represented. The estate encompasses the Mansion House, the County Museum, Park Farm and the Mill, as well as formal gardens and parklands that include neo-classical monuments. There is also a restaurant, a cafe at the farm and a National Trust shop. Shugborough also runs a rare breeds programme. The grounds were used for numerous events throughout the year including outdoor concerts and shows.

 

Booker & Hopkins Associates developed a marketing strategy based on comprehensive market research. This was ultimately implemented by Richard Kemp the new General Manager who joined the estate in early 2004.

 

Our report and strategy gave a hard edge to Richard Kemp’s own thoughts and feelings about Shugborough’s problems. There was the lack of identity, no clear proposition, limited (Staffordshire-based) marketing, lack of confidence internally etc. Within weeks the proposition was defined as ‘The Complete Working Historic Estate’. This key term then allowed a prioritisation of what the staff did and even what business area Shugborough was in. From this new focus, a new business priority emerged that now dominates Shugborough’s every action, decision, sign, procedure, letter and piece of print.

 

What flowed from this was huge. A new strapline, logo, leaflet, leaflet distribution network, pricing policy, signage, catering operation, sales technique, site transport system, car park and access arrangements, ticket office and toilet location, staffing structure (almost every role has changed), pay structure, customer care polices, procedures, training, etc. Nearly all these issues including pricing and had emerged from the B&HA report and recommendations two years previously. In 2005, visitors are up 17% and income up 43%.

 

Conclusion

 

Finally to create a brand promise that creates the correct connections, it should be:

 

4.         Repeated internally and externally within your organisation
5.         Adaptable to the business climate
6.         Continually reinforced
7.         Consistent across advertising and marketing mediums
8.         Known and echoed by business partners

 

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The following articles/sources have been consulted in the preparation of these notes.

 

B2B PR: A key tool for branding  July-August 2005

‘PR Influences’ Editor, and Network PR Managing Director, Grant Common

 

Understanding the purpose of a corporate branding strategy  – Martin Roll
brandchannel.com 2004

 

Brand Identity Guru – Brand Strategy Services
 

 

The New Guide to Identity – Wally Olins

 

 

Booker & Hopkins Associates Ltd is a management consultancy specialising in strategic marketing and management systems assignments. We work primarily in the business to business sector. Our associate company Attract Marketing Ltd works in the leisure sector including museums, visitor attractions, tourism and holidays. Our work ranges from developing strategy to research to implementation.

 

Nick Booker BCom MCIM MTS                                                  nick@bookerhopkins.co.uk

 

Director of Booker & Hopkins Associates Ltd and Attract Marketing Ltd. Nick has extensive business experience in a career covering business development, marketing strategy, market research, market planning, company appraisal and acquisition. He is Chartered Marketer and a Full Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing; member of the Tourism Society; Marketing Advisor to the Staffordshire Regiment Museum at Whittington, near Lichfield. Nick is the Immediate Past Chairman of the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s Birmingham & Coventry branch and a Council Member of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

 

Tel: 01926 864900

www.bookerhopkins.co.uk                                                          www.attractmarketing.co.uk

 

 

© Nick Booker 2009

 

 

Written for “Seminars for Success” run by Aston Science Park

 

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