Differentiating and communicating your product’s unique value to your slice of the global marketplace is becoming more difficult and expensive every day. And with the rising costs of R&D and development necessary to create products that really do offer something exclusive and different, just one expensive, ineffective branding or marketing campaign can mean death. But there is a way for companies to stack the deck in their favor—have a very strong corporate brand.
Strong Corporate Branding can empower any product that company puts out with instant reputation and value that differentiates it in ways that simply can’t be reproduced with a product-focused marketing campaign. It’s much like how a family’s reputation can precede that of an individual family member, resulting in very real pre-judgment and prejudices about that person. In fact, the true nature of the individual may prove inconsequential if his family’s reputation is strong enough. People will already have their mind made up about him, good or bad, before they ever meet him.
Just as a family tries to create and protect a good reputation, every conscientious corporation should create and protect a favorable corporate brand. The tools for doing so are the same as those used in product branding, but the work transcends the corporate hierarchy into the boardroom where issues like relations with shareholders, media, competitors, government and many others become part of the strategy. Not surprisingly, an effective corporate branding strategy requires significant effort from the CEO and senior management.
Also, be advised that corporate branding and corporate identity are two different things. A corporate identity strategy, an exercise where the company’s logo, design style, color scheme and tagline is created or reworked, may be a component of a corporate branding strategy, it’s not the whole thing.
Corporate identity is just the glossy marketing façade. A strong corporate branding program ensures a consistent brand image and experience throughout an organization. Successful corporate branding involves establishing a long-term vision for the company, carving out pronounced niches in the marketplace and boosting the reach and recognition of the company and its leaders on a global scale.
Some companies with outstanding corporate brands include Microsoft, Intel, Singapore Airlines, Disney, CNN, Samsung and Mercedes-Benz. When your company has a brand like these, mergers and acquisitions are also smoother as was the case with financial powerhouses HSBC and Citibank’s vast number of acquisitions in recent years. Eventually, the brand equities of the banks these two behemoths took over were completely absorbed by HSBC and Citibank. This kind of brand strength takes a long time to establish and a great deal of research and tracking to see through to maturity, but it’s not as difficult as it sounds. Today’s branding research tools are very sophisticated, yet very easy to use.
A strong corporate brand not only gives personality and value to a company’s products. It’s also a manifestation of the company’s vision, values, and culture. HSBC, for instance, portrays itself as a large, powerful bank, but one concerned with lives of regular people. It’s a universal image they project throughout the world with the help of the tagline, “The world’s local bank. ”
Effective corporate branding can also empower and direct the further development of an already large brand portfolio. Such is the case with Proctor & Gamble (P&G). P&G markets many different brands under its umbrella, but its corporate brand is quite unique in that its very much rooted in sincere commitment to and respect for the individual purposes, visions and values of its many brands.
Good corporate branding can also help a company be more efficient with its budgets. With today’s product development costs higher and product life cycles shorter, corporations must find ways to recoup the extra costs somehow—without sacrificing quality or customer service. With some creativity, companies can leverage a single corporate branding strategy to do the work of many expensive marketing campaigns for separate products.
The Apple brand, for instance, is a company that offers many products, but all have brand equities of cutting-edge design and innovation because of the corporate branding strategy of Apple.
Yet, Apple’s model won’t be right for everyone. One must take the entire revenue picture of the various brands in a company’s portfolio into account. If profit can be bolstered by brand consolidation, do it. But if not, there’s no logical business-driven reason to do it, so, don’t. Do the research first. Then make an educated decision.
More than ever, the strength of a corporate brand is a reliable indicator of that company’s financial value. But for many companies that actually list their corporate brands on their balance sheets, their values are quite understated in comparison to their actual value in the marketplace.
Scott White is President of Brand Identity Guru, a leading brand consulting and market research firm located in Easton, Massachusetts, near Boston.
Brand Identity Guru specializes in creating corporate and product brands that increase sales, market share, customer loyalty, and brand valuation. Over the course of his 15-year branding career, Scott White has worked in a wide variety of industries: high-tech, manufacturing, computer hardware and software, telecommunications, banking, restaurants, fashion, healthcare, Internet, retail, and service businesses, as well as numerous non-profit organizations.
Brand Identity Guru clients include: Sun Life Financial, Coca Cola, HP, Sun, Nordstrom, Archway Marketing Services, Franklin Sports and many others, including numerous emerging growth companies.
Scott White is a very enthusiastic speaker and has the gift of being able to explain the principles of branding in a compelling and entertaining manner so that people at all levels can understand.