- Published: Tuesday, 01 July 2008 08:00
THOMAS J. ROACH
Branding is a growing trend among corporate executives. Companies such as hospitals and banks that never thought of themselves in these terms are now developing and communicating brand identity. At a superficial level, this amounts to identifying the characteristics most desirable to the consumer and creating a visual and textual image that associates those characteristics with the company. Some companies take this a step further and attempt to instill their brand identity with internal publics ó managers, hourly employees and volunteers.
If the aggregates industry is unaware of the branding movement, it hasn't missed much. Socrates said, ìThe way to gain a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.î If concerned only with the customer public, the branding trend essentially is saying: pretend to have a good reputation and get your employees to play along.
All companies have strengths and weaknesses. If they ignore them and create a false image, they won't fool anyone for long. Corporate leadership needs to identify the company with its strengths and fix the problems that engender its weaknesses. Companies with poor images don't have a marketing problem, they have a corporate culture problem.
A public-relations approach to image is very different from a marketing approach. Marketing is necessarily over-focused on the customer public. Chief executive officers and public-relations professionals have a broader responsibility. They need to account for all of an organization's publics. Publics fall into four broad categories: customers, employees, investors and the community in which they do business. A well balanced approach to corporate leadership does not allow for fictionalizing the relationship with employees and the community in order to make a good impression on customers and shareholders.
Employees are the engine that drives the corporate apparatus. If they are providing quality products and services, then figure out why and tell the world about it. But if these employees are not, if they are disassociated from corporate decision-making and goal-setting, if they are unhappy because of a lack of reward and recognition, and if they lack motivation because their jobs are not secure, then branding yourself as a big corporate family producing quality products and services will only make the employees more unhappy and less trusting of management. Then the quality (or lack of quality) from their efforts will eventually become apparent to customers and shareholders (see the Socrates quote above).
THE AUTOMOBILE WORLD
Certainly, it is desirable to have a corporate sense of identity and to make that identity known to all publics. Currently, BMW has a much stronger brand identity than Ford. Thousands of people who know very little about engineering and production choose to buy BMW automobiles because they desire to identify themselves with the BMW brand. Is this because BMW has a more recognizable logo and because BMW marketing executives have done a better job than Ford marketing executives?
Hardly. Ford has always had the bigger marketing staff and the bigger marketing budget. BMW's brand is rooted in a tradition of delivering performance through innovative engineering and quality workmanship. All automakers claim quality, but only one produced the Pinto with its exploding gas tank in the 1970s.
The branding trend is teaching us a good lesson. We have to know who we are, and we have to make that clear to our publics. However, a good branding strategy has two preliminary steps. It should start with an audit of the four public groups to discover their perceptions and concerns. Then corporate leaders can take a hard look at themselves and their vision for the company to begin shaping the business culture. Only after honestly completing these two essential steps will a company have something worth branding. Initiating a branding campaign without taking these steps will only make chicanery the word most associated with the company logo.