By Judd Keene, Keene Communications

Every year or two, a new buzzword or idiom pervades the business community, giving companies new opportunities to re-evaluate their processes in the hope of becoming more successful in an increasingly competitive world.  For awhile, it was "Teamwork" -- which was followed by "Re-engineering."

Today, business marketers flock to "Branding" the way manufacturers looked to the "Total Quality" programs in the late 1980s.  And like many new trends in business, the challenge is sorting through the chaff to get to the wheat -- to embrace the truly significant aspects of the movement without becoming bogged down in the process.

The reality is that brand development and brand management are more than new slogans or positioning statements.  The traditional term brand is more commonly understood as it relates to consumer products.  But the principles are equally valid for business-to-business or industrial marketers, as well.

A brand is more than just a mark on a product.  A corporate brand is a defined statement of promise between a company and its customers.  It is the sum of their expectations and perceptions about the company and its products.

The restaurant that advertises, "Warm beer.  Decent food," undoubtedly understands one of the key principles of branding.  Your corporate brand should be clearly stated and understood by your customers.  The clarity of this statement is the single most important aspect of brand development.  It defines who you are, and the position you wish to occupy in the minds of your customers.

A corporate brand should be consistent across all aspects of a company.
This includes areas that come in contact with your customers, as well as those that do not.  The obvious contact areas are the components of your marketing communications program:  advertising, brochures, publicity, shareholder communications, signage, web site, etc.  This should be expanded, however, to include all aspects of your daily operation.  Like the rancher who brands his cattle to protect them from rustlers, companies need to put their own indelible mark on their service and make it visible in all aspects of their business.  In truth, how your telephone is answered or the paint job on your fleet of trucks could have as much impact on your brand perception as how compelling your ads are.  The critical aspect is that all parts work together in harmony.

Your brand strategy should apply equally to all departments and all employees.
  Everyone plays a role in delivering your brand promise to the customer.  And everyone needs to understand the strategy, how they fit in the process and support the effort.

Early in our work with Dresser-Rand, a $1.4 billion manufacturer of highly engineered equipment for the oil, gas and petrochemical industries, the branding process encountered a number of obstacles.  Many technical or industrial companies believe their reputation rests solely on the precision of their engineering and their ability to deliver a good product.  Their feeling is that if they build a superior product, their customers will recognize it and sales will follow.  In reality, even an engineering-based company needs to continually communicate its brand strategy to employees and customers, as well as prospective customers.

Where once we struggled to convince engineers that they played a role in the company's brand strategy, they now cooperatively work with the company's marketing group to develop new opportunities and take part in marketing communications programs.

Your corporate brand does not change.
  Resist the temptation to re-make your corporate brand.  If sufficient up-front work is done well, and you have been successful at establishing your brand with your customers, your corporate brand should last as long as you serve those markets.

That is not to say that your brand identity can not be further refined as new competitive challenges arrive, or as technology changes.   For example, Xerox, a company that was known for years as a "copier company" has successfully made the transition into "The Document Company."  As technology has changed, Xerox's role in serving the information-based world has changed, and its brand statement has undergone some refinement.  Xerox recognizes that all of its products fit neatly under this one brand umbrella.  The brand position, however, has remained the same.

And finally, your corporate brand should be viewed as a valuable asset owned by your company.
  Corporate mega-mergers often come with huge price tags where recognizable brand names are involved.  In some cases, the brand identity is more valuable than the company.

For most companies, the long-term investment in establishing a successful brand position can erode quickly if left unattended.  Many appoint a "brand champion" who is responsible for directing the activities of cross-functional teams designed to develop brand strategies.  When all is said and done, it is the responsibility of everyone in a company to protect the brand and ensure the continued viability of the company's market position.


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Judd Keene is the owner of Keene Communications, a Syracuse-based marketing communications agency with emphasis on worldwide business-to-business, technical and industrial products and services.

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