I’m only going to say this once — your logo is not your brand. Neither is your “corporate identity system.” If you want to sound smarter when talking to a marketing agency or an in-house design team, it’s best to start recognizing the difference.
These things do in fact make up a part of a company’s overall brand, which we will get to later. For now, let’s discuss the origins of branding and how it can benefit your business.
Branding, in the most traditional sense, came about when ranchers “branded” cattle with a hot iron — to identify their stock. With the rise of the advertising (particularly on television) in the late 1950s and early ’60s, branding came to mean much more — it was ad messaging that stimulated word-of-mouth growth that in turn formed a public perception of a company.
Fast forward to today: Branding is a massive disruptor in any competitive space and a far more evolved, sometimes elusive, and intensive exercise. The tenants that make a strong brand are vastly more comprehensive than a logotype or trademark.
The landscape of industrial markets is changing. No longer are buying decisions made over a number of weeks, but a number of hours thanks to the speed of new technologies and automated efficiencies. To combat this, industrial businesses need to leverage brand building as a way to increase recognition, reduce risk for customers, and create long-term value. The more recognized an industrial brand is, the more likely it will help buyers avoid obstacles and make decisions.
What Is a Brand?
In simplest terms, your brand is your audiences’ perception of what you (as a company or product) stand for. It can be difficult to grasp and even harder to control. It isn’t dictated by directors or upper management. Rather, it is formed through communications between your company and your customers or end users — basically, it represents the relationship your company has with them.
In the industrial space, branding is more than just the perceptions of end users, but also extends to your suppliers, employees, and potential investors. A 2012 survey conducted by McKinsey and Company found that key decision makers at B2B businesses said that a brand is almost as important as the sales efforts that encourage them to make a purchase. In short, an industrial brand is at least as important as the way industrial businesses differentiate themselves from their competitors in terms of service, pricing, and quality.
How Does Branding Help Industrial Businesses?
For decades, B2C businesses have embraced brand strategy as a vehicle to differentiate themselves from competitors and attract customers, as well as talented employees. Thanks to the well-read manifestos written by advertising guru David Ogilvy in the 1960s, B2B companies started to realize that branding is an important asset in their toolbox as well.
Branding accomplishes several key things:
- It creates a unique space for your individual business; even within a field of close competitors, it will make you stand out.
- It attracts talent: People want to work with companies that match their values and tastes.
- It provides focus and clarity: A business with a strong brand strategy has a better understanding of where they stand in the competitive landscape and where they are heading.
What Components Make up a Powerful Brand?
1. Your Brand Promise
Not to be confused with a mission statement, your brand promise is the main message you deliver to customers — whether it is speed, quality, or performance. It can also be the “human” characteristics that make up the personality of your company (e.g., smart and casual, strong and reliable, fun and unpredictable). Your brand promise differentiates your company and allows it to stand out from the competition.
Probably one of the most well-know brand promises comes from GEICO: “15 minutes or less can save you 15% or more on car insurance.” A low barrier of entry, 15 minutes (easy, convenient), can save a customer a significant sum, 15% or more. GEICO’s ads also portray a company that is fun and personable — not something you’d expect from an insurance company, making for a memorable brand.
2. Your Brand Identity
These are the visible components that make up your collateral and communications — logotype, icons, color palettes, typography, signage, packaging, etc. If it needs graphic or visual design (and it does), it falls in this category. This iconography sets you apart from your competitors almost immediately. It’s important not to skimp on budget or cut corners in this area — a cheap brand identity will be obvious, as will an identity that is developed by committee.
One of my favorite identity rebrands of recent memory has been for Mack Trucks, an American manufacturer of heavy-duty trucks and one of the best-known industrial brands. They have done such an excellent job maintaining brand recognition, they don’t even need to show their trucks in their marketing materials. That’s called having confidence in the message and creative.
3. Your Brand Strategy
This is the plan for identifying key stakeholders, understanding their current experience with your brand, and planning the steps needed to shift their perceptions of the brand to fit your objectives. This can be a multi-layered exercise and is best conducted by a brand strategist working in consultation with key decision makers. Most of the time, it will involve customer surveys, interviews with key stakeholders, and some serious soul searching.
One of the best brand strategies of the past few years comes from restaurant brand Chipotle. At a time when the competition was all about quick service, Chipotle recognized that buyers’ intentions were shifting and that fast food didn’t need to mean “unhealthy.”
Chipotle’s strategy was simple, yet brave: Food with Integrity. Whether or not one agrees with their strategy, it is impossible to deny that it is not only effective, but memorable.
Differentiation Is Paramount
If you cannot differentiate your industrial brand, you are not trying hard enough. Keep it simple, but remember that brand elevation is about standing out from a crowd of competitors. Sometimes the best way to do this is to redefine your brand category.
Case in point: Wearwell is a manufacturer and distributor of industrial floor mats that benefit end users by enhancing ergonomics and safety. Unfortunately, every competitor in Wearwell’s space was using this exact value proposition. It made it very difficult to be heard or stand out in a crowd of companies stating basically the same thing.
Instead of following the herd and being lost in a sea of benefit-speak, Industrial Strength Marketing redefined Wearwell’s audience’s need for, and intrinsic attachment to, their product. Wearwell wasn’t selling ergonomic matting; Wearwell was building performance surfaces for industrial athletes.
By comparing the benefits of their product to that of playing fields for professional sports, Wearwell was able to carve out a whole new direction for marketing their product — one that resonated with the end user and made perfect sense.
Some Final Thoughts on Branding
Branding starts at the top and must be embraced by nearly everyone. Focus on the key issues: Who is your audience? How do you want to be perceived? Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re something you’re not. Microsoft will never be Apple, no matter how hard they try.
Keep you brand strategy simple and concise. Three to five key themes should be all you need. Any more and you start diluting your brand essence.
Brand experience should be consistent across all your touch points with your stakeholders. For example: Don’t try and convince your audience you are cutting edge if your website isn’t mobile friendly.
Also, make sure your employees are advocates of your brand — they are your cheerleading squad. If your employees don’t believe in your brand, don’t expect your customers to.
A final thing to consider when igniting or reigniting your industrial brand is to make sure the talent that will research, conceptualize, and produce your brand identity and strategy understands your business and its unique value. Designers, content strategists, and integrated marketing specialists abound, but only those that specialize in your specific niche will be able to quickly ramp up and deliver on a new brand strategy that will make an impact.
At Industrial Strength Marketing, we specialize in marketing for industrial businesses and are uniquely qualified to understand the nature of your niche — whether it be manufacturing, logistics, or distribution. Contact us today if you’d like to discuss you industrial brand.