- Written by Ronald van Haaften
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My literature research has revealed that corporate branding can be defined as the process to maintain, continue and create a positive corporate reputation and associations using the power of a brand, which in return is a promise to the consumer at which the brand has formed a set of perceptions about a product, service or business. This is the interface where internal and external associations, such as acknowledgement and recognition of innovative orientated solutions and services, are built or even damaged. General corporate brand characteristics involve features or qualities, related to corporate branding, serving to identify this phenomenon among other brand propositions.
My literature research exposed four general characteristics of corporate branding;
- Corporate branding involves autonomous brands with an umbrella or source brand architecture and defines the organization behind the product and/or service.
- Corporate branding is most often related to mature brands which characterize it by; a rich heritage and valuable roots, its assets and capabilities, the employees being brand ambassadors, its values and value discipline, a dedicated local or global orientation, and a visible citizenship practice.
- Corporate branding characterizes itself by brand transparency which encapsulates the brand vision, brand values, brand personality, brand positioning and brand image.
- Corporate branding incorporates brand consistency across the organization, the products and services, lead by dedicated brand groups or a brand manager.
Corporate branding is addressed as a holistic strategic tool that eventually could contribute significant to international business development. Efficiency and economy of scale are important instruments to deliver success and competitive advantage, through acts of innovation which involves investments in competence, assets and brand reputation. The strategic challenge for globally operating organizations lies in the proportion between global integration and local responsiveness. The challenge for corporate management is accordingly, to find the correct balance between international consistency of strategic integration and local responsiveness for maximum added value to segments of consumers wherever they may be.
Communicating and carrying out the vision, mission and strategic intent should take place within a common strategic framework, using a consistent and unambiguous message. The so called “think globally - act locally” balancing act evokes centralized functions and decentralized organizational structures within a common framework. It is the ability to understand and to be understood. Corporate branding fulfils thereby an internal and external key function for settling the right set of association liaised with organizations. Not only to communicate the identity and reputation but also to corporate value drivers.
My case studies have proven that strategic brand management mistakes can lead to severe business losses over a long period of time. Good brand management practice goes beyond product management and could deliver a significant contribution to long term corporate success. For that reason corporate and local management need to maintain a realistic and objective market view by monitoring market dynamics over time. Brand strategy and brand identity communication must be clear and understood for all stakeholders with a strong focus on specific customer segments. Consistency is critical to brand image and customer perceptions which are hard to change once settled in the mind of customers.
My interview with a professional brand manager from Caterpillar, has delivered practical and relevant insights in corporate branding as it is daily processed at Caterpillar with a port folio of more then 20 brands. To manage multiple brands, an organization needs to define consistent and transparent brand architecture. This forms the foundation of strategic brand decisions. Organizations need to build their brand model around trust and integrity where the brand can be seen as a vehicle to connect the organization to their customers and enable them to identify the promise they buy. As a consequence it is critical to develop a minimum level of employee brand competences like brand knowledge, brand skills and brand behaviour. To balance the integration and differentiation aspect, organizations should diffuse brand knowledge by using transparent communication channels and education programs.
Caterpillar has developed communication frameworks to safeguard brand performance driven by key brand attributes. Business units are kept responsible to comply with the communication rules and communication tools. A brand owner structure is in place to manage the brand(s) and to have a clear understanding of brand responsibilities and accountabilities. Key to integrated success is the extent of brand adoption of everybody who is in contact with the brand. Accordingly, having a clear understanding why people choose for a product or brand (key attributes) is most valuable. To develop and maintain global brand equity it is necessary to understand the brand attributes as set in the mind of customers. Recurring assessments and analysis of buyers-, customers-, prospects-, purchase-, and product cycle will reveal the actual key brand attributes. Pro-active developed and maintain the attributes enables organizations to develop brand equity.
Corporations will not succeed by simply doing more of what they are doing now; they need to do some things differently. This is where holistic brand management and corporate branding becomes a powerful strategic marketing tool.