Industrial brands: stay on-message

Consumer and industrial brands invest heavily in establishing, building and maintaining strong identities. In the consumer sector, companies such as Apple, BMW, Coca Cola and many more have taken years to create clearly defined and widely understood statements of what their brands stand for.

Yet these carefully crafted edifices can all too easily come tumbling down.

This point was reflected earlier this week by an article in the Financial Times, which highlighted the risks to companies in the consumer and technology sectors, both of botched rebranding and attempts to portray brand values in a different light.

In particular, the FT referenced the failure of the recent Pepsi advertising campaign, featuring fashion model Kendall Jenner joining a protest march, with imagery associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. Although enjoying high production values, the advert was quickly condemned online for using civil rights issues to promote fizzy drinks. Despite initially defending the advert, Pepsi subsequently decided to withdraw it and issue an apology for, ‘missing the mark’.

Consumer advertising plays for high stakes and, as the example above demonstrates, is fraught with dangers – some can arise from the most unlikely sources while others, as in the case of the Pepsi advert, are entirely predictable.

The risks for branding

In the case of the Pepsi advertising campaign, although it is perhaps understandable that the video production team may have not been aware of the reputational brand risks associated with the material they were creating, the marketing team should have had the experience and foresight to predict the backlash – especially given the fickle nature of the social media channels that formed the central platform for the campaign.

In the case of recent company rebrands, however, the level of derision over new company names should have been easier to predict. Two examples: Verizon recently announcing that it intends to combine AOL and Yahoo under a single brand name, Oath; and, last year, the 168 year old Tribune Publishing business choosing to rename itself ‘Tronc’.  Both of the new brands have, not unsurprisingly, been widely panned on social media for their choice of name – something that again should have been foreseen by experienced marketers.

Industrial branding

Of course, these types of problem don’t always cause long-term reputational damage. Indeed, brand names that are first met with criticism can sometimes stick – Diagio, formed from Guinness and Grand Metropolitan, is a good example. However, there is clearly significant risk if statements or actions by a brand either run counter to its embedded values, or present the brand in such a way that it is open to criticism, mockery or other forms of attack.

This is equally true in both the consumer and B2B sectors. In industrial markets, for example, although the threat to industrial brand reputation is more likely to stem from issues such as product or component failures, or a fall in quality or customer service standards, it is still possible for a disaffected employee, unscrupulous competitor or a consumer protest group to inflict reputational damage on an established brand – how many times have we heard of companies where a higher level brand message is undermined by statements being made by poorly informed or off-message staff in their daily communications to customers?

Brand strength

Building a strong industrial brand takes time. This is due to a combination of factors, including the relatively conservative nature of B2B markets; the limited number of communication channels; the fact that most industrial companies tend be led by people with backgrounds in engineering, sales or finance, rather than marketing; and the limited budgets available.

Nonetheless, the benefits of a strong industrial brand are considerable. In the industrial space within which 4CM operates, brands such as SKF, Siemens and ABB, as well as many smaller organisations – for example, BOGE, Selig and Pryor Marking Technology – all occupy established and respected positions in their respective markets. Each has worked consistently over many years to create a strong industrial brand, with values that are widely understood by their target audiences.

Although this positioning alone cannot prevent problems occurring, an established position of brand strength makes it far easier to resist a potential threat, minimise subsequent reputational damage and recover the original brand reputation and position.

For more views on the importance of B2B branding please click here

To learn more about the customer journey, industrial branding and ways to build a sustainable brand, engagement and demand generation programme, please download our white paper.

Nick Brooks

Nick is the founder and Managing Director of 4CM Ltd with over 35 years experience in developing powerful and cost effective marketing, media and communications programmes.