A company’s brand is its core – it’s the heartbeat that pumps blood to the organs, or the queen bee that the workers strive to fulfil. It’s a critical component in determining a company’s market value, and one that goes beyond the marketing terms that people often dismiss as being spin.
If you look at some of the top brands in the market [Apple, Microsoft, IBM, Google, Intel] – each of those organisations almost immediately brings to mind a series of connotations that are distinct, relatively unique, and clearly articulated.
They might not even offer the greatest products on the market, but what they do have is something definite the customer can latch on to. But in many instances, the companies themselves play lip service to the value of a brand.
“Many organisations use the kind of language that is very generic,” The Brand Guy, Richard Sauerman, said.
A 17-year branding veteran, Sauerman has been involved in brand planning for many of the organisations on Forbes’ list, and many other iconic brands that are not, including Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Vodafone, Toyota, Campbell’s Soup, Nescafe, Levis, Magnum and Australian Tourism.
Time and time again, he has encountered organisations that are simply not doing enough to build an articulate brand.
“You need to sharpen the saw and articulate very clearly, using language that is distinct and that is unique to really create the personality, look and feel and the identity of your brand. That’s really important.”
A brand’s early days
Brands are of course not exclusive to major multinational corporations. The local industry is filled with examples of strong brands, even if they don’t achieve heights as lofty as Forbes’ list. itX means something different to Express Data, and Distribution Central is a very different brand to Synnex.
The process of building a brand is little different if you are the smallest of resellers, or Coke-Cola. Aside from scope, a firm plan for the brand needs to be formed, and multiple-year long term goals need to be set.
For instance, Distribution Central positioned itself from birth as a technology translator – taking a commoditised product from a vendor and turning it into a solution that realises business benefits for the end customer. It is an example of an organisation that has carefully cultivated its brand from its initial design days.
“Everyone says ‘DC’, they don’t say ‘Distribution Central’. Purposely done,” Distribution Central marketing manager, Nick Verykios, said.
“We saw that people say ED, or DD, and so on. So we looked at what initials are out there that no one has that sounded good. We knew that Distribution Central would eventually be shortened, and when we did some linguistic work, DC was found to be a favourable sound for people.”
The IT industry is famous for its love of acronyms, so any good brand will first and foremost take this - and other industry-unique quirks - into account in the early planning stages.
Moving from the initial discussions, once the core brand is in place and the messaging is going out to customers on both the supply and demand side of the equation, a good brand will continue to be refreshed by its organisation. A brand that isn’t contemporary isn’t relevant, and a brand that isn’t relevant loses value with the customers.
This doesn’t mean an organisation should cede is own brand to align better with the wishes of a partner, but rather it should forge its own path, and the good partners will be able to adjust with you.
“If it came down to that then the relationship was crap in the first place,” Verykios said. “Usually you can come to reason with the partner and explain to them that ‘I can see what you’re doing, but there are alternatives with what you want to achieve tactically that don’t have to turn my brand schizophrenic.’”
A sour reputation
There are key words or phrases that will sour a brand should it become associated with an organisation. Occasionally, a partner will attempt a strategy that would essentially force that branding on an organisation – this is where, like Verykios said, the company needs to be prepared to stand firm.
“If people immediately think of your business and they think something negative – and there are examples of that in the channel – you’ve got a negative brand and you’re in trouble,” Express Data marketing manager, Peter Masters, said.
One easy example of a negative brand connotation for the IT industry that comes to Masters is the idea of commoditisation – taking vendors products and attempting to undercut the rest of the channel to sell it on razor-thin margins. Having a reputation for cheapening the industry is not a positive brand, he claimed.
“In the end the enemy of the channel is commoditisation, and distributors or vendors or resellers who have a branding as the commodity guys will take the whole channel down into a commodity hell,” Masters said.
There may well be other industries where commoditisation is a strong brand value, but according to Masters, in the IT industry it leads to mistrust, and ultimately is something that needs to be fought by competitors beyond the normal, healthy levels of competition.
“You’ve got to fight against commoditisation and be prepared to walk away from deals that are too cheap,” he said. When distributors deal with vendors who want to commoditise their channel they should say no, and resellers should say no to distributors who are commoditising the channel as well.”