I’m on a panel today addressing “Global Branding Trends, Challenges, and Possible Solutions” at the HDMA Heavy Duty Dialogue ’08 conference. It’s being moderated by Sally Staab a VP at Weyforth-Haas Marketing in Overland Park, KS. The other participants are Walt Delevich from SKF and John Beering from Eaton Corporation.
From my segment on brand strategy in a full house of brands, here are a few keys for branding amid significant M&A activity:
- Elegant brand architecture often isn’t in the cards with an M&A-based growth strategy - With significant M&A activity, a number of very real factors may confound attempts to create elegantly simple brand architecture. Among the potential issues: the relative strengths of brands in the family, customer loyalty to existing brands, management demands, deal structures, challenges in doing a large-scale conversion, required investment, and long cycles for replacing branded assets.
- Work with experienced brand strategy partners - A brand is more than a logo and an ad; it’s the promise you make to your key audiences. It’s multi-dimensional and encompasses all customer contact points with the company – employees, products, service, visual and physical cues, and communications. Given this broad definition, few advertising agencies have the full range of capabilities to address all of your brand issues. Engage firms that specialize in branding across all these dimensions.
- Invest in the necessary fact finding effort to determine your brand strategy - Facts need to be at the heart of any brand strategy decisions, and they should come from as many sources as possible – internally & externally. Inventory the key data sources and audiences whose perceptions you need to understand and project. Beyond analysis of available data, look to both qualitative and quantitative research techniques to bolster your understanding of what the market expects, accepts, and will ultimately reward from your brand.
- Figure out where you want your brand to be in the future and then work your way back to the present through multiple scenarios – Hypothesize various scenarios on where you want the brand to be in the future relative to customers, products / services, markets, competitors, and the external environment. Pick a future point linked to the longest relevant decision cycles for your brand. Then, work your way back on how you expect to get there, recognizing likely decision points, operational issues, future M&A events, sales & marketing efforts, competitor activity, and the best and worst developments that could happen with your brand.
- Look to others brands for lessons, even if their situations aren’t completely comparable – You can’t simply follow your industry’s branding conventions if your situation differs dramatically. In that case, find brands outside your industry that you can look to for insights. Ideally seek out brands in similar current situations and others that have brand architectures that resemble how you’d like yours to look. Go to school on what their brand migration paths look like, what rules or approaches they use, etc. Additionally, there’s great value in networking with them and being able to ask direct questions on their strategies.
- Use in-country experts to assess how your brand will fit in global markets – Don’t depend on uninformed or remote perspectives for determining in-country brand strategy globally. Identify branding partners & key employees with on the ground experience that can provide knowledgeable input and reactions to global brand strategy development. Do the qualitative and quantitative fact finding work in-country or in-region as well. - Mike Brown
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