As someone who has worked in the advertising industry in India for decades, I am always surprised by how few companies think of themselves as brands. Not just in India, but across the world. The few who do, think of it in terms of slapping on a corporate logo at the end of a brand commercial or in the top right-hand corner of a print advert.
In more recent years, we have also seen companies talk of brand purpose, purely in response to millennials’, and Gen Z’s perceived belief that they would prefer to interact only with companies that do good. Brand purpose becomes a proxy for the corporate brand, but in reality, it is nothing more than a marketing ploy and most consumers see through it.
I think that to build a corporate brand in the real sense of the word, companies ought to start with articulating their corporate vision first. The vision statement ought to articulate where the company sees itself in 10-15 years, in relation to the industry and consumers. Depending on where the company is in its lifecycle, the vision usually either talks of growing market share, or in terms of leadership and represents its aspirations and ambitions.
The next step ought to be to identify competition. Competition would be leading players in the industry, as well as other industries, sometimes. I believe that half the war is won, when companies hone in on the right competitors that they must take on, in order to achieve their vision.
Once you have a clear idea of who your main competitors are, it makes sense to set down core brand values for yourself as an organization. As I wrote in my previous blog post, core values differentiate and create distinctive cultures. But they also do more than define a corporate culture; because core values differentiate your company’s way of doing business from others, they bolster your overall strategy and help state your corporate mission. The mission statement captures the practice that your company is driven to perform, in order to achieve its vision, in the way defined by core values.
That said, why do most companies’ vision statements and especially core values read as if they are all the same? When core values are meant to differentiate the company’s beliefs, why do they always sound like the same platitudes such as professional integrity, commitment to community, commitment to environment, etc? I think it is because the top management in most companies do not give enough thought to these matters. Which is a pity, because it is here that a company’s business, employees, markets and products all develop the edge (that something extra) that is required to set your corporate brand apart from the others and to help achieve your long-term corporate vision. Very often, they are also a useful guide to short-term decisions.
As I wrote in a slide presentation on corporate brands recently, corporate brands have several audiences or stakeholders, from employees, suppliers and dealers to consumers, investors, government, and society at large. Although the audiences are varied, each of them would travel the same brand journey from perception and belief to identification and brand loyalty.
There is a widely held belief that corporate brands are built only in consumer-facing industries. From my own experience in advertising and brand communications, where I have also worked on brands in business-to-business industries such as office automation and tech, I know this to not be the case. The difference in such industries is in how one communicates with specific audiences. For example, in office automation or tech, there is communication with hard-core techies (CTOs and the technology department, who are key influencers in decision-making), separate communication to the actual decision-makers (CEOs, CFOs and top management) as well as communication to end-consumers (employees actually using the product). And there must be synergy, of course, between the various types of brand communication to the different audiences.
Similarly, for brands in the building/construction industry, there would be communication required not merely for consumers, but for architects/designers/contractors as well, as they are a key influencer group.
Coming back to the corporate brand, the corporate brand strategy must lead to a distinctive brand positioning for the company and a brand promise that helps people believe in the brand positioning. In my last blog post, I had mentioned that while corporate vision statements and core values should be articulated in discussion with a company’s top management, I have taken the liberty to go ahead and develop a corporate brand strategy for Pernod Ricard. Since I am based in India and work on my own, and since the company is based in Paris, there is hardly any chance of meeting or communication possible at this juncture. However, since I had worked on Seagram and its brands in India, decades ago while at Ogilvy Delhi, I am aware of many of the brands that are now part of Pernod Ricard’s portfolio as a result of a 2001 acquisition, and thought it worth the effort.
In my blog posts on corporate brand strategies for JLR and Tata Motors, I had not articulated the companies’ vision statements or their core values, though I have a pretty good idea of what they ought to be. Here, I have attempted an articulation of all these, though not in the finely detailed form that they should finally be. Still, they ought to give you a fairly good idea of the overall direction forward that I recommend for Pernod Ricard and why. You will also see how a new corporate brand positioning and strategy can help determine a company’s product brand portfolio, as I do recommend some new additions. Do click on the link below to read my thoughts and ideas on the Pernod Ricard brand.
While the communication package that I have created based on the strategy that I recommend, is meant for wines and spirits consumers, there would be separate communication required for Pernod Ricard’s employees to orient their way of thinking along these lines as well as communication for the dining and hospitality industry as they are an important partner for out-of-home consumption of alcoholic beverages.
As I firmly believe and say, corporate brands require a change of mindset, right down the organization. And as always in these matters, it must start at the top, and it must have serious and sustained management commitment.