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The corporation as a brand.

A company is not just a holder of brands but is itself a brand -- subject to pivotal criteria applied to virtually every brand shopping decision.

The setting was distinctly Japanese. Simple yet elegant. I was honored to have been received into one of the most important meeting rooms of one of Japan's most powerful and successful technology companies. Business cards were exchanged and coffee was served as respectful pleasantries ebbed and flowed.

And then it was time to get down to business. The Chairman began very simply: "We are interested in this concept of branding," he said, with a slight pause. "We sell many products to many markets, but people do not appreciate our company as much as we would like. We think that the branding of our company might be an important concept as we try to make people in America and Europe more aware of us."

Indeed, in Japan, as in Europe and the Americas, the debate surrounding brand value, brand vitality, and the future of branding is no longer being played out only in the brand manager's office and on the shelves of the supermarket floor. The company itself is, perhaps for the first time, being recognized as a brand -- what we at Landor call the corporate brand. And if the company is the brand, then the CEO is the brand manager.

If anyone doubts this new paradigm, he or she need only flash back over the past year to the dizzying turnover at the top among some of America's largest and grandest companies. The catalyst behind most of this change has been the corporate board. Indeed, boards are holding the CEO responsible for the health of the corporate brand much as the CEO, in turn, holds his people accountable for the vitality of the branded products or services his company sells.

And how is the health and value of a corporate brand measured? Indeed, it is measured in ways precisely analogous to the manner in which a product or service brand is measured.

We might begin, for instance, on the floor of the stock market. It is here that investors -- the buyers of corporate brands -- make their views known on the value, real or perceived, of the myriad of offerings.

When an investor buys or sells, he is expressing an opinion about a company and its products or services. That opinion is based on numerous factors but, ultimately, the buying or selling function is a brand choice. The corporate brand faces a potential buyer whose decision process in the market varies little, in essence, from that of the retail shopper.

The Retail Experience

Consider first the retail experience. I have decided that it is time to invest in my next new car. Research is undertaken and, armed with a predisposition to spend, the shopping process begins. But between this starting point and driving out of the showroom lie several pivotal considerations:

* Appearance. How does it look in commercials, in ads, and on the road? What does the styling say about the car? Does it look like something I would instinctively like to own?

* Performance. Does it perform? I may not be in the market for a Ferrari, but I do have my own particular, simple definition of performance -- it needs to start every time and be able to get out of its own way.

* Trust. Can I rely on it? Do I trust the company that makes it? History may not be an ironclad predictor of the future, but I am not in the market for a Yugo.

* Value. Is it worth the money? For cars, this final value question is the bottom line -- the balance between all the good things I am going to be getting and what I am going to have to pay. In automobiles, they talk about the ownership experience. Every product has one, from cars to shaving creme.

These criteria -- appearance, performance, trust, and value -- are, consciously or unconsciously, applied to virtually every brand shopping decision, from a new car to a new computer to a can of shaving creme.

These criteria are also applied to stock shopping -- and, hence, should be considered in the management and marketing of the corporate brand. To wit:

* Appearance. How does the company look? What does the company's corporate identity program, advertising, and other marketing say about it? What is the perception in business circles of the CEO and his team? How does he think and act?

* Performance. How has the company been performing and, more important, how can it be expected to perform in the future after I buy it?

* Trust. Is it fundamentally a good company? Both for this company and for the market, unforeseen reverses may occur. But is the company fundamentally strong, well-positioned and well-led?

* Value. All said and done, is the company a good value relative to other investment options that I have open to me?

The Underlying Power

The '90s will be a new era in the history of branding -- for product brands as well as corporate brands. In this era where true competitive advantages are hard to come by and harder to maintain, and where value for the dollar is going to become ever more critical, it will be the underlying power of the brand that will make one product "worth" more than a parity competitor.

Similarly, and on a grander scale, it will be its underlying strength, stability, and power that will ensure a corporate brand's long-term vitality and desirability in an ever more demanding world. And it is for all these reasons that the corporation must be viewed by the CEO as not just the holder of his brands but as a brand unto itself -- to be managed, and built, as a brand.

Edward H. Vick is President and Chief Executive Officer of Landor Associates, a leading identity management company. Founded by Walter Landor in 1941, the firm has offices in San Francisco, New York, London, Paris, Mexico City, Tokyo, and Hong Kong. Among its identity research, consulting, and corporate design services, the firm produces the ImagePower Survey |TM~ of the most powerful brands in the world. Vick took over the helm at Landor in 1991 following 20 years' experience in New York with several major advertising agencies. He is based in Landor's San Francisco office.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Directors and Boards
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Building Brand Strength
Author:Vick, Edward H.
Publication:Directors & Boards
Date:Jun 22, 1993
Previous Article:Getting serious about customer focus.
Next Article:CEOs and boards: reform or gridlock?

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