A question of branding

COMMENT: Walking around a large cruise shipping expo in Florida - where I escaped yet another New York snowstorm - I found representatives of an industrial port in Brazil, São Sebastião, emphasising its blue water, lush surroundings and its proximity to São Paulo as its key notes to attracting cruise lines, writes Barry Parker.

Ports, though not thought of as consumer goods, are brands nevertheless. Stakeholders - from the cargo and shipping sides, from governmental and political entities, and elsewhere - view ports a certain way, with good and bad attributes, and these impressions remain in place.

Recently, the notion of branding, and its close cousin “re-invention” have been on my mind. The São Sebastião example is an extreme one of changing impressions and it differs from the working cargo ports more familiar to me who look at incremental changes to existing arrangements. But it still underscores the importance of re-invention, and brand positioning.

Before heading down to Florida, I became aware of efforts to bring fresh perspectives to local logistics, with a new-age twist. An Infrastructure Funding Hackathon based on projects that have been proposed around the New York area is to bring data professionals (including some from outside the business) into discussions with logisticians and people working in the business. Unconventional? Perhaps, but where innovative processes are grid-locked, as they are with lorries and chassis, there seem to be benefits from bringing some new faces and new perspectives into the same room alongside the usual suspects around the port. The newbies would likely come in from the world of software and data analysis.

Recently, we’ve seen a tie-up between one of the largest liner shipping companies, and one of the largest information companies, looking to re-invent (there we go again) logistics and supply chain data. Details will emerge over time, but the impact of such developments will be to increase the importance of connectivity with larger systems.

What does this have to do with branding? In one view of the brave new world, the increasing importance of data will be of increasing importance in driving decisions of which vessels call at which terminals, and ports. Ports that are forward thinking and latch on to standards that emerge from collaborations between the information giant and the guys with the blue ships may be able to add “data” to their brands.

Perceptions matter; as the snowstorm batters my hometown, my mind returns to that industrial port in Brazil re-branding itself a blue water haven. I admit, I'm already sold.

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