Like it or not, how a port brands itself is crucial to success in today’s image-conscious world. Felicity Landon reports
Who are your customers? What are they looking for? What do you do different or better? Branding decisions should start with the customer, not with yourself, says marketing expert Florian Clemens. “When creating your strategy and sharpening your brand, I would always start from specific groups – who exactly are they? What are they doing today? What is your right to win among them?”
Mr Clemens, director at global marketing consultancy EffectiveBrands, says branding is becoming more and more important in business-to-business (B2B) marketing. “Making a clear promise to your customers and actively managing your reputation has always been important, but many of our B2B clients now see the need to upgrade their marketing strategy, organisational structure and marketing skills,” he says. “Competition is raising the bar, new communication opportunities require new skills and business contacts are becoming much more market-savvy.”
Klavs Valskov, head of communication and branding at Maersk Line, believes that for port companies competing in a global market, it is crucial to have a clear and distinct brand proposition. “The global port companies’ key customers are operating all over the world and they need to be met with the same propositions and services no matter what port they berth in,” he says. “Of course you can add local flavour to the offering, but if the experience in one port is ‘first class’ and in another it is more like ‘economy class’, then you end up confusing both your own staff and your customers over what you are all about.”
Mr Valskov, who has worked in PR, marketing and communication since 1999, recently announced that after five years with Maersk Line, he is to move on to become partner at London firm Agenda Strategies, specialising in change communication. His notable achievements at Maersk Line since 2008 included supervising the launch of the Triple-E order in 2011, the Manifesto challenging the industry to think differently, and the launch of the Daily Maersk service.
He says: “At the end of the day, a strong branding/marketing strategy is all about managing expectations. If you can, upfront, steer people’s views on what your product and service is, then you get very far – also in terms of efficiencies. You will avoid a lot of disputes because customers know what they are paying for – and they get it!
"And internally, staff are in no doubt about what kind of customer experience they are part of delivering. That way you avoid too much silo thinking and discussions.”
In essence, he says, branding/marketing mechanisms for business-to-consumer (B2C) are not very different to those for B2B. “It is people making business together and we are all driven to make choices with our perceptions. Of course, brand makes up a much larger part of the purchasing decision in industries such as cosmetics or tobacco, where it is up to 70% of the reason why we buy a certain product.
"In the transport industry brand counts for about 20%-25% of the purchasing decision. A lot less, of course, but in my view still too significant to be ignored. I do think many companies in the transport and logistics industry hold great potential to utilise their brand much more effectively, internally as well as externally.”
Great brands are built ‘from the inside’ and there is no such thing as a ‘quick fix’ to your brand, emphasises Mr Valskov. “Simply because that is your core identity – this is what you want to be for customers, what is making you attractive for investors and what your staff gets up in the morning and goes to work for. Quick fixes are when you need to handle a crisis and through competent PR work your way through an issue.”
Mr Clemens says when he and his team work with clients to create their global brand positioning, they combine external and internal influences to build a clear positioning: what is your brand heritage, what are your customers looking for, what is your unique promise? “This promise should give enough internal and external direction to motivate your employees, engage stakeholders and attract customers,” he says.
Plenty of companies claim to be both ‘global and local’ these days, but what does that mean? Developing a global-local strategy is quite an undertaking, says Mr Clemens. “You want to take the local needs into account, but build a globally consistent strategy at the same time. Our approach is to involve local leadership from the beginning to co-create the strategic building blocks, then create a modular strategy that targets the most valuable customer groups – and if a customer is not present locally, you don’t pursue it.”
For smaller ports and smaller brands, the key to success is to define your challenger strategy looking at all the customer groups out there and what they are looking for, says Mr Clemens. “Is there a customer-relevant way in which you are different and better, compared with the mainstream choice? Even if your offer is only relevant to a smaller group of customers, you can target those by disagreeing with the mainstream in a meaningful way. Being ‘green’ can be that, if there is a group of your customers who base their decisions on your ecological credentials.”
A business strategy is always dynamic and should be adjustable for changing markets, says Mr Valskov. “But at one point in time you need to lock your target on what you fundamentally want to be. Once those business objectives are decided, it makes sense to start looking at how the brand can then help deliver business value and essentially sell your products more effectively.”
Companies should avoid looking at their brand as purely a communication exercise, says Mr Valskov. “The powerful brand is deeply ingrained with your market plans, customer segmentation and daily decision-making. And it has to be. If you are not acting according to your brand promise throughout the value chain, then you risk diluting and compromising your brand, most likely leading to confused and dissatisfied customers.”
Sometimes a company’s brand promise is already quite clear and just needs to be brushed off and gets contextualised better, he adds. “In other cases it requires a more profound effort. However, there is always someone in the company that holds the DNA within them and who can tell stories about what the core ideas were. Conversations with these people are always a good starting point.”
Mr Clemens says keeping it fresh should be "more of an executional question than a strategic one”.
“As long as your brand promise is still right, you can develop a fresh twist to reach new consumer segments or address a specific purchase barrier,” he says. “For example, when the software manufacturer SAP wanted to drive growth among small businesses, it did not drop the ‘Company X runs SAP’ campaign many of us know from airports, but adapted it to show the benefits for small companies instead.”
Port of Hamburg Marketing (HHM) was founded in 1985 by Hamburg-based port-related companies including terminal operators and forwarding and logistics companies, as a non-profit organisation offering marketing and market research information for its members. Since then it has grown to a worldwide network, including 24 staff in Hamburg and 39 in its 12 representative offices, promoting the business location of the Port of Hamburg and its greater metropolitan area.
HHM recently received a ‘Global Benchmark in Port Marketing’ award from the Global Institute of Logistics.
Hamburg is Germany’s number one port and a hub for worldwide freight services, with more than 1,000 ports connected via Hamburg and well developed hinterland connections by inland waterway, rail and road, says Claudia Roller, chief executuve of HHM. “However, the flows of goods are not the only key to success. An effective and strong branding of Port of Hamburg is targeting the port’s worldwide network and connecting the Hamburg port industry to economic and political decision-makers.”
Hamburg’s marketing strategy ensures continuous information exchange, she adds. “Over the 25 years that HHM has been responsible for marketing the port as a business location, communication has become ever more professional and the port network has grown continually.”
A central communication tool for HHM is its PR activities, which have given the port a presence worldwide, says Mrs Roller, and an internet platform, PORTblog, offers member companies interactive communication between themselves within a closed blog. The portofhamburg.com website, as well as newsletters and other publications are all of high value, she adds, while HHM also represents its members at trade fairs, information evenings and customer events around the world.
A marketing association should be able to provide facts and figures about port and cargo-related development, including information about hinterland transport and liner shipping, says Mrs Roller. Members benefit from the research and media network of a marketing association and the large number of contacts with different market players from industry, trade, logistics and transport, she says.
Since the beginning of 2011, HHM has had a newly positioned department for participating in EU projects financed with EU subsidies and supported by international partners. “To be involved in EU Interreg and other projects brings many contacts and helps to understand the different perspectives of European transport and port policies,” says Mrs Roller.
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