Build a Reputation Worth Branding

If you cannot answer why a customer should choose you over your competitor, then you cannot expect a customer to be able to make that differentiation either.

If you run a business that sells over 30 million units per day worldwide, you invest the time to do what is necessary to build and sustain your brand equity. That is the case with Starbucks Coffee, where the value of the company is linked to the value of its brand. Now, as metalcasters, you’re probably thinking: “That may be true for Starbucks, but my customers don’t choose to buy pipes, valves, and fittings the same way they choose to buy a cup of coffee.” And that’s where I would tell you you’re wrong.

While it is true that direct to consumer and other retail businesses lend themselves better to some of the marketing aspects of branding, every business entity interested in its own self preservation, growth, and success should concern itself with building brand equity. And I would argue that the metalcasting industry in particular needs to pay far more attention to branding, especially due to increased foreign competition from countries such as China and an ever-expanding regulatory environment here at home.

Metalcasters talk to each other but rarely venture beyond their peers and associations to project an image that will appeal to a broader audience. Today, this can be dangerous. While it may be a gross generalization, it is the nature of “old” industries to see no need to identify themselves with issues among their respective stakeholders, and seldom do they communicate the indispensability of who they are and what they make. Your neighbors, customers, suppliers, vendors, shareholders, community, and political leaders, not to mention your employees, need to know why metalcasting is important and why they all have a stake in its successful continuity. This is where branding comes in.

Your brand is the essence of who you are; it’s the thoughts and emotions, whether real or perceived, that both external and internal audiences believe about your product, service and leadership. The level of your brand equity is determined by brand assets such as brand awareness, loyalty, associations, and perceived quality, with each asset resulting in its own return on investment. For example, high brand awareness demonstrates your level of commitment and ultimately builds brand loyalty, which reduces marketing costs and attracts new customers. Brand associations differentiate you from the competition, while perceived quality influences pricing and decisions to buy. In the end, higher brand equity translates into a competitive advantage.

So how do you build brand equity? While the strategies and tactics used may include advertising and marketing campaigns, increasingly, brands are supported by a public relations program. Although the specific goals of a public relations initiative may differ according to an organization’s ultimate objective, all successful public relations programs seek to establish and maintain a positive corporate reputation.

Corporate reputation is the measure of how your customers, vendors, employees, and industry peer groups perceive your business, and it matters a great deal to the bottom line. Corporate reputation — i.e. brand image — shortens sales cycles as it ensures that you stay on approved vendor lists. In the highly regulated metalcasting industry, a high corporate reputation quotient translates into greater leverage with regulators as they will view your company more positively. Reputation also influences pricing because your perceived quality allows you to erect barriers to keep your prices higher than your competitors, whether foreign or domestic. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, corporate reputation keeps costs down as you find it easier to hire, train, and retain the best and brightest operators and workers, rather than lose them to competitors or other industries.

Many metalcasters only discover that their brand and reputation matters once the inevitable crisis occurs. The crisis may be adverse publicity following issues with your workforce (environmental, safety, labor), the public (regulatory, governmental violations), or even your competition. In any case, the metalcaster will be put on defense. But, a proactive public-relations program designed to build brand equity and manage corporate reputation, might have averted the crisis all together, or lessened its impact.

Another likely objective of public relations will be to differentiate the client’s brand from the competition. If we assume parity relative to corporate reputation and pricing, when it comes to iron and steel products, the average customer may find it difficult to tell the difference between Brand X and Y. Therefore, before undertaking a public relations initiative, it is essential to determine what separates you from the competition. If you are unable to answer why a customer should choose you over your competitor, then you cannot expect a customer to be able to make that differentiation either. A public relations firm can work with you to define and highlight your differentiators, if this hasn’t already been determined.

Traditionally, a successful public relations campaign has been measured by clip counts or column inches in media outlets, the kind of “publicity” often associated with public relations. Although essential to a P.R. campaign, such measures are a means to end — not the end itself. Results are what matter, and a critical result of a well-orchestrated public relations program is one that has a positive impact on brand and corporate reputation and, ultimately, sales.

How well prepared are you today to invest in and protect your brand? Here are some questions you should ask:
- Is your brand positively positioned in your industry, including greater trade, association, media, and community awareness?
- Do you have a community relations and/or social responsibility program in place?
- Do you have a crisis communications plan in place?
- Do you have key, unifying company messages developed that drive sales, marketing, community, and public relations activities?
- Are press releases and collateral materials well written and supportive of the brand and its positioning?
- Have strategic media and community relationships been cultivated, so that when the inevitable crisis occurs you’ll be in a position to respond?
- Are sales figures on the rise? Are you achieving other key business objectives?
- Do you actively seek to change attitudes or perceptions about your industry? Are you considered a thought leader in metalcasting?

The American metalcasting industry is a proud one, with an impressive history but an uncertain future. Every day, opportunities exist for you to reach out to your customers, vendors, suppliers, regulators and the community, to build brand equity. It is time for metalcasters, individually and collectively, to tell their story to those who have never set foot in a trade show.
Keating & Co. provides public relations, public affairs, and consulting services. Visit www.keatingco.com

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