Branding professionals are still grappling with the after effects of the GFC as well as increased competition from across the communications sector, but opportunities exist for creative thinkers.
THE company he founded is one of the most powerful corporate brands in Australia and it’s no coincidence that Andrew Forrest’s personal profile is almost synonymous with Fortescue Metals Group.
For an industry still grappling with the post-GFC belt tightening as well as the challenges of the rapidly evolving digital market, FMG proves great brands are built on the commitment of senior management, not catchy creative.
Brands need to be valued and driven by their CEO, The Brand Agency managing director Steve Harris said, not left in the hands of a marketing department.
Mr Harris has worked in the local industry long enough to remember when Western Australia was home to a number of high-profile consumer brands, such as Jeans West and Challenge Bank.
The steady march of advertising accounts east, including WA brands such as Tourism WA, continues to be a thorn in the side of the local industry but there are also new opportunities in this market, particularly in the resources sector as major players work to build reputation and win the talent war.
Perth agencies needed to look beyond advertising as the only tool to build or manage a brand, Mr Harris said, and focus on issues such as the potential of employees to be brand advocates.
“If you look at companies that are really successful their CEO is really involved as a custodian and driver of the brand,” Mr Harris said.
“One of the faults you see is when it’s delegated down to someone who has limited cultural authority within the business, they may have only been with the company for six months ... and people wonder why it runs off the rails.”
Rio Tinto Iron Ore boss Sam Walsh has a keen understanding of just how closely aligned his own profile is with the Rio Tinto Brand and the importance of this in driving the brand values
“I suspect that if I step back from it, Sam Walsh is Rio Tinto and Rio Tinto is Sam Walsh, it is a natural fit and it is very hard for me to separate myself from Rio Tinto,” Mr Walsh said.
“But likewise anything I do, people are looking at it as Sam from Rio.”
Once the exclusive domain of the big-name advertising agencies, specialist providers like digital agencies, public relations outfits and graphic designers are increasingly targeting branding work to broaden their relationship with standing clients as well as bring new work through the door.
It can make finding the right branding specialist very confusing. And then there is the vast and rapidly changing array of communication channels now demanding attention, particularly in the fast-moving digital sector.
It’s enough to make even the most hardened advertising veteran talk wistfully about the good old days when the only choices were television, radio, and the print media.
As director of planning for Marketforce, Nicole Walton has witnessed first-hand the paralysing impact of choice.
She said the digital landscape, and more particularly social media, could be very intimidating for businesses that had always controlled the public messages about their brand.
Digital, which was once just online advertising, has evolved with the rise of the powerful social networking sites into a space where brands can enter into a conversation with their consumers or stakeholders.
But perhaps the most difficult aspect of digital is that it isn’t necessarily a sales channel in the same way as television or press.
It’s a place to build brand communities and engage in conversation.
There are opportunities for WA’s brands but there are also pitfalls, and Ms Walton said strategy was crucial to success in the digital arena.
“To do digital well takes quite a lot of courage because brands are more exposed to the two-way conversation so they have to be open to let people talk about them,” she said.
For a handful of WA’s biggest brands, however, digital technology has proved an important portal for innovation and a powerful new channel to connect with staff and, in the case of RAC, motorists.
RAC uses Twitter to let followers know about traffic incidents, or anything that could affect their journey home. It occasionally drops in an insurance message but the communication’s main objective is to help people get home safely.
The state’s big-name resource companies such as Woodside have forged their brands in the dust and dirt of WA’s rich resource deposits.
These companies don’t have retail products but the competition for talent, as well as the investment in reputation, is driving them to invest in their brand, particularly their internal brand.
Developing a strong internal culture that reflects the core values of a company’s brand is the bedrock of branding, according to Wrays brand services director Jo Woodfield.
Wrays is best known as an intellectual property consultant and is one of the relative newcomers to the field of branding in WA.
Ms Woodfield said this inside-out approach to branding valued a company’s staff over creative solutions, which told people what a business stood for rather than demonstrating it through the behaviour of its employees.
“It’s about giving your employees a voice, inviting them to contribute ideas for a sense of ownership, influence on and empathy with your business and brand and then inspiring them into action as real brand advocates,” she said.
Ms Woodfield said technology tools such as Yammer – described as an internal Facebook for businesses – could be very effective in flattening organisational structure and encouraging staff to share news and comments.
“We are moving from very system-driven fundamentals to being more adaptive, more collaborative ... that’s why it’s even more important to instil what your brand stands for into your people,” she said.