Category Archives: Creativity

Branding and corporate identity

Branding was strictly a subset of marketing when I started my marketing career in 1958. It was hardly ever practiced by business-to-business marketers, and certainly not by small companies.

Corporate Identity was a different matter. Any business was encouraged to develop one, particularly if your stock was traded on an exchange. The corporate name, logo, stationery and annual report were the main elements of a corporate identity. And if you had a building, your signage became a part of your ID. And if you had a large ad budget, part might be set aside for “corporate advertising”.

Today there’s little emphasis on corporate identity as a lone discipline. It’s been replaced by corporate brand, which can also be called the masterbrand. Many of the principles and activities of product branding and of corporate identity programs were adopted and integrated into the corporate brand.

The firms who served corporations in either product branding (normally ad agencies) or corporate identity (usually graphic designers with business sense) have changed as well over time.

Today there a couple of dozen highly regarded branding consultancies. Most are global in scope. Some evolved from corporate identity firms of long standing. Others were offering market research and counsel about packaging goods branding. Now the “branding” industry is huge. You’ll find a dozen substantial practitioners even in a dusty ole cow town like Denver.

Branding and corporate identity have merged and grown. Today, the corporate brand development is a vital activity, even with smaller companies that, someday, want to be big ones. Today, in many companies, marketing is actually a subset of branding. How things change over time.

Martin Jelsema

Ramblings about Corporate Culture and Your Brand

A big part of the brand, particularly a corporate brand, is the company culture.

I spent five years at IBM during the “glory days” of the 1960’s. Then, even though shipments of the brand-new System/360 solid-state general purpose computers were being delayed, customers “forgave” IBM because the IBM sales, service and field engineers kept telling them it’s worth the wait. An ad campaign documenting how easy the install and transition was for those who were lucky enough to have had their’s installed in the first wave.

IBM was worth the wait. Nobody got fired buying IBM. The corporate rallying cry was “Excellence in all that we do”. Business people believed in IBM. Those were heady times.

Even in the early days of computing, IBM had a heritage and a tradition. There were legends, some still among us, who pioneered a particular application. I remember Bruce Smith, the instigator of the American Airlines Sabre reservations system. I was “privileged” to make a presentation to him and his elite crew concerning a marketing communications program, and knew a thrill afterwards because he said “good job”. I used to read quotes from Mr. Smith about forward thinking or systems sales or the state of the airline industry long after leaving the hollowed halls..

I had a similar experience when a very-young Archie McGill was Director of Distribution Marketing and trying to dethrone NCR as computer king in the retail trades.

Then there was the fountainhead, Thomas Watson, Sr. It was he who anointed the sales force king at IBM. It was he who began the much-publicized 100% Club annual extravaganzas. It was he who made “Excellence” the byword for all employees, and it was he who introduced the famous “Think” signs and notebooks. He also made sure salesmen (few women then) wore white sirts only with a conservative tie and dark suit.

Now none of these people and their accomplishments were thought of as part of the IBM brand. The brand was important, but it was the name and logo and the color (think Big Blue) of the equipment. Paul Rand was the corporation’s brand “policeman”. As an independent consultant and designer, he oversaw all design produced within and for IBM. If he thought something was not compatible, you’d hear about.

But the real heart of the IBM brand were the leaders who would not compromise, who wanted the best from the employees, and developed a pride among them. We were invincible.

And the attitude of employees, seen within customer installations throughout the world, was and is the brand of a company. There were also the legends of the number of millionaires on the production lines because IBM had a stock purchase plan. And the 24-hour, weekend work-arounds to get a customer’s system up and running after a flood. And the IBM volunteers helping third-world villages get their first computer along with a power generator.

These stories, these legends resonate with people. These are the things people remember about a company. These are the things that matter.

No matter your type of business, your corporate culture is the single most obvious and important factor in your customers’ eyes. Get that right and the rest will follow.

If it worked for IBM, why wouldn’t it work for you?

Martin Jelsema

Customers brand B2B companies

It may surprise some readers that there are still companies today that are driven by manufacturing.

These are companies that have mastered a particular production technique, or are very well skilled in an arcane technology.

So what does that have to do with branding?

Even manufacturing-driven companies are branded, usually by their customer base and industry leaders. The branding process is actually unconscious on the manufacturer’s part. It just happens.

I was employed by such a company.

For five years I reported to the Vice President of R&D at CoorsTek (then still named Coors Porcelain Company), the nation’s leading supplier of highly engineered, custom-designed ceramic parts and products. My job was to assess various ceramic applications Coors was not serving because they had neither the material nor plant to fabricate them. Many were future applications for high temperature, and/or highly stressed components, mostly for energy-related technologies.

But I also provided much of the information and thought concerning the company’s strategic positioning. I strongly urged the company to change its name from the archaic Coors Porcelain Company. I suggested back in the early 1980’s that they needed to be more conscious of branding and marketing, not just rely on their sales force to establish relationships – which they did exceptionally well.

Over time, after I’d left to form my own company, the company did become Coors Ceramics. And after acquiring metals and plastic fabrication facilities tthey became CoorsTek.

CoorsTek thrives today as a well-equipped engineered materials  fabrication provider  for most problem applications in electronics, transportation, paper making, electric utilities, materials handling systems, etc.

Coors “survived” a major thrust from Japanese competitors, particularly Kyocera in the electronics industry in the 1980’s. But over time its ability to work with customers, to develop relationships with engineers who specified the product, made them able to capture major market shares in the most profitable application areas. It has also survived several reorganizations performed by its then-parent company, Coors Brewery. Now completely independent, the company has developed a reputation for materials and fabrication know-how second to none. .

So what’s the point?

Their reputation is their brand.

Even manufacturing-driven companies are branded through reputation.

Now, as a successful and progressive company CoorsTek is beginning to pay attention to its brand. I am really impressed with their web site, CoorsTek. They now present themselves as a leader and a problem solver. If you go there, click on the “History” link to see just how far they’ve come.

Their current tagline, Amazing Solutions, speaks to the unique materials they have formulated as well as the fabricating processes they have developed.


Did branding get them where they are today? I don’t think their attempts at branding did so, I think their performance in the marketplace branded them. Today’s “new image” will, I believe, help them maintain and grow their brand, but for them and most B2B marketers, brand is tied directly and strongly with performance.

Martin Jelsema

Brands and Color:number seven in a series

Still going around the color wheel, we’ve finally come to primary color, red.

This is a color of mixed messages and associations.

First, red is powerful and aggressive. It tends to dominate other colors in combinations. We all know it’s a warm color. And at its most intense, red is associated with hot. It invokes excitement and action.

Red is the color of blood and violence. But it’s also the color of romance and valentines. And Santa Claus wears a red suit. It’s the traditional color of fire engines, rescue efforts and traffic signs/signals meaning “stop”. In nature, healthful fruits and veggies are often red.

 Apple red

We speak positively of red-letter days and the red carpet treatment. Negative expressions include: seeing red, being in the red, red tape, a red flag and a red herring.

Red’s cultural meanings and associations vary worldwide but are generally positive. Brides in Hindu, Islamic and Chinese cultures usually wear red. In India, a red mark on the forehead purports to attract good luck. Red in Singapore symbolizes joy. It is associated with good fortune in China.

Because red is vibrant and powerful, a little dab might be all you need to convey a message of action and vitality.

Green is the complement color to red. Orange and purple are analogous to red. Names for different shades and hues of red include scarlet, crimson, maroon, burgundy, ruby, flame, vermillion.

If you are looking to associate your product/service/organization/event with a festive, forceful, hot, bold, and/or dynamic color, red would be first choice. Brands associated with sports, energy supply and youth often look to red.

Logos using red

Those people who prefer red are usually impulsive, athletic and sexy. They are optimists and passionate about their activities. They want to experience life to its fullest, even though they will have swings in their emotional natures.

Although red is a popular color for branding, there are some darker shades that are not used as often that will also impart the associations provided by bright reds.

Martin Jelsema


How will Murdoch Affect the WSJ Brand?

Today’s news: Rupert Murdoch is about to acquire Dow-Jones and the Wall Street Journal. He claims there won’t be any change in the editorial approach or content for the WSJ.

OK, I take him at his word.

But in the minds of readers and observers, will the Journal lose credibility just because of the association with Murdoch and his New York Post approach to sensational “journalism”? How can two such disparate publications reside in the same house?

This is why mergers and acquisitions raise such havoc with the brands of the combined organizations, particularly when there’s a leader with a branded personality all his own.

The portfolio components get blurred and superseded by the leader’s brand.

The individual brands have a problem maintaining their brand identity no matter how strong that brand was when standing on its own. They tend to become associated with each other and with the parent.

We’ve all observed respected brands diluted, absorbed and/or deleted from a company’s portfolio after they have been acquired by a company that’s not invested in the brand’s uniqueness. Look to Nabisco and Kraft for instance.

I have no answers that will allow strong brands to reside side-by-side within a combined organization coming from different cultures, serving different markets and advocating different values. If it’s possible, I’d keep the component organizations as far apart as possible in every aspect of their activities. I’d not emphasize any connections. I’d attempt to disassociate my name (i.e. Murdoch’s) from the Journal. I’d bend over backwards to maintain the independent editorial practices of the Journal.

The Murdoch empire – splashy tabloids, Fox News and the Simpsons – just doesn’t align with the Wall Street Journal. Only time – and profitability – will tell if the WSJ brand can maintain its clear and respected identity in the house of Murdoch.  

Let’s hope Murdoch has the insight, expertise and patience to make this seeming mismatch work so the Journal does not diminish in credibility or in brand identification.

Martin Jelsema

Branding and Color– Number 5 in a Series

This week, the subject is blue. Blue has a lot going for it.

It’s a primary color with all kinds of tones and hues.

They range from an almost-black navy to the lightest of pastels, from bright sky-blue to dignified royal blue, from greenish turquoise to purplish ultramarine.

 blue sky

Basically, blue is a cool color. That means it’s complementary to the hot secondary color, orange. Analogous colors are green and purple.

Blue is the most-liked color. It has a universality of good associations beginning with sky and water. Yet, it is not a color associated with food, with the exception of blueberries. Blue has a masculine orientation as well.

Large companies seem partial to blue as a company color – IBM, AT&T, GE and GM among them. And of course there’s the Tiffany blue box.

array of blues in branding 

In general, blue imparts “good vibes”. It has come to represent importance, intelligence, stability, harmony, peace, confidence, masculinity, power, trust and serenity.

The word “blue” turns up in phrases that are generally positive: true blue, blue ribbon, blue skies, blue book.

Blue can also be associated with sadness and depression. Feeling blue and singing the blues come to mind.

In its lighter, brighter tones, blue imparts a freshness and a casualness. Blue-gray is a modern, formal color. The dark blues can conger formal and classic associations.

People whose favorite color is blue generally have a need for calm. They are usually gentle and sensitive and tend to form strong attachments and relationships. They display a high sense of responsibility, trust and confidence.

Medium and dark blues can be combined with warm and hot colors for contrast and tension. When dark blues are matched to dark colors like maroon, black and gold, a somber, dignified association is created. Lighter tones combined with earth tones like tan imparts a nature-oriented association. Mid-toned blues are mutually compatible with contrasting and monochromatic colors, and offers great flexibility.

No wonder it’s the most popular color.

Martin Jelsema

Colorful Branding – Number 1 in a series

Without doubt, color is a vital element of branding. Except for a powerful brand name, color is the most important branding element, in my opinion, because of the emotional power of color.

Color invokes associations and set moods. It may be a “subliminal” element in that most people will not consciously be aware of a brand’s color(s) or the associations it evokes. In fact, unless a color is absolutely prominent (and may even have the color’s name in the brand name – GreenThumb, Selsun Blue), most people could not name a color associated with a brand unless its been around for years – think Kodak, Scott’s, Tide and UPS.

The emotions elicited from colors can be greatly influenced by the context in which it appears. For example, green is the color of money and suitable for financial service businesses. But it is also the color of trees, lawns and shrubs so environmentally-conscious brands will probably opt for green. Green is also associated with “green light”, “green horn”, Kermit the Frog and a Jolly Green Giant.

Then, too, colors may signify different associations in different cultures. For the Japanese, white is associated with death, whereas in Western culture it stands for purity and beginnings. Care in selecting colors for a global brand is almost as important as selecting a brand name that “translates positively”.

HGB color wheel

Another factor: most brands have multi-colored visages. So what happens when two colors tend to “contradict” each other? What affect does the FedEx  purple and orange have on target audiences, if any? Just another factor to consider when establishing the elements of your brand.

Then there are other ways to combine and contrast colors based on color theory and the color wheel. These techniques will provide cohesion, harmony, vitality, tension, serenity, and any number of other reactions to  the brand.

So this series will tackle color. I’ll start with blogs about each of the major colors, then speak to color combinations and then to color theory as it pertains to branding.

So please keep coming back to explore colorful branding facts, ideas and opinions, and please let me hear from you about your experiences with color in branding.

Branding: a function of strategy

To me branding is establishing a two-sided relationship by matching the needs of specific market segments with your company core competencies.

It begins with devising the products, services, infrastructure and mindset to be of importance to your market. Then, you “dialog” with market members in a way meaningful to them. The entire branding process is based on interpreting the market’s needs and desires and communicating a solution in a unique, memorable, relevant and appropriate way.

Branding isn’t a function of the marketing department and ad agency alone. It’s the responsibility of the executive office residents to lead the development of the brand or brands through their actions as well as direction. The company drives the brand, and the brand drives the company.

The brand is the mission, the value proposition, the vision, the corporate goals and the corporate culture in action. It is the personality and the core of the organization.

This doesn’t just apply to the one-product company, either. Each product in the portfolio will be there because it “fits”. Each service might appeal to different market segments, but will be backed by the corporate commitment that differentiates it from competitors and makes it desirable to prospects and customers.

Each offering may be branded separately as far as having separate brand elements such as names, logos, packaging, etc., but all should have a consistent, unabashed connection to the greater brand – the corporate commitment to establishing strong and lasting relationships with market members through an honest desire to be of great service to them.

If this sounds much like something you encountered several years ago as “corporate image” or corporate identity”, I’d just suggest that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.

Branding is a strategic function. It should have a champion at the very highest corporate level in charge of forming, communicating, policing, assessing and evolving the brand in all its facets and faces.

Martin Jelsema