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Corporate Branding: Why Are Apple, Alphabet & SAP Pouring Millions Into It?

A person holding two pieces of a puzzle to represent corporate branding and all its elements that need to fit together
Is corporate branding worth investing in? We’re here to help you decide.

The media was abuzz when Google’s leadership announced the launch of their corporate entity back in 2015. Between developing the new brand to roll it out, the corporate branding venture alone likely cost the company millions of dollars.

Was it worth creating this new entity, considering that Google’s brand portfolio was doing quite well to begin with?

Data said “yes” shortly after the launch of Alphabet. The market reacted immediately, pushing Google’s shares up by 6% in extended trading.

For Google, corporate branding was a worthwhile investment. But how do you know whether corporate branding is right for you?

Here, we’ll break it all down and help you decide if corporate branding is worth investing in. We’ll also cover the right time to invest, walk you through an actionable strategy and provide examples to pull inspiration from.

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What Is Corporate Branding?

Corporate branding is the practice of building, promoting and growing the brand of a company as a corporate entity.

It’s how a corporation presents itself to the world, as well as how it presents itself to its own employees.

Corporate branding is much broader than the scope of branding specific products or services separately.

It involves integrating consistent branding with your marketing, communications and corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities to reach customers, investors and even employees.

Who Should Invest In Corporate Branding?

Corporate branding doesn’t make sense for every business, so how do you decide if it’s worth investing in?

For starters, let’s analyze one of the greatest corporate brands out there — Disney. The House of Mouse is not limited to movies or legendary theme parks.

On one hand, it’s a huge corporation, a sovereign ruler of the entertainment industry. On the other, it’s the source of magical storytelling that creates emotional connections with consumers.

Disney doesn’t simply sell a single product or a single movie, but an experience.

Whether it’s an action figure, a DVD or a stuffed mouse, the Disney logo means something to people — it represents joy, youth and imagination.

There’s a reason why you have this association with the brand, regardless of the type of product, and it has a lot to do with corporate branding.

Corporate branding example: Disney
[Source: The Walt Disney Company website]
Marketing and selling without a base brand means there’s a chance that you must constantly start from scratch, each time convincing a new audience that your product or service are worth purchasing.

Investing in your brand as a whole, instead of marketing a single product, gives your audience a long-term connection with your business and allows them to form an association each time you present something new.

Simply put, corporate branding helps consumers relate multiple product or service offerings to a brand instead of viewing them as separate entities.

Effective corporate branding can also minimize the need for large-scale marketing initiatives for every single (new) product or service since consumers have a prenotion of the quality based on the overarching brand.

Make sense?

So, corporate branding may be right for your company if your goal is to:

  • Transfer brand equity to owned brands (new and existing): Think pharmaceutical brands such as Johnson & Johnson, Bayer, GSK — all recognizable and trusted corporations with whose logos endorse every product they put on the market to transfer credibility and give it a head-start, both with consumers and the media.
  • Create a foundation for employer branding to help you attract top talent: Research has shown that recognizable brands attract better quality talent as well as improve retention rates.
  • Improve and grow vendor relationships and networks: Corporate branding can help you position or reposition your business within its ecosystem. With more visibility, your brand is likely to attract better partners and deals.
  • Increase company valuation: Corporate branding coupled with solid digital marketing and PR strategies can influence the public perception and interest in your company.
  • Attract more media attention: With the increased visibility and interest in your corporation comes better media coverage opportunities.

When Is The Best Time To Invest In Corporate Branding?

The answer to this question depends on where you’re at in your business life cycle.

Pre-launch of a new product or service, during a merger or during a rebranding are the most common times to invest in corporate branding.

Here’s why:

If you already have an established business, but you’ve recently decided to present a new line of products or services to the market, corporate branding could help your audience associate the new line to your existing products, which could in turn help launch your new line at a higher purchase rate.

If you recently merged with another company to expand your market influence, you can use this new opportunity to bring your strategies together and create a unified corporate branding strategy. The unified brand is what you’ll present to the word, from investors to potential new hires.

Then there’s the case of investing in corporate branding during a rebranding. Let’s look to Starbucks as an example. We all know the company as a global brand leader in the coffee industry, right? It didn’t start that way, though.

Did you know that Starbucks started as a small, independently owned coffee shop in the middle of Seattle? The joint was selling splendid coffee at the time, yet, the brand “Starbucks” didn’t exist.

The moment it decided to acknowledge its growth in popularity and change not only the public but also the internal perception of the company, Starbucks became one of the most recognized brands in the world.

Starbucks created a corporate brand
[Source: Starbucks website]

3 Successful Corporate Branding Examples: Apple, Alphabet & SAP

One of the most efficient ways to create a strong corporate brand is to find inspiration from the best.

We’ve already mentioned some names that command attention, but let’s take a look at three other examples where famous brands turned their corporate branding efforts into highly successful campaigns.

Example #1: Apple

Apple is one of the best examples of a well-established corporate brand. It is also a perfect example of how to distinguish a corporate brand from a product brand.

The tech giant is famous for offering smart gadgets ranging from mobile phones, laptops, computers, TVs, watches and more, but its brand is even bigger.

The tech aspect of the brand became a universal measurement according to which Apple’s competitors evaluate themselves and quantify their own efforts, be it design, software features, packaging or company image.

Apple’s brand is all about people’s emotions, hopes and dreams. It is also about lifestyle, innovation, simplification and empowering people through technology. In short: It’s high quality, high class, high tech.

In their own words, taken from Apple’s ad spot “Intention:”

“The first thing we ask is: What do we want people to feel? Delight. Surprise. Love. Connection. Then we begin to craft around our intention… We simplify, we perfect, we start over until everything we touch enhances each life it touches. Only then do we sign our work: Designed by Apple in California.”

Now, think of an iPhone, an Apple Watch or a MacBook Pro. Can you sense Apple’s corporate brand values shining through each product?

But this company hasn’t become such a widely recognized brand by chance.

Over the past few decades, Apple has carefully crafted a strong branding strategy to make sure all of the moving parts present as a unified brand, perceived (and cherished!) by millions of people around the world.

The power of Apple’s brand is demonstrated right from the company’s roots. Back in 1978, Apple Corps, the record label and holding company founded by the Beatles, arguably the most popular band of all times, filed a lawsuit against Apple for trademark infringement.

Officially, the suit was settled in 1981 with an undisclosed amount paid to The Beatles’ label. As a condition of the settlement, Apple (Apple Computers at the time) agreed not to enter the music business.

However, nowadays, we all know that iTunes (one of Apple’s flagship apps) is arguably the most popular online jukebox in the world.

To see their corporate brand in action, watch Apple’s ad spot “Intention,” below.

Example #2: Alphabet

Alphabet, an American multinational conglomerate, is the very definition of a huge corporation. It was created through a restructuring of Google to become its parent company.

As is usual when a company announces a rebrand or an entirely new brand, people immediately reacted when Google basically created its new parent company — some of them negatively.

In a blog post, Google co-founder and now, an Alphabet CEO, Larry Page, explained that the goal isn’t to become a big consumer brand with an expansive product portfolio, but rather that the point of Alphabet is and will be the independence of its subsidiary companies to develop their own brands.

Page explained the logic behind the Alphabet’s name:

“We liked the name Alphabet because it means a collection of letters that represent language, one of humanity’s most important innovations, and is the core of how we index with Google search! We also like that it means alpha‑bet (Alpha is investment return above benchmark), which we strive for!”

Although it’s not customer-oriented, Alphabet’s corporate branding, or rather brand architecture move, is historical.

Alphabet, just like its name suggests (from A to Z), represents the enveloping of progress across industries. Its brand is “the house of brands,” the unification of disparate companies and products under a strong name. It’s a revolution in itself, as well as part of Google’s continuing game-changing ambitions.

The genius of creating the Alphabet “method,” so to say, is employee and acquisition marketing. The company is extremely acquisitive, having more than 180 individual brands under its wing (Wing, a drone-oriented tech company being one of them).

Every new business under Alphabet has functional autonomy and separate management teams, allowing more opportunities for career development.

This holding company structure allows different brands to operate independently, which is great for attraction and more importantly, retention of talent.

Corporate branding example: Alphabet
[Source: Alphabet website]

Example #3: SAP

At SAP, the B2B global enterprise software developer, the marketing strategy looks to leverage the personalization trend and create meaningful experiences for all of its users.

It’s almost a 50-year-old company best known for back-office software and the ins and outs of how it works, which is pretty hard to explain to anyone but the most tech-savvy audience.

By 2017, when Alicia Tillman became SAP’s CMO, digital, social and mobile technologies were rapidly changing the way many of SAP’s traditional customers did business in decades prior.

In a move similar to Alphabet’s, SAP acquired a variety of companies with capabilities and backgrounds in eCommerce, workforce management, travel and expense management, etc.

That move didn’t make the job of the marketing department any easier as they all came with their own identities, histories and internal values.

Tilman’s genius solution was to tell the story of SAP from the bottom up by engaging the company’s own employees, both old and newly acquired, and asking them to articulate the brand’s purpose.

The company wanted that internal story to be the same across all communications: press, customer retention, consumers, stock markets and more.

In an interview, Tillman said:

“Brands are moving closer and closer towards humanization from the way they communicate to the relationships they look to build throughout their community. As a result, quick-win marketing was officially put to bed in 2019, with marketers embracing the long game of loyalty and advocacy.

It’s an important step as marketers continue the journey of delivering a consistent and relatable narrative, at scale. But, the shift towards these deeply human stories requires equally deep insights—who customers and prospects are, what they want, what they need—and most importantly, how they feel.”

The B2B market has a lot to learn from its B2C counterpart. It has to move away from messages that resonate with businesses to ones that resonate with people, working for those businesses, which is a lesson that SAP learned well.

Corporate branding example: SAP
[Source: SAP website]

What Does Corporate Branding Look Like? A Strategy in 8 (Actionable) Steps

One of the most popular models for creating a corporate branding strategy is called the Vision-Culture-Image (VCI) Alignment Model.

This model can help you keep a strong consistency between:

  • A strategic vision of the company’s founders and top management
  • A company culture reflected in employees’ opinions and behaviors
  • A public image and customers’ perception of the company

You can implement the VCI model into your strategy to help you:

  • Align your business goals, marketing goals and branding goals
  • Integrate employer branding and corporate branding practices
  • Create a strong brand image for the foundation of your business

As our resident brand strategist, Zorica Marjanovic, explains:

“Corporate branding describes an organization as a whole. When presented through employer branding, it can help attract valuable talent as potential employees.”

Now, let’s go through eight simple steps to creating a branding strategy.

Step #1: Set Your Branding Goals

Depending on your current business status, your branding goals may be to:

  • Establish a brand image for your new company
  • Grow awareness and visibility for your existing brand portfolio
  • Attract better talent to your corporate headquarters
  • Attract more media attention and/or investors

Once you have your goals written down, the next step is to set clear key performance indicators (KPIs), depending on the objectives you set, to define your idea of success.

Step #2: Identify Your Corporate Values, Mission And Vision

Having clearly defined corporate values, plus a unique mission and vision, will help you lay a strong foundation for your branding efforts.

Values represent the principles that your company stands for and the philosophies that shape your company culture.

If you’re not sure what your corporate values are, start with these steps:

  • Evaluate your current company culture
  • Decide if you want to move your business in a different direction
  • Identify the values that match your business development plans
  • Integrate the values important to your employees into your culture

Once you define your values, incorporate them into your mission and vision statements.

A mission statement declares the strategic direction towards accomplishing your long-term goals.

A vision statement declares the long-term goals you what to achieve and the ideals you strive to reach.

Both of these statements should be clear and concise and help your employees, executives and stakeholders understand the purpose of your business and the values behind it.

Corporate branding mission statement example: Disney
[Source: The Walt Disney Company website]

Step #3: Research Your Target Audience

To make your branding efforts successful, you need to know exactly who your audience is. The best way to establish that is by conducting audience research.

Audience research may include polls, surveys, focus groups, chats, one-on-one interviews, or any other form of conversation with your existing and/or potential customers.

Gather as much information as you can about your audience’s needs, wants, pains, values, behaviors and habits. This will help you create your buyer personas as your ideal customer profile.

The best practice is to be specific when creating personas. Include demographic data, as well as values and opinions, buying habits, online platforms they spend the most time on, devices they use and more.

If you have several different target audiences, create a buyer persona for each.

For example, if you run a SaaS business and your product is targeting both individual users and enterprises with large teams, make sure that you communicate the right messages to each audience segment.

This will help you establish a customer journey for each of the personas and optimize your conversion funnel to better suit their needs.

Step #4: Define Your Corporate Brand Voice

Another important element of a corporate brand strategy is your corporate brand voice.

Here are the key points to remember about your voice:

  • It needs to reflect your corporate brand values, identity and personality
  • It needs to be consistent throughout your internal and external communications
  • It needs to be in line with the voice of customers (VOC) and the audience you serve

The best way to define your brand voice is to establish your brand personality. In other words, identify a set of human characteristics that you can assign to your brand.

Start with these questions:

  • If your company was a person, who would it be?
  • What would that person care about the most?
  • How would that person behave in different situations?
  • Is it a strictly professional or a funny individual?
  • What are the main strengths and weaknesses?
  • How would that person appear in public?
  • How would you want them to be perceived in public?

The best practice is to document your brand voice and create a well-organized voice style guide to ensure consistency in brand communication across all channels.

Corporate branding voice example: Starbucks
[Source: Starbucks website]

Step #5: Craft Your Key Brand Messaging

Once you have defined who your audience is and you have established your brand voice, the next step is to combine the insights into compelling brand messaging.

One of the most important messages you need to communicate is your brand’s unique value proposition (UVP).

A UVP can be a single sentence or a set of sentences that speak clearly to your audience about:

  • The main value your company provides (including your products or services)
  • The key differentiator that sets your business apart from your competitors
  • The unique way your company solves a specific problem for your audience

The UVP should be immediately understandable, so avoid using industry jargon or too many buzzwords. Keep it simple.

Other brand messaging statements that you might want to craft include:

  • A slogan as a catchy, memorable line that helps attract loyal customers
  • A motto that describes your company’s beliefs, values or services
  • An elevator pitch that describes your company in a clear, concise statement

The purpose of crafting unique taglines, statements and propositions is to present your brand in a coherent way and develop brand awareness, recognition and reputation more easily.

Step #6: Design Your Corporate Visual Identity

The visual identity of your corporate brand includes (but is not limited to):

  • Logo design
  • Color palette
  • Typography
  • Imagery

To ensure consistency, create a brand book or a design style guide to display the fonts, colors, styles and use-cases for each of the branded assets you have.

This will help you stay consistent while designing business cards, corporate stationery, product packaging, marketing collateral, your corporate website and more.

The definitive list of your identity elements and branded assets will depend on your business. To make the most of your branding efforts, be sure to keep your overall visual identity consistent throughout your brand’s elements.

Step #7: Manage Your Online Brand Reputation

Your corporate branding strategy should also outline the ways you will manage your reputation and maintain customer loyalty.

Ever since digital channels enabled customers, vendors, partners, employees, investors and everyone else to quickly share their experiences online, online brand reputation has become more fragile and, therefore, even more important to manage.

Managing your online business reputation may include:

  • Using social media monitoring tools to keep track of when, where and how people talk about your brand
  • Ensuring that information about your company is complete and accurate across profiles on business directories
  • Overseeing customer reviews and online ratings of your company and products/services on rating platforms

Online customer reviews are still one of the most significant decision-making factors for prospective customers.

According to a Spiegel study, customers who saw negative reviews on social media decreased their spending by 12% and reduced their purchase frequency by 5% in relation to a given brand.

Another Spiegel study showed that:

  • There is a 270% greater chance of purchase for a product with five reviews compared to a product with no reviews
  • The conversion rate for lower-priced products with displayed reviews increased by 190%, while the conversion rate for higher-priced products with reviews increased by 380%
  • Reviews from verified buyers, as opposed to anonymous reviews, increase purchase likelihood by 15%

Now that you know online customer reviews can influence buying decisions at such a rate, consider displaying positive reviews on your website, prioritizing verified reviews and generating reviews for higher-priced products.

Step #8: Invest In Employer Branding

Most marketers think of branding in limited terms of appealing to consumers. They’ll invest heavily in all of the above-mentioned steps with the goal of resonating with their target market.

However, important as it is, corporate branding is just as essential for talent acquisition, or employer branding if you will.

Employer branding is not limited or owned solely by your HR department. The main mission is to build a brand that reflects your company culture that ensures both job seekers and current employees have a strong positive connection with your brand and its values.

Employer branding encompasses a specter of different communication platforms, including:

  • Careers site/landing page
  • Company intranet
  • Internal newsletter
  • Employee testimonials

Building a stellar reputation is closely tied to the recruiting process, as it guarantees access to top-tier talent. In fact, three-quarters of job candidates spend time researching a company before applying.

Applicants who do not receive a job offer are 80% more likely to reapply if they already had a positive experience.

Besides talent acquisition, employer branding helps you reduce turnover. That’s why it’s important to focus on keeping your current employees motivated.

An engaged workforce even aids your recruiting efforts: 48% of businesses say their top hires come from employee referrals.

Is Corporate Branding Worth The Investment For Your Business?

It’s time to wrap it all up.

Corporate branding can be a highly cost-effective solution for your business if you want to unify your brand image.

This means creating your company’s brand as a corporate entity rather than branding each of your products or services separately.

A high-quality brand attracts customers who feel a connection with your business. They are the ones who will buy time and time again and become brand advocates who further expand your reach.

A well-developed corporate brand strategy can help you:

  • Build trust and long-lasting relationships with your customers
  • Increase the level of customer loyalty, engagement and advocacy
  • Grow the purchase likelihood for every new product/service you launch

To create an effective strategy, you can start with the VCI Alignment Model to build consistency between your strategic vision, company culture and the public image of your brand.

Continue crafting a strategy following these eight steps:

  1. Set clear corporate branding goals
  2. Document your values, mission and vision
  3. Research your target audience
  4. Define your corporate brand voice
  5. Craft key branding messages
  6. Design your corporate visual identity
  7. Manage your online brand reputation
  8. Invest in employer branding
Ready to invest in corporate branding?

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