Breaking Brand: How Important is “Brand” to a Transportation Service Provider?

By Michael Stewart, Partner, Realm Inc.

M StewartAt the TMSA Logistics Marketing & Sales Leadership Conference this last June, I had an opportunity to sit down and chat with some of the brightest marketers in transportation while facilitating an Interactive Roundtable Discussion. We had an in-depth discussion about “Brand” and the importance it represents to a service provider in the transportation industry. Participants included Dino Moler, EVP of Client Solutions at LeSaint Logistics; Beth Malik, Director of Marketing at SMC3; Troy Grabel, Director of Marketing at Lean Logistics; Elena Izakson, Director of Marketing at Hub Group; Lionel Johnston, Corporate Marketing Manager at Bison Transport; Sheila Dougherty, Marketing Director at Kansas City Southern. The breadth of the conversation was really interesting.

To get started we leveled the playing field. We needed to agree on exactly what defines a brand. Many people I’ve spoken too over my time in marketing look at the visual representation, or more specifically the logo and the visual elements as what defines the brand. We all came together to agree that a brand was the personality of an organization or product.

Digging a little deeper
As we discussed what made up the elements of a good brand we ended up with very simple and clear conclusions. A brand is based on the “experience” that a customer has prior to, during or after a sale. Brand always culminates to a point where one decides to value the brand relationship or not. The fact that brand is important in the transportation space is an understatement. So many companies struggle with the fact that they all sell services that feel very much like their competitors – milk perhaps. Might be different kinds of milk but to their customers, sure to be considered the same.

We talked in depth around a lot of valuable attributes generated by a strong brand. Ultimately these attributes seemed to cover it all.

  • Improves Recognition: This does involve the logo but much more the general recognition and recall of the brand. Design can enhance that recognition without doubt.
  • Creates Trust: This has everything to do with authenticity. Do this well and you’ll build credibility and trust.
  • Builds Financial Value: As strong brand has greater worth in the marketplace. Just ask Apple.
  • Supports Advertising Efforts: This is one of the stronger areas to deliver on; the brand promise. This is one area where you can win big or lose big. Talk. And talk loudly. But be authentic and deliver on the brand promise. 
  • Inspires Employees: Employees want to feel good about the brand they work for and the brands that can articulate a bigger purpose (beyond the delivery and bottom line) is something an employee can get behind emotionally. 
  • Can Generate New Customers: A strong brand creates brand advocates. Advocates refer the brand to others so they might have a similar experience. Again; ask Apple.

What really makes your brand different?
We discussed; “who or what do you think ultimately establishes your brand”? The responses proved interesting. Marketing? Brand strategists? I’m sure we all wish that; but not hardly. In the end its something much simpler in concept but much harder to wrangle. In the end it’s up to your customer. After all, they are the ones that experience what the brand “says it will do” and ultimately “what promise it delivers”. Deliver the promise. Probably the most important aspect of the conversation. Walk the Talk. And if the market values it the way you have planned, then you can be wildly successful and that will motivate your employee’s belief systems and take your organization far.

In the end
This was a great conversation. One that seemed particularly important to have. It yielded some debate but in the end there was a unification in the critical importance of brand in the transportation space. The ability to create true differentiation seemed to be the real important fact and drove much of the conversation. And in the end, if you walk the talk, your brand can be one of the companies most prized assets.

Looking forward to more provocative discussions next year at the 2017 TMSA Marketing & Sales Conference!

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