Polaris MD Ben Pinnington examines the importance of brand ethos and unique selling points.
The starting point for a marketing campaign is the brand. The company brand or ethos is the soul of the company, the lifesource from which all marketing grows. Often businesses do not truly understand how to harness or communicate their brand. They do not think it matters or it is marketing puff or a flashy logo. But it is so much more.
A brand at its best will inspire with an ethos and an attitude. It often comes from the founder or owner – what is motivating them. It is usually much more than making a living. There is passion, drive and determination there and this is what you want to dig into. The best brands are often built around a higher purpose that drives the business. Perhaps there is a will to tackle a big problem and in maritime there are massive issues to throw your brand weight behind such as tackling green-house gas emissions and pollution of the oceans or perhaps you have a product or service that makes people safer at sea. The point is that if you can find a higher purpose and make that part of your brand it can become a philosophy that is so contagious, so powerful it can snap people out of their stupor and inspire. If you are making a positive difference think how that could make your clients, workforce and stakeholders truly believe in you and become passionate about you.
Moreover, once you have a clear idea what you stand for you can start telling your stories with this ethos shining through in your press releases, social media and company literature. But you want to find the blood and thunder stories in your company – the triumphs and adversity overcome. This is when the fire in your belly, your authentic company story, can really come alive.
Here are some ideas and commentary on brand:
During a 1997 presentation at Apple, Steve Jobs gave the following advice:
“To me, marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world, it’s a very noisy world. And we’re not going to get the chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us.”
Apple famously created the ‘think different’ marketing campaign whose films are really worth checking out on You Tube. The campaign championed rebels and misfits like John Lennon, Mohammed Ali and Gandhi. Apple saw ‘genius’ in these people saying: ‘the ones crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do’. This edgy uplifting campaign was about more than Apple products. It inspired people with Apple’s disruptive, entrepreneurial, world-changing attitude.
Richard Branson meanwhile is another passionate believer in authentic marketing. He said:
“Too many companies want their brands to reflect some idealized, perfected image of themselves. As a consequence their brands acquire no texture, no character.”
I am sure when you think about Virgin you have an idea of what the company stands for – fun, adventure, customer service, entrepreneurial, outlandish. That is the power of a strong brand – it communicates an outlook.
When you look around the marketplace how often do you see businesses talk earnestly about having reliability or integrity. And while this is laudable it has no power, these are the values most businesses would trot out without thought. These are vapid niceties with nothing remotely inspiring. You have to think about what will make you different, what will make you stand out, what is true to your character and what is your higher purpose – what is the big change you want to see in the world or the maritime industry.
CASE STUDY – CAMMELL LAIRD
One of the most powerful examples of an ethos I have witnessed was from John Syvret the entrepreneur who revived the Merseyside shipbuilder Cammell Laird which became a client for over ten years. It was really such a buzz to promote such a passionate vision. I remember John pointing out of his window saying the business had the ability to provide jobs for people of all academic abilities. What seemed to motivate the team was creating jobs for the families of Birkenhead particularly for young apprentices, as an apprenticeship gave young people in one of the poorest parts of Britain a skilled job, they could sit at the family dinner table and feel pride they had a responsible career and a bright future. When the management team spoke about their desire to revive Lairds from the apparent oblivion of 2001 when the company went bust and fell into hands of unscrupulous property dealers who wanted to turn the site into a ski dome it was unbelievably powerful. Stories like this poured out of the yard forging an incredible bond and camaraderie. The ethos was was contagious and powerful and generated huge goodwill and political support. From this philosophy other positive messages flowed like a fast moving tide – such as recalibrating heavily depleted engineering skills locally and nationally, it encouraged young people to choose maritime as a career with all the opportunity and excitement that comes with a global industry. But this was about something more than building and repairing ships, yes the company is excellent at that but the higher purpose is in the economic and societal good the business is doing.
The results of having this higher purpose speak for themselves. In the 13 years we worked with Cammell Laird the media loved reporting the renaissance of the business and organisations handed out awards. The press releases and award applications we wrote focused on the economic and societal good the company was doing. Lairds won award after award with the Liverpool Echo, North West Insider, BusinessDesk, Wirral Chamber and Mersey Maritime and John was awarded a CBE. And crucially the business poured in with big Ministry of Defence contracts with the likes of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Aircraft Carrier Alliance no doubt motivated to invest in skills in an economically deprived area. The campaign culminated in the award in 2015 of the RRS Sir David Attenborough polar research vessel, the biggest commercial shipbuilding project in Britain for 30 years. The greatness that the team aspired to drawing on the immense achievements of the company’s shipbuilding past had been equalled. These were momentous times which drew national and international attention. Quite something for a business that had seen its gates closed in 2001. The grit, spirit and vision of the company’s leaders helped forge a brand ethos that dragged the business back into the big time. And while not every business is as big as Lairds or has an iconic heritage the approach is the same. Find the character, find the good in what you do and watch how you light up the people around you.
It can sometimes take time for businesses to find their higher purpose. But if you are searching for ways to build an ethos think about looking at the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals. It is fascinating to see how these are being adopted at the highest level in the maritime industry with the likes of Lloyds Register, DNV and even trade fairs like Nor Shipping in Oslo.
CASE STUDY LLOYDS REGISTRY
LR is one of the most respected names in maritime. It is an £868m turnover classification society owned by the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, a UK charity. LR has a strong ethos that is powerfully communicated particularly in forums like its annual report. Writing in the 2018/19 report entitled ‘Reaching New Heights for a Safer World’ LR chairman Thomas Thune Andersen emphasised LR’s higher purpose in his opening statement.
“Throughout change and volatility, our purpose remains resolute – working together for a safer world. LR’s expertise across safety, security and sustainability, combined with the work of the Foundation, is focussed on making a positive impact on society within a purpose-driven business model for the 21st century. Safety underpins all that we do and remains a priority for the Board, executive team and colleagues. The Board is increasing its focus on diversity and inclusion and I am pleased to report progress towards the closing of the gender pay gap and the deployment of LR’s new Diversity and Inclusion Programme across all leadership teams this year.
In the two years since LR became a signatory to the United Nations Global Compact, the guardian of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the world’s largest corporate responsibility initiative, I am delighted to witness the progress being made. This includes the launch of the UNGC’s Ocean Opportunities, Global Goals report on the role of business for a healthy, productive and well-governed ocean and our signatory to its Sustainable Ocean Principles covering climate change, ocean health and productivity; governance and engagement; and data and transparency. Our emphasis on ocean sustainability is reinforced in our work supporting customers to prepare to meet the obligations of the IMO’s 2050 greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction target with further work on zero-emission vessels in partnership with the Global Maritime Forum.”
To underline the value of the UN SDG goals icons for 7, 8, 12, 14 feature at the top of the chairman’s statement and are used through-out the report.
CASE STUDY FUGRO
Another company finding a match and vehicle for its brand ethos in the SDGs is Fugro the Netherlands headquartered engineering firm. When asked how Fugro aims to support a safer and more sustainable world Mark Heine its chairman and CEO, said:
‘We are experts in understanding the risks of overusing the Earth.We provide information about the earth and structures built upon it to help design, build and operate our client’s assets in a safe, sustainable manner. Also, in a company that gets half of its revenue from the oil and gas industry, but is now also doing 50 per cent of its activities in offshore wind, infrastructure and nautical, climate change is a topic of daily discussion. Hydrography plays an increasingly large role for Fugro, also because of climate change, as we map coastlines and coastal zones to learn more about tsunami hazards or rising sea levels.
Much of Fugro’s land business has a direct impact on sustainable infrastructure development. Fugro is increasingly involved in projects that map and mitigate the impact of climate change. Growth in renewable energy is strong and has a global reach. We’ve chosen five Sustainable Development Goals, namely 7, 9, 11, 14 and 15 and their sub-goals, as focal points of our policy. We now have to work towards meeting these goals. Our expertise has always contributed to our purpose by creating a safe, liveable and sustainable world, but as a company, we may be a bit modest in promoting it more widely.”
CASE STUDY NOR SHIPPING
On its website the Nor-Shipping exhibition reports that its event programme tailors activity to address numerous SDG’s, with special focus on Gender Equality (SDG 5), Climate Action (SDG 13), Life Below Water (SDG 14) and Partnerships for the Goals (SDG 17). Here’s an except from the Nor Shipping website:
The Nor-Shipping Principles
Nor-Shipping has released the very first ‘Nor-Shipping Principles’, detailing both a code of conduct for exhibitors and participants and its commitment to supporting, and encouraging others to support, key UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Sustainable Ocean Principles
Nor-Shipping has signed the Sustainable Ocean Principles and commits to ensure that material ocean-related risks and opportunities are integrated in corporate strategy, risk management and reporting. Read more.
The Blue Economy hall
Nor-Shipping 2019 devoted an entire hall to the theme of Blue Economy. This hall focused on showcasing and accelerating innovations and businesses that build commercial value in the ocean space, while safeguarding the environment and ensuring the sustainable use of resources. This is the world’s first dedicated commercial platform for maritime opportunities supporting the SDGs, showcasing tomorrow’s business solutions already today. Focus areas for the Blue Economy hall were based on the DNV GL opportunity report “Sustainable Development Goals – Exploring Maritime Opportunities – 2016”
So here you get a feel for how the maritime industry is evolving its branding to the challenges facing the industry and the world. Perhaps you can use the UN SDGs to focus your marketing and brand voice?
A good method for reviewing your brand is to undertake a market analysis of competitors to establish their brand identity, tone of voice and what they stand for to see how you can better differentiate yourself. You can also survey your staff, suppliers and contractors and ask them what they think your company stands for. From here you can start to build your brand ethos, guidelines, your company vision – mission statement and values. Bigger companies tend to major on the mission statement and values our advice is to be careful of these becoming as Branson says idealised. A true brand is authentic and has a clear distinctive voice when it speaks across all marketing materials. And more importantly your founders, team and contractors live and embody the brand outlook everyday and that enthusiasm is so infectious it is passed on to customers and clients.
I hope, for example, with Polaris that the positivity we have injected into our brand around ‘passion’ lives in our team and is appreciated by our clients. Passion sets a high bar for us to aspire to which means we genuinely care and are undertaking work to the best of our ability. I often turn to my creative heroes when searching for motivation and energy. So much so we ran a mini #thinkpassion social media campaign celebrating the work of creatives who had inspired us and made a huge cultural impact through their imagination and raw passion including authors like Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, JB Priestley, Raymond Chandler as well as the musicians Neil Young, Robert Smith, Ian Curtis, Nick Drake and Muddy Waters. But caring and standards have to be central to what we do otherwise what is the point? As a small business you have to stand out for customer service.
A final word on ethos. Caring about people and being sensitive to your clients customers and team is absolutely critical to communications. Always think about the human response first. In an age of social media everyone has a voice. If you misjudge a situation and you seem cold, uncaring or too corporate it can blow up badly in your face causing serious reputational harm . And we will look at this in the strategy and crisis communications sections. It may sound obvious but make caring for your people and customers central to your ethos and how you communicate.
TIP: straplines – a good strapline should capture your ethos with energy and intent. The best are positive, short and memorable.
Flying in the Face of Ordinary – Virgin Atlantic
Forever Cunard – Cunard Line’s 175th anniversary slogan.
Your Promise. Delivered – Maersk
Your Potential, Our Passion – Microsoft
The ultimate driving machine – BMW
Think Different – Apple
The Voice of Business – The CBI
Connecting People – Nokia
Solidarity Action Strength – International Transport Workers’ Federation
- Brand is the starting point from which all marketing grows
- Look to what motivates your founder or owners
- Brands require character and texture
- Avoid being bland or idealised – you will not stand out
- Having a higher purpose is contagious
- The United Nations SDGs are being adopted to underpin ethos across the maritime sector