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Companies are extremely good at defining their product brands. Customers, employees, and other stakeholders know exactly what an iPhone is and means. But organizations are often less sure-footed when it comes to the corporate platform. What does the parent company’s name really stand for, and how is it perceived and leveraged in the marketplace and within the company itself?
A clear, unified corporate platform can be critical to competitive strategy, as firms like Apple, Philips, and Unilever understand. It serves as a north star, providing direction and purpose. It can also enhance the image of individual products, help firms recruit and retain employees, and provide protection against reputational damage in times of trouble. Many firms, however, struggle to articulate and communicate their corporate platform.
The corporate platform helps to clarify the overall strategy and the roles and functions of the company’s sub brands. That alignment should result in greater corporate commitment to the brands, sharper positioning in the marketplace, a stronger sense of belonging to the group, and more-coherent marketing and communications.
Forming the foundation of a corporate platform are the firm’s mission and vision (which engage and inspire its people), culture (which reveals their work ethic and attitudes), and competences (its distinctive capabilities).
These things are rooted in the organization’s values and operational realities. Consider Johnson & Johnson’s credo, which is carved in stone at the entrance of the company’s headquarters and is a constant reminder of what J&J’s top priorities are (or should be). It describes J&J’s ethos of putting the needs of patients (and their caregivers) first; how it will serve them, by providing high quality at reasonable cost; and a work environment that will be based on dignity, safety, and fairness.
It is equally important to define how the company wants to be perceived by customers and other external stakeholders: its value proposition, outside relationships, and positioning. Nike, for instance, wants to be known for helping customers achieve their personal best, a goal that shapes its product offerings and is captured in its marketing tagline, “Just Do It.”
These include the organization’s personality, its distinctive ways of communicating, and its “brand core or DNA”—what it stands for and the enduring values that underlie its promise to customers.
The brand core, is the essence of the company’s identity. Patagonia’s is summed up in its promise to provide the highest-quality products and to support and inspire environmental stewardship. Audi captures its brand core with the phrase “Vorsprung durch technik” (“Progress through technology”). 3M describes its core simply: “Science. Applied to life.”
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