The mission statement of BASF is metaphorically speaking in two different ways: Firstly, it refers to the creation of products through the combination of molecules. And secondly, it describes the creation of relationships – so to say chemistry – between people.
Well… why is this important for marketing one might ask. The answer appears rather easy: A clear, well-elaborated and illustrative purpose statement provides the basis for general strategic decisions and more importantly for actions in order to facilitate branding and the design of (image) campaigns. But why does a chemical corporation even need a strong brand? Since BASF does not sell end consumer products but rather provides commodities for other companies, a strong brand image does not seem to be too vital.
As Anja Herb, an employee at BASF, explained in her guest lecture, associations with brands, therefore, the brand image, can help people to make decisions. In a world overflown with information, brands give orientation and facilitate choices. Since about 90 percent of all decisions are not rational, companies need to deliver a clear emotional image through their branding in order to address people properly. Therewith, a brand does not appear as an anonymous player, but more like a personal actor.
Adding value through the Verbund
As for the majority of companies, one of the main objectives of BASF is adding value. With a focus on the brand’s position, they identified a keyword which is implicit in all areas of BASF: Connection or compound (in German: Verbund).
The company has established four operational areas bringing the thought of Verbund to life:
- Production Verbund – The development of an integrated production system enables BASF to use resources efficiently
- Technology Verbund – The best solutions can be created through the combination of many experts skilled in certain fields
- Customer Verbund – Building close relationships to customers and partners facilitate cooperation and innovation
- People Verbund – Forming close relationships requires thinking about people beyond their work times
According to Anja Herb, the combination of all these features brings their brand to life. The characteristics named should be communicated to all important touchpoints to deliver a homogenous picture to all stakeholders. Even though BASF aims at establishing a certain brand image, some aspects do not need to be clearly stated but can be transported implicitly as well.
How to communicate a brand’s image
As indicated before, also B2B brands need to speak to customers. BASF decided to address all people actually influencing the public opinion on the company and driving the debate, not solely direct customers and shareholders. For this purpose, they initially defined a new target audience, which is especially important for planning image campaigns and measuring their success.
While developing a campaign, a company should always bear the profile of their target audience in mind and identify the aspects which should be communicated. Thereafter, several channels can be identified for the campaign. And as some of the results from BASF are showing, even companies operating in the chemical industry or similar fields can transmit emotional messages, even though it is difficult to show individuals the benefits of a company when they do not always recognize the final product.
Ensuring that the campaign is successful
Developing a campaign properly and measuring its success afterwards is necessary to assure that the company is on the right track and is changing its image towards the right direction. Therefore, BASF spends quite a long time to develop the means of advertising and assess its influence.
Before the advertising material for BASF is broadcasted to the target audience, it is tested in focus groups. Based on the criteria for the relevant public defined in advance, participants are selected and specific questions are formulated in order to illustrate a guideline for the discussion. The objective of the focus group is primarily to examine whether the campaign suits the public’s perception of the brand and to identify appropriate channels. Moreover, cultural differences, which need to be considered for a global campaign, might become apparent. Even though these talks are usually conducted by a market research institution, representatives of BASF are attending them. Eventually, they receive very detailed comments on the topics mentioned in their campaigns.
While the method for developing and testing a campaign is mainly qualitative, the measurements for success are rather quantitative. A dashboard supporting the communication planning is created. It contains several information, for instance the results of online interviews investigating the brands status, advertising tracking, a global media as well as a stakeholder analysis. On this basis, BASF is compiling a global brand profile strengths and brand performance matrix.
All these insights taken together help BASF to steer how the brand is perceived and strengthen their public image and enables them to recognize if they are moving into the right direction.
We want to thank Anja Herb for providing us insights into the image campaign management and controlling at BASF and Mr. Bohnenkamp for organizing this informative guest lecture. We got to know many methods for measuring success which we can hopefully use in the future.