As one of the newest converts to a carefully orchestrated brand-building policy, Boeing Co. epitomizes the migration of the discipline into business sectors far removed from the consumer packaged goods where the concept started. Over the past 2 1/2 years, Boeing CEO Philip M. Condit has brought in a former Ford Motor executive to serve as his brand czar and has made it clear that, from now on, branding considerations are an integral part of the company's strategy.
That view has been apparent in everything from the company's move into business areas beyond commercial aircraft to the startling decision earlier this year to relocate corporate headquarters to Chicago, a move that should not only raise the company's visibility but also broaden the perception that it is more than a Seattle airplane maker.
Of course, Condit isn't alone in making that transition -- although he is one of the more conspicuous examples. "Now, more than ever, CEOs in all sectors are making branding part of their lexicon and seeing their role as being the keepers of the brand," asserts Charles Brymer, chief executive of Interbrand Corp., the consultancy with which BusinessWeek teamed to present 100 of the most valuable global brands. On that list, Boeing checked in at No. 63, with $4.06 billion in brand value.
Condit's brand czar, Judith Muhlberg, vice-president for communications, readily attests to how much things have changed in the 2 1/2 years she has spent at Boeing. Although the word "brand" essentially was banned when Muhlberg arrived, the company last year formalized its first official brand strategy as part of a broader gameplan to extend its reach beyond the commercial airplane business. Now, everything from the corporate logo to its headquarters-relocation decision has the Boeing brand in mind. Its brand message is showing up on computer screen savers, posters, traditional print and TV advertising, even on the side of Boeing trucks. "They are moving billboards," reasons Muhlberg. "Why shouldn't we use them?"
COUNTER STRATEGY. These branding strategies may be nothing new to companies like Coca-Cola or Ford, where Muhlberg served as director of public affairs in a role that encompassed branding and marketing activities. But it's revolutionary for the stodgy aerospace industry, which has no direct market contact with consumers. Boeing execs now realize that a strong brand helps recruit and retain quality employees, perks investor interest, and reflects well on the management team. "It goes hand in hand with your reputation," says Anne Toulouse, a Boeing veteran who took on the recently created post of vice-president in charge of brand management. "We see having a strong brand as a competitive advantage."
Boeing considers employees, customers, shareholders, and the outside community its key audiences. And its brand strategy extends around the world. It reaches audiences mostly through traditional means, from media advertising and public relations to corporate sponsorships, even retail merchandising. In fact, Boeing plans to open a retail store in the lobby of its world headquarters in Chicago. Few of the people who shop there are likely to be in the market for an airplane or an air traffic-control system, and such corporate retail operations don't always yield much profit. The store's role will be one of pure brand-building.
Since Muhlberg arrived, Boeing has been measuring its brand awareness through brand-tracking, employee surveys, and comparative studies against 17 major companies such as General Electric, Microsoft, and IBM.
OVERTURES TO EUROPE. The company conveys two basic messages. At the corporate level, Boeing emphasizes a positioning captured in the tag line of its new advertising campaign -- "Forever New Frontiers" -- which is derived from CEO Condit's fundamental vision for Boeing: "Run healthy core businesses, leverage our core strengths into new products and services, and open new frontiers." The operating units incorporate that message into more product-specific advertising. Boeing's current agency, Foote, Cone & Belding, has been invited to participate in a review the company is launching of agencies with full-service capabilities in its new Chicago home.
For the first time, Boeing is also thinking of ways it can leverage its brand. For example, it is sponsoring the National Symphony's 15-city tour of Europe next year in an effort to project a high-end image in the Continental backyard of archrival Airbus. At least one senior exec will be present at each performance, which will also serve as venues to entertain customers and suppliers -- a big difference from Boeing's usual hospitality sites at air shows in Paris and Farnborough, England. In most other sectors, this range of activities "is not new," Muhlberg acknowledges. "But for us, this is a big step."
Key to this turnaround has been the support from the top. "Phil [Condit] stepped up to the role of brand steward," says Muhlberg. The branding review process also is relatively quick and involves just four people: Muhlberg, Toulouse, Condit, and Vice-Chairman Harry Stonecipher. And key to its future branding success, as the marketers know, is consistency of the message. So far, Boeing shows every sign of staying on the flight path.
By Stanley Holmes in Seattle