To Pierre Noack, a brand is more than a logo or slogan or something by which customers can quickly remember your company in a sea of competitors.
It is your company’s personality. It is the definition of what your company stands for.
When Aerzen USA Corp. outgrew its leased office space in the Philadelphia market recently, Noack — Aerzen USA’s president — was among those who wanted to see the company’s new headquarters make a statement about the Aerzen brand.
“The question was what we wanted the building to represent,” Noack says. “How did we want it to embody the brand? Answering that question, we decided to build a green building, which has been LEED Gold certified, the first in Pennsylvania and one of the first manufacturing buildings in the United States.”
It was an example of Aerzen’s leadership putting its money where its branding mouth is, and doing so in a very tangible way. To set a tone like Noack has set at Aerzen USA, a maker of air and gas moving equipment, compressors, blowers and vacuum pumps, you have to start with your own beliefs and actions.
“It starts really with the head of the company, really to embody what the brand is supposed to be,” Noack says. “If you’re going to build a strong brand, first you have to start with yourself. You have to make sure that the brand you want the organization to embody is also matching the values that you have.”
Get on the ground
To build your brand, you have to know how your customers and would-be customers interpret the brand, and you have to know how the people at the customer interface point are projecting your brand. To gain an accurate picture, you have to stay connected to what is happening at ground level.
Noack relies on his sales force to develop close relationships with customers and often has his leadership team interact with salespeople to get a better idea of what is happening in the world of Aerzen’s customers.
It’s critical for Noack’s approach, because he’s driving Aerzen toward becoming a solutions-focused company. Rather than focus on pushing products, Noack wants his sales and operations staff to collaborate with customers to find the best possible solution for a given situation.
“Our salespeople have close relationships with our customers, and it’s the same on the service side,” Noack says. “It’s a part of the people we hire, because our approach is not to so much impose our brand on other people and organizations, but to produce value. But that approach only works when you listen to customers. You have to seek opportunities to collaborate with customers and find solutions to their problems.”
To continually drive home to employees that solutions will remain an integral part of the company’s brand, Noack gets many of his people involved in creating solutions for customers.
“For example, a plant operator recently called and asked us if we made a machine that would perform a specific task,” he says. “We said, ‘Maybe we can do something, let’s talk about it. What do you need?’ We had some conversations about what they were looking to do, what they were looking to accomplish, and in the end, we worked with them on developing a solution that would work, based on what they were trying to do.”
Explore different strategies
In the modern business world, you have a many different avenues through which you can strengthen your brand. Building relationships on a personal level is still the most effective means. But you need to be able to utilize multiple avenues to develop and maintain your brand.
For Aerzen, that is where Ralph Wilton comes in. Wilton is the marketing manager on Noack’s team, and is in charge of building the company’s brand through a wide variety of avenues. Chief among them is the company’s website, which has become foundational to the branding strategy.
“Basically, for us, the online focus is really the core of our marketing program,” Wilton says. “That is where we have the most horsepower, the most attention. It all revolves around our website, which we try to constantly monitor, and keep fresh and updated. That is the face of our brand and our message to the world.”
In all of Aerzen’s online and offline activities, Wilton’s goal is to drive traffic back to the website and make the company’s brand synonymous with a resource-laden Internet presence. Providing readily available information on product specifications and corporate news helps enhance the brand by keeping customers knowledgeable about the company, what it produces and what it stands for.
“What I’ve found is that companies that provide information readily and make it a proactive approach, those are the companies that win, versus companies that try to hide stuff, where you have to call and jump through hoops to get things. That really doesn’t work so much anymore. We want to provide for them to get them what they need. If it’s a complex sale or engineered product solution, they’ll have to call somebody eventually anyways and talk about their situation. So we want to give them enough on the site to be effective and get them to that point.”
Branding and marketing with a focused purpose is a new frontier for Aerzen. The company used to work with what Wilton calls a “spray and pray” approach, relying on casting seeds to the wind, hoping that at least a few would take root with customers.
“We’d just launch in many different areas,” Wilton says. “Now we have several industry verticals that we target specifically. We want our customers to know who we are very intimately, so we do still have offline approaches like print advertising, trade shows and things like that. But now we combine it with the very robust online approach. We’re not going after everything out there that we think might be a sales lead. I think even if we had a lot of money to approach everything, we’d still take our current route because it’s far more effective.”
Whether your market differentiator is value or service, bulk sales or specialized solutions, the culture surrounding your brand will start with you and your leadership team.
Though terminology like “living the brand” might seem like something of a cliché, the concept still rings true, and it’s still critical to building a successful branding and marketing culture.
“This is a long-term, never-ending endeavor, and it is a commitment that the management team makes to keep building it, every day to live the brand and communicate it through your actions,” Noack says. “Through what you communicate, especially in times of crisis, in times of difficulties and challenges, that is when employees observe you the most and get the most out of your messages. It is driving it by example, constantly reminding everyone of our task to build that brand. You have to communicate that you don’t just fulfill the need we have today, that we all have the potential to build this vessel for the brand, for the personality of the organization.”
How to reach: Aerzen USA Corp., (610) 380-0244 or www.aerzenusa.com
The Aerzen zone
Thoughts on business leadership from President Pierre Noack and Marketing Manager Ralph Wilton of Aerzen USA Corp.
Wilton on finding the best customer service representatives:
There are what we call the touch points. The people who interact with the customer are the living, breathing people of the brand. So if you have a person who is very upbeat and caring, you are going to have a very good brand experience. We have all be in situations where we’ve seen the marketing material, we’ve gotten the feature benefits stuff, we go into a place to buy something, and we’re met by someone who is inept, doesn’t care or has a bad attitude. We might buy in spite of it, but we don’t come back.
Noack on points of customer contact:
We are trying to multiply points of contact. We have project managers, engineers, production planning and so on. We really encourage all of these people to have contact with our customers so there are as many touch points as possible between our customers and us. This way, we build resilience in the experience of the brand, because it is not tied to a single point of contact and it is built into the relationship.
Noack on being a solutions-driven company:
It’s not all about trying to sell, but as businesspeople, we are always there for others, whether it be buyers, people using our equipment, systems, it’s always for others. We have to think about them rather than us, and that’s the reality of it. It’s not real to think that building a brand and pushing it onto people is going to work. The other way around is true and much more rewarding. It takes some courage to get there. It’s not the traditional way of doing things, unfortunately.