Building a brand needs understanding, empathy and transparency in Asia, says BASF’s Christian Schubert
Especially in Asia, where personal relationships play an important role, employees are crucial in conveying the brand image as they are the face, the voice and the action of our company.
Why is branding such an important issue for you guys? is a question that we often encounter when we explain what we mean by saying that BASF is “The Chemical Company” and that we “create chemistry”. One might wonder indeed why a business-to-business company is trying to increase its brand awareness and sharpen its brand profile, especially in Asia Pacific where the company’s business is growing rapidly. But BASF’s management has clearly defined the need to differentiate BASF’s offering but also to make a wider public understand how we provide innovative and sustainable solutions with our partners.So the challenge from a communications point of view is who we talk to and how we try to position BASF.
We address who we call the “BASF relevant public” as our target group in all regions worldwide. This group has been defined through socio-demographic characteristics as having above average education, income and interest in economics, politics or environmental issues. So instead of only addressing the top decision makers, we are looking at all those stakeholders who are relevant influencers in their peer groups and who we consider to be drivers of opinion.We are defining our target group beyond customers.
BASF is a business-to-business company, selling to the chemical, automotive, construction, and basically every other industry – but, generally not to end-consumers. The reason for our extended stakeholder approach, however, is very simple: We are aiming for something one might call a “licence to operate” – the social acceptance of our stakeholders, i.e. our industrial customers, neighbours of our production sites, government officials and opinion makers from all parts of society, to effectively operate our business.
We try to create understanding for the benefits of chemistry. But fortunately, this is changing and there is a growing recognition that the chemical industry offers important solutions which are needed for many of the world’s challenges. An important element of our stakeholder approach is the central role that our employees play. In a way, they are our most challenging stakeholder group.
On the one hand, they have tremendous pride in the company; on the other hand, they are closely monitoring the company about walking the talk. This makes them important and trusted ambassadors who represent BASF towards our other stakeholders. Especially in Asia, where personal relationships play an important role, employees are crucial in conveying the brand image as they are the face, the voice and the action of our company.
It was therefore not surprising that the BASF employees gladly embraced a more emotional positioning of the company. In 2003, BASF relaunched its corporate brand and defined a corporate brand position. The corporate design was revised, the six corporate colours were introduced and the logo was changed with the claim “The Chemical Company” becoming part of the logo.
Not least employees appreciated this very much as BASF now deliberately states what it does: chemistry. And BASF’s new global image campaign is strengthening exactly that point by saying: We create chemistry. Even though a literal translation of this slogan is not possible in many Asian languages, the idea resonates with our stakeholders in the region. This approach is not based on conveying scientific knowledge, something science-based companies might be tempted to do, but it aims at building relationships.
Central to building trust is a high degree of transparency. For us as a chemical company, this means that we try to open our gates in a virtual sense and thoroughly explain what we are doing. In Asia, there is still a relatively high degree of trust in corporations, but at the same time, there is also growing scrutiny of the way multinationals operate.
We have therefore introduced a global reporting system through which our global annual report is complemented by country reports for our major markets across the world.
In Asia, we introduced “BASF in Greater China – In Brief”, an annual report on our economic, environmental and social performance, in 2009. This year, we added “In Brief” reports for India, Japan and Korea, as well as online reports for our two major production sites in Nanjing, China, and Kuantan, Malaysia.
We can tell that this degree of voluntary transparency is being appreciated by our stakeholders. We see this transparency also as an invitation to a more intensive dialogue with our stakeholders in the region. And we hope that this dialogue translates into a better understanding of what we do and eventually into a higher level of trust. Trust is central to the success of business today, but you always have to walk the talk.
Christian Schubert is director of corporate communications Asia Pacific at BASF