Although the planned ICD ((Institute of Corporate Directors) 2020 conference on branding was unfortunately cancelled, Claude Delage (Siparex, Desjardins Capital) and Christian Pichette (BrandBourg) recently held an exchange with the scheduled speakers to mark the one-year anniversary of that event. The aim of the dialogue was to clarify the role that branding played in the year 2020. Read the interview with Jean Bélanger, President and CEO of Premier Tech. 

The title of the talk was “Brand strategy or branding: an indispensable tool for aligning the company’s business plan and strategic positioning.” Can you explain what this means for you in concrete terms? (Is it primarily the concern of the Marketing department, HR or all departments?)

  • The answer is twofold:
    • Positioning the corporate brand falls under the purview of Premier Tech’s (PT) client engagement and branding team. This team must work closely with corporate development to ensure that it is consistent with our corporate Values and Culture. As CEO, I am actively involved in these discussions and the final responsibility for the positioning lies with me.
    • Individual product brands fall under the responsibility of each brand’s own marketing team, although they all carry the endorsement of the corporate brand.
  • Corporate brand positioning and activation are intrinsically linked to the execution of the strategic plan insofar as they drive several key components of its success: attracting and retaining talent, supporting the company’s basic mission, and lending credibility to the company’s product brands in the marketplace by providing a common reference point that ties these brands together in a coherent way.

What were your main achievements in the past year (since the start of COVID)?

  • As usual, it was a very busy year, which was made all the more intense by having to deal with an unprecedented situation.
    • I would say that we struck the right balance between having a significant part of the workforce remain physically on site – don’t forget that PT is an industrial manufacturer with 47 factories in 14 countries – and enabling hundreds of employees to work remotely. This represents roughly 2,000 team members in our factories, 1,300 office workers who had to remain in the workplace, and another 1,300 working from home.
    • While we encountered some headwinds and slowdowns due to imposed travel restrictions, we nevertheless managed to make seven acquisitions and increase our market share. PT has seen continued annual growth of over 6%, of which 4.5% was organic growth.
    • We have seen major advances in our digital transformation and the acceleration of several projects.

Did the current health-care crisis serve as an opportunity to reposition yourselves?

  • I wouldn’t say that. Our positioning was already very clear, and the events worldwide have done nothing to change that. They have, however, influenced the way in which we have executed our strategic plan.

You come from an industry in which branding is not entirely understood. Why is it so important to you?

  • I would attribute my emphasis on branding to two factors:
    • PT makes a big effort to highlight its corporate Values and Culture. PT’s branding has thus been central since day one. However, while we were guided by common sense 30 years ago, now there is a much more strategic and tactical approach to branding and brand activation.
    • When it comes to product branding, there have been two distinct phases: “before 2010” and “after 2010.” Before, we didn’t worry about it too much. We picked brand names without giving much thought to the impact of our choices. In April 2010, we acquired the leading manufacturer of gardening products in Canada. At that point, we found ourselves with well-known consumer brands and we had to up our game and adapt quickly to this new reality. The new knowledge and skills we acquired as a result began to be deployed throughout the company in 2012.

How do you measure the value of an intangible asset like a brand?

  • That’s a very apt choice of words. A brand is indeed an asset whose value you have to capture, identify and manage. But that asset is intangible, which makes it difficult to grasp its value. I think that ultimately you have to stop worrying about how to measure the financial value of a brand and where it stands on the balance sheet. At some point, you have to take a leap of faith and accept that a brand is intrinsically linked to a company’s strategic deployment and long-term value, whether it has marketing appeal or not.

If you had any advice for an entrepreneur or CEO who has not yet fully leveraged the power of branding, what would it be?

  • I would advise them to play the long game, and tell them that they shouldn’t be discouraged if they haven’t yet realized the full potential of their branding efforts. I would also say that it’s never too early or too late to begin. The key is taking things one step at a time, making sure that every single one of those steps, big or small, is part of a broader long-term plan. For our part, we approach this process as we would a construction project, where every act, every step serves as the foundation of the next one. At PT, we like to call it “another brick in the wall.”

Jean Bélanger, President and CEO of Premier Tech

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