Understanding Branding: Supply Chain Strategy

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When it comes to managing your supply chain, no one does it better than Cargill. The Minnesota-based organization is the largest privately-held company in the USA.

The supply chain is a vital part of your branding

How can an organization with over 140,000 employees create a bulletproof brand? With revenues over $136 billion in 2013, Cargill would be number 9 on the Fortune 500, if it were a public company. And, with diverse interests all over the world, the organization has layers of complexity that present a particular problem. Namely, how do you unify and connect a brand message for such a large organization?

That’s what I wondered when I spoke with Mike Fernandez, Vice President for Corporate Affairs at Cargill.

Mike’s responsibilities include government relations, media, communications, marketing services and yes, you guessed it: brand management. He started with Cargill in 2010 after a career that took him to State Farm Insurance, ConAgra Foods, CIGNA, and US WEST (now known as CenturyLink). With a diverse background in public affairs, PR and marketing, he brings a unique perspective to this international giant – a company that, in all fairness, has received its share of criticism over the years. So, I wondered: How does Cargill use collaboration in its marketing? And how does that collaboration include their supply chain? Here’s what Mike had to say when I asked him about the difference between branding and reputation at Cargill:

Mike Fernandez- Cargill Corporation

Mike Fernandez, Vice President at Cargill Corporation

Mike Fernandez:

My orientation around communications, marketing, branding really evolved from an early career in politics, then the Eastman Kodak Company. In an earlier day, I would have said that the difference between brand and reputation was pretty clear for me. You would say a brand is really related to products and services – it was related to the company’s promise. Reputation was what the public believed. So the brand was what you wanted to be, and reputation is how the public perceived it to be.

“As one conceives of one’s own brand positioning and what you want it to be, you really have to go through a pretty in-depth exercise in making sure it’s authentic and true to who you are and that your employees and closest stakeholders believe it. And to the extent that the brand is aspirational, you better have some ‘bread crumbs’ so people have some visibility that you’re headed in a particular direction. Otherwise you’re going to be more quickly discovered and found out as a fraud.

“Before, brands used to be about logos and slogans for a lot of people. And now it’s more about behavior. Branding is not only about what you do but how you do it.

“So, in that mix, it prompts you to think about whether you need to move the bar up in terms of what you currently think of as transparency.

“In other words: in terms of what you share about what you do, who you are, and what your intentions are.

“I would argue that in decades past, the exercise of developing a brand was almost a one-way exercise.”

While I agree, I had to point out that this kind of silo exercise can’t work within an organization like Cargill – because of the nature of the food processing business. Relying on partners and serving stakeholders simultaneously can be a lot to handle – particularly from a branding perspective.  The supply chain is enormous for his organization.

Here’s how Mike responds:

MF: We listen to a lot of various stakeholders, not the least of which is our owners, since we are a privately held company. And for us, that’s also interesting just in terms of the growth of the family’s thoughts. A certain number of family members, their last name is on the company. For those whose last name is not, they are descendants of someone who was. So they are very sensitive to making sure we operate in the best way. Cargill is a company where people are very concerned about ethics. From day one, every employee gets something called our guiding principles. It has a quote in there from the second leader of the company that essentially says ‘our word is our bond,’ then it marches through seven principles. The seventh one is the most important to our topic but all of them are important:

  1. We obey the law
  2. We conduct our business with integrity
  3. We keep accurate and honest records
  4. We honor our business obligations
  5. We treat people with dignity and respect
  6. We protect Cargill’s information, assets and interest …but the last one is:
  7. We are committed to being a responsible global citizen.

So, inherently, on Day One, the thought pattern is to get employees thinking about their responsibilities relative to the brand and reputation of the enterprise.

Is Cargill able to fulfill on these promises?

Find out that answer, and more, inside BulletProof Branding.

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BulletProof Branding on iPad by Chris Westfall is on iPadFind out more about how you can reshape the branding conversation, in BulletProof Branding. Featuring a foreword by Ted Rubin, this is the hold-your-handbook for strategic marketing in the digital age. If you want to create engagement, and be heard beyond the likes, tweets and pokes, you’ve got to understand the new rules for customer engagement. Today, customers on social media are armed and dangerous – that’s why you’ve got to have a bulletproof brand.

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