Logistics is the backbone of modern life, yet the industry across Europe suffers from a troublesome image problem, affecting recruitment and much else besides. Industry veteran Professor Dr. Rembert Horstmann of Cologne Business School suggests what needs tobe done.
When we shop online these days, we hardly give a thought to the processes that are triggered in the background, to the logistical tour de force required in order to deliver our purchases, often on the very next day. Or even the same day.
However, it is not only we as consumers, but also -in fact, primarily -industry that benefits from the services of a sector that can with absolute fairness be described as the backbone of our economy: logistics. lt is an industry that, despite this proven relevance, leads a shadowy existence and is often even the subject of negative talk. While the IT, energy or engineering industries, for example, are regarded as innovative for the prosperity of our countries, the transport and logistics sector is continually chasing after its aspiration to be considered the driving force of our economy.
The image killer
So, why is enthusiasm for this industry developing so slowly? Again and again, we see that the industry is thwarted by an omnipresent image killer: the truck.
Decried as monster trucks, environmental villains or causes of traffic jams, trucks ruin the industry's reputation at every stage of the journey. Against this background, the world at large forgets that transport services are only one part of an extremely intelligent system that delivers prosperity, jobs and quality of life.
The industry's bad image therefore makes it a loser. Thousands of jobs in logistics cannot be filled: there is not only a shortage of truck drivers, but very few young people can imagine a career as a supply chain manager, logistics manager or IT manager of a logistics company. There's no sparkle, no appeal. In fact, it's the opposite -it reeks of diesel. What is missing is that emotional moment of the manufacturing process that you experience, say, in classy car sales rooms or perhaps when you put on the latest chic fashions.
Logistics has not managed to produce any good arguments to counter negative prejudices among the general public. The successes achieved by modern logistics, for example in optimising traffic and conserving resources, are hardly discussed at all.
Why 'Brand' matters
lt's not all doom and gloom, though. Logistics has a very good reputation with, for instance, its direct customers in industry. They see the logistics specialist as a problem solver, as someone who helps and takes the burden off the customer. Unfortunately, the public are not aware ofthese fans in industry.
This is partly because the logistics industry is not a 'brand'. lt has not managed to portray its excellence as trustworthy and attractive. Ontop of that, only a very few logistics companies have recognised the benefits and necessity of strategic brand management. Most companies display their company name and logo prominently on their truck tarpaulins, but all this does is to heighten awareness: it does not convey any message. This is a problem because it's the message that counts. What does the company or brand stand for? What makes us attractive and trustworthy? What makes us excellent? How can we set ourselves apart from the competition? As a consequence, the lack of brand awareness means that there are very few logistics brands that have managed to position themselves clearly.
In general, logistics has a twofold brand problem: firstly, the industry is not a brand but struggles with a great many image problems and, second (albeit with a few exceptions), logistics companies have not yet recognised the benefits and necessity of strategic brand management -or they often confuse simple awareness with clear brand positioning.
lt would be much easier for everyone involved if an industry was made up of a large number of strong brands, because strong corporate brands make a long-term contribution to the image of an industry. This would definitely change the public's perception of logistics as a whole and on a day-to-day basis make it much easier for companies to recruit the necessary specialist personnel, set themselves apart from the competition through their excellence or attract potential customers with a clear brand positioning and be considered in important tenders.
Brand management in logistics companies is primarily about building trust. Trust is based on four elements:
competence, predictability, goodwill and integrity. This is particularly important in logistics, as the greater part of the service offered is interchangeable, simply a 'must-have' service that leaves little room for a unique position. Many suppliers can offer comparable services, especially when it comes to less complex services such as transport. Only with a clear brand positioning can companies set themselves apart from the competition, especially if many services are perceived by customers as a 'must' rather than a promise of excellence.
Holistic approach needed
Logistics companies that have recognised the potential of a strong brand tend to use the concept rather superficially. Brand is often equated with a particular look or uniform corporate identity. Yes, a uniform market presence certainly promotes awareness or recognition of a company. A brand is much more than just a uniform external image.
A brand must be built from within and it requires a holistic approach. The company should first recognise where its excellence lies, because only companies that deliver excellence can position themselves sustainably as a brand. The core brand values, the so-called company DNA, are defined on the basis ofthis excellence. This is the foundation for a clear and unique brand positioning of the company. The core brand values must be actively practised in the company and are the regulators for all brand policy decisions and the foundation of strategic brand management. In my own view, a good example of a company that takes this holistic approach is Dachser -it has consistent branding throughout the company with its famous blue and yellow. The Dachser brand attributes are quality, innovation, continuity and loyalty and its brand approach reflects that.
There are many good approaches, but brand management must be thought through systematically to the end. As we know, there is still a lot to do in logistics; both the industry itself and its very many companies have to do their homework. Strang brands ensure longterm growth and create trust as the basis for every customer relationship. Only those companies with a strong brand will be able to set themselves apart and assert themselves in the lang term in this highly competitive environment. Brand management in logistics can then become a very exciting topic.
Prof. Dr. Rembert Horstmann
is Professor of Marketing and Sales at the CBS Cologne Business School.