Some time ago I came across a CEO of a machinery company who dismissed my proposal for improving the rather non-existing branding of his empire with the words: "Nonsense! There are three things I don't believe in. These are Fortune Telling, Fengshui, and Brands!"
What may sound absolutely ridiculous to branding experts from other industries is actually deeply rooted in Asian cultures. On the one hand, an almost fetishistic veneration of knowledge and academia, on the other hand a total dismissal of intangible assets, such as a brands. (Many Asian company bosses do believe that they themselves are the brand, a bit like Elon Musk.)
However, in this case, it is not about the difference between Asia and the West. In the machinery industry branding does work a bit differently. Even Western machinery conglomerates often forgo basic principles of corporate branding due to reasons outsiders may find baffling.
House of Brands
Take Austrian steel conglomerate voestalpine for example. All the companies it acquired were left with their brands intact, because they are all market leaders in their respective fields, whereas the group itself has a somewhat checkered history.
In other examples, the companies in the group may not be the best in their field, but they may enjoy a strong reputation in their respective countries. If the acquiring group comes from a country still catching up in terms of quality, or is simply less known globally, it makes sense to keep the acquired brands in tact, at least temporarily. Taiwan's Fairfriend Group (FFG) is doing this, with over 30 European, American and Japanese brands and their logos under the hood.
Brand Value through Graphic Elements
The "house of brands approach" is actually very common in the machinery industry. What's more, there is so much consolidation going on that following traditional branding principles would mean changing logos every few years. Just think of Gildemeister's painful path from Gildemeister > DMG > DMG Moriseki > DMG Mori.
There are however ways to create a degree of corporate branding uniformity without endangering brand reputation. My favorite one is through the clever use of graphic elements. Kraus Maffei does this by using the same bar and color scheme, while leaving the logo of "Netstal" intact.
Keeping reputation intact while consolidating assets
One of the most beautiful examples of branding however is the NGR group, which unified the logos of all its acquired companies by incorporating the same yellow and grey tones, while preserving the names. This assures both continuity in terms of brand reputation and consolidation of brand assets under the new owner. It's definitely the way forward for Asia's machinery companies, if they ever wake up and realize the necessity of good branding.
After showing this to the CEO who dismissed brands as superstition akin to fengshui and divination, his eyes lit up. It's one thing to buy companies and build an empire, it's another to visually communicate that success with pride. Even in the world of industrial machinery, beautiful examples of smart branding abound.
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