How Corus added value developing a successful brand

If when you think of brand you imagine Gucci, Armani, BMW and other aspirational names and if when you think of steel you think of, well, lumps of steel, think again. There are more links between the two concepts than you may imagine.

Such was the reasoning by Corus when it embarked on its Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) scheme with Manchester Business School. Corus was anxious to reinvigorate the Colorcoat brand in the construction market so that it could become the automatic first choice for architects and building designers.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships is Europe’s leading programme helping business to improve their competitiveness and productivity through better use of the knowledge, technology and skills within the UK knowledge base. Funded by over 13 organisations and led by the Department of Trade and Industry the KTP brings business benefits, skills and knowledge to industry, graduates and academics.

Corus wanted to use the Partnership to reposition Colorcoat, its brand of pre-finished steel, so that it became the product of choice because of its connotations of quality and reliability rather than as just another suitable steel product in the right price range. And this is a discerning market – much of the steel is highly visible in predominantly pre-finished buildings such as the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff and in businesses such as McDonalds, B&Q and Old Trafford. Many other companies and organisations have also opted to build with pre-finished steel, often choosing striking designs to make the most of the material’s flexibility. But the combination of marketing savvy and technical expertise is not a common one.

Many people and organisations have just one of the two sets of skills or, perhaps more typically, one set which is much better than the other. And there is very little research to refer to. Some companies may draft in consultants to help bridge their expertise gap but Corus decided that the right application from academia would work better than costly blue sky thinking. Ceri George, Corus Colors’ strategic marketing manager and the industrial supervisor of the KTP, says "The problem with industrial branding is that there aren’t many case studies to look at. Consultants can be very useful but they are very expensive and we felt we were clear about where we wanted to go so we felt knowledge transfer would suit our needs."

The academic route also afforded Corus more time to work on the project. Ms George adds: "With consultants the project would have been over in a few months but this work was done over a three-year period." Corus turned to Manchester Business School, with whom they had collaborated on a number of projects and particularly to Dr Helen Perks, a senior lecturer in marketing. Dr Perks had worked with the steelmaker on some branding initiatives and product development. The KTP associate Dr Perks selected was practically designed for the task – Ana Cruz has a degree in product design, an MA in marketing and a PhD in brand strategy.

Ms Cruz, who is now a brand manager for Corus, was attracted to the Knowledge Transfer Partnership because of the change to put theory into practice. She recalls:"In industry it is very much hands on. You have the experience of building the capability in the business. There is a lot of creativity involved but it is also about solving real problems." She began working full-time for Corus in late 2004, after finishing the KTP.

Both sides say the Partnership worked well for them and that the perception of the Colorcoat brand in the marketplace and also in the company increased. Ms George says it was important to lift the brand internally too so that it became more integral to the Corus product line-up."We ensured that we briefed all employees too on the repositioning of Colorcoat so that the brand became important to everyone."

The brand was also strengthened by the production of a building manual of design and specification for architects and a series of Colocoat contractor events to familiarise users with the product.

Las year Corus Colors picked up two awards at the Construction marketing Awards – one for the best use of events and exhibitions and one for the best technical literature. The judging panel described the work as ‘very creative’ and ‘brilliantly executed’. Ms Cruz also won an award from the British Academy of Management in the area of knowledge and learning for her paper relating to the KTP.

Corus says that the benefits have grown gradually since the end of the Partnership – a factor which frustratingly couldn’t be represented in the completion of the KTP report because it had to be written too soon after the project ended.

Last year Colorcoat recorded a 25 per cent increase in telephone enquiries and a 30 per cent rise in hits on the website with 31,000 documents being downloaded. The brand improvement developed in the work on Colorcoat are now being passed on to the business’ operations in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Were there any downsides to the KTP? Ceri George and Corus are delighted with the outcome, though she does report some bureaucratic roadblocks in getting the partnership initially established. The administration of KTPs by the DTI has now been streamlined.

The company is keeping regular contact with Manchester Business School and has been asked to discuss its work with Manchester’s Metropolitan Univeristy. Ms George and Ms Cruz are also frequent speakers at management and brand functions. Now the Corus Knowledge Transfer Partnership is being used as a case study of best practice in branding and marketing in industrial markets

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships

A Knowledge Transfer Partnership can help a business to develop and grow by accessing the wealth of knowledge and expertise in the UK's universities, colleges and research organisations.

For more information see:

www.ktponline.org.uk

The Edge – March 2006

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