Time to reinvest in the CORPORATE BRAND

The Great Recession forced many companies to cut back on expenses, and one of the first line items on the spread sheet to be redlined was corporate branding and marketing.

Now that the economy is growing again, many of those companies are finding a need to reinvest in their long-neglected brands.

The convergence of traditional media with new media has provided additional urgency to the equation, and corporate branding companies such as Brookfield-based Bader Rutter & Associates suddenly find themselves to be in a sweet spot.

Some of the largest corporate brands in the world are developed by marketing companies in southeastern Wisconsin.

Greg Nickerson, chief executive officer Bader Rutter, which represents brands such as Atlee Burpee & Co. seeds, Clifton Gunderson LLP, GE Healthcare Technology and Oshkosh Corp., said, “Our clients were able to capture additional market share during the recession and now continue to increase their spending in certain areas to maintain and extend their brand recognition.”

During the last two years, Bader Rutter has hired 50 additional employees to help with the company’s growing workload, which resulted in 15-percent revenue growth last year alone, Nickerson said. The company now has 190 employees.

“Our revenue grew 15 percent last year to about $26 million, up from about $22.5 million in 2009 and we’re projecting at least $30 million in revenue this year,” Nickerson said. “If a few things fall into place, it might even be better than $30 million this year. We might be a bit of an anomaly, but the work we did prior to the recession to diversify our client base helped out a lot. We were able to stay relatively busy even throughout the recession by not being too reliant on one industry over the other, and the people we’ve added have helped us serve our clients’ needs more effectively as they develop strategies to remain visible.”

Nickerson expects his company will reach 200 employees by the end of the summer.

John Thiel, president and owner of Milwaukee-based Thiel Design, has noticed a sense of optimism returning from the clients his firm works with.

“They are still being somewhat cautious, and they are being smart with the dollars they invest, but most realize now is a great time to refresh a brand,” Thiel said.

“Our clients realize that having a recognizable brand is absolutely relevant in today’s marketplace,” said Josh Silldorff, director of marketing at Thiel Design.

According to Thiel, some of the branding resurgence is a result of a lot of companies postponing some of their rebranding work during the recession and capitalizing on the availability of funds to make an impact in the marketplace now.

“I think the rule of thumb for most companies post-recession is that if you aren’t visible, people expect the worst and it’s automatically assumed your company bit the dust,” Thiel said. “A lot of firms did survive the recession, and many have come out with business models and processes that are better than they had when the recession hit. This is a great time for a lot of companies to reposition their branding initiatives and put out a message shaped by strategic thinking.”

Wauwatosa-based accounting firm Clifton Gunderson LLP began planning a rebranding initiative 18 months ago. The formal investment began sometime in January.

“The last time we really took a strategic look at our company brand was about 10 years ago,” said Kris McMasters, chief executive officer of Clifton Gunderson. “We are a very different firm today than we were 10 years ago. We’ve grown from $100 million in revenue to a projected $275 million for this year, and we’ve experienced a lot of growth both organically and through acquisition. We decided now was the perfect time to re-evaluate and make sure the message we wanted to project was being understood and received in the marketplace.”

Some firms are feeling pressure to keep up with competitors’ branding and marketing efforts, said Betsy Brown, managing director of Cramer-Krasselt’s Milwaukee office.

“Some of our clients have realized, if they cut back on spending or if they simply maintained that coming out of the recession, their competitors might be nipping at their heels and so they might need to increase their spending or be more strategic about where they invest in order to get in front of consumers who are now back in purchasing mode,” Brown said. “They want to make sure they don’t let their foot off the gas pedal.”

Cramer-Krasselt works with many well-known brands, including Sheboygan Falls-based Johnsonville Sausage, Montreal-based Bombardier Inc., Pittsburgh-based GNC Holdings Inc., Racine-based InSinkErator and Chicago-based ACH Foods Inc.’s Spice Islands brand.

Companies are spending more on branding, but are now focused more on making investments with measureable returns, said Anne Zizzo, president and CEO of Milwaukee-based Zizzo Group Marketing + PR + New Media, which represents both national and local brands, including the Milwaukee Brewers and the United Performing Arts Fund

“Spending has definitely started to rebound, and we’re seeing wallets open up again as well,” Zizzo said. “But what we are really seeing is companies being a little more strategic about where they invest, how they spend the dollars they have, and the strategic plan and message they put into the market.”

Interest in digital media marketing applications such as social media strategies, mobile websites and video integration has continued to increase. Marketing firms are seeing clients take more of an integrated approach to their investments.

“We’re seeing a huge uptick in interest in the convergence of media,” Nickerson said. “Digital media interacts so well with many forms of traditional marketing that it has become more of a strategic plan for most companies. It isn’t just throwing marketing dollars behind a direct mail piece or a few newspaper and magazine advertisements anymore. Companies are interested in results. They want their traditional media to converge with their digital media. They want more bang for their buck.”

Social media strategies, video integration and the development of QR codes have given companies more options for their branding investments, Zizzo said.

“We’ve had a pretty robust marketing budget for the past few years just based off the success of the team,” said Rick Schlesinger, executive vice president of business operations for the Milwaukee Brewers. “This year our budget is probably the highest it has been in a while, but we also realize there are more platforms to market our brand on than there has ever been.”

The Brewers felt it necessary to maintain a high level of awareness surrounding the team, the new scoreboard at Miller Park and the acquisition of a few new key players, Schlesinger said.

“We know we need to allocate spending not just for radio, TV and newspaper but all the social media and digital markets as well,” he said. “The challenge is deciding on how we get the right mix. We certainly rely on Zizzo Group to help us with that learning curve.”

Like many companies today, the Brewers have realized that social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook are where many customers and potential customers tend to navigate to, Schlesinger said.

“We’ve ramped up our social media presence and we’ve seen a lot of impactful results,” he said. “I’m a revenue guy, and my main goal is to see an increase in ticket sales first and foremost. We’ve had a few successful social media campaigns that integrated back to our website and other traditional forms of media that have translated into that.”

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