Ports recognize that who they are and what they stand for is as critical as how they look
By Meredith Martino
Many ports live and die by their numbers: container throughput, volume of cargo, value of cargo, regional jobs, truck turn times, economic impact, tax revenue generated and so on and so forth. But numbers don’t tell the story of a port. They’re facts – cold, hard and impersonal. There’s no narrative to them. They are not who a port is in the eyes of its partners, community or customers.
Ports throughout the hemisphere are recognizing that they need to create strong brands for themselves in order to succeed. And they are embracing increasingly sophisticated concepts of brand that go far beyond old ideas of a merely having a consistently-used logo and coordinated color palette.
Amanda Kaiser, Chief Path Finder at Kaiser Insights LLC, describes brand affinity as “the emotional aftertaste after an experience with a product, service or company.”
“When people say brand, they think it is synonymous with logo, the same way people think marketing is synonymous with advertising,” said Kaiser, who worked the bulk of her career for Crayola and an advertising agency supporting Crayola before taking her branding expertise to the association and nonprofit sectors.
Kaiser encourages her clients to focus on five elements of a strong brand – elements that can be applied to ports, as well as the associations and charity organizations she typically works with.
- Look is the colors, design, photographic style, illustrations, logo, patterns and fonts used on an organization’s website, brochures, printed materials, signs, email templates and published materials.
- Products are what an organization offers – goods or services that can be purchased or obtained.
- Promise is the organization’s key value proposition, when an organization can articulate the emotions it hopes targeted audiences will feel about the organization.
- Story is the organization’s ability to tell the story that target audiences want to hear, not what the organization wants to say.
- Experience is the impression that target audiences have after they interact with the organization.
“Brands don’t have to be Apple in scope to be powerful,” said Kaiser. “Over time, if you keep doing the right things, you can build brand affinity.”
Ports throughout the Americas are implementing this concept of brand, usually through very deliberate internal processes aimed at repositioning themselves with key stakeholders.
Port Tampa Bay President & CEO Paul Anderson came to the organization in 2013 with a strategic vision to rebuild the port’s brand.
“I don’t know how many people want to do business with an authority. They want to do business with a business,” he said. “I wanted us to look and feel like a global business entity.”
So in early 2014, the Tampa Port Authority began doing business as Port Tampa Bay, with a new logo and look for the organization’s website, business cards, social media outlets, signage and marketing materials. The new name was chosen to reflect the port’s reach beyond the city of Tampa to a large population corridor centered around Interstate 4 and to bring the port better in line with a strong local identity. The region’s professional sports teams – the Buccaneers (NFL), Devil Rays (MLB) and Lightning (NHL) – had all adopted the “Tampa Bay” moniker, and the local Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper, the St. Petersburg Times, had rebranded itself as the Tampa Bay Times.
Anderson created the position of Vice President, Branding and Strategic Alliances, within the organization, a move that enabled the port to handle most of the rebranding effort in house, saving significantly over hiring expensive outside firms for strategic advice. While Port Tampa Bay still used some local firms to develop potential logos and color schemes, most of the work was done in-house. Keeping much of the work on staff also enabled the port to move quickly and be nimble in its decision-making.
The response has been very positive, especially within the local business community. The convention and visitors bureau, chamber of commerce, economic development council and the regionally-focused Tampa Bay Partnership have all embraced the new face of the port.
Port Tampa Bay also made its employees a big part of its new brand. The new name and logo were announced at the port’s 2014 State of the Port, and prior to the event, all employees were at a preview where the new look of the organization was unveiled to them as port staff. While the staff were attending the off-site event, others were busy at the port offices, switching out logos on doors and elevators and replacing business cards for all staff with those using the new logo, name and color scheme.
“Employee buy-in is critical,” said Anderson.
Many ports handle a variety of cargos, seeking diversity in their business lines to keep open doors of opportunity for future growth.
And then there is Port Fourchon.
“We’re the premier oil and gas service industry port,” said Executive Director Chett Chiasson. “You have to know your niche.”
Port Fourchon services the off-shore oil and gas industry, supporting deepwater drilling efforts in the Gulf of Mexico that began to occur around the year 2000. Prior to that, the port was servicing primarily shallow water oil and gas exploration.
“The temptation to diversify comes every five or so years,” said Chiasson. But so far the port has resisted.
For example, LNG might seem to be a good fit for a port that calls itself The Gulf’s Energy Connection. But when the port was approached about a large-scale LNG conversion terminal, port staff looked into it and decided that it didn’t fit with who the port is or what the port does.
Even as far back as the port’s beginnings, there was a Louisiana senator who wanted to attract the banana trade from New Orleans and built a dock at Fourchon that port staff still call “the banana dock” – even though it’s never handled a single banana.
Throughout its history, Port Fourchon has kept its laser-like focus on the offshore oil and gas industry, and knowing what products and services it offers and clearly articulating those to customers is paying dividends. The port has grown more than 50 percent in the past 5-10 years. “Everybody on the oil and gas service side wants and needs to be here,” said Chiasson.
In Fourchon, the narrow focus and growing market presence are working for the port as well.
“Because of our brand, because that flag, we’re seen as the example of what oil and gas can do for a community,” said Chiasson. “Across the world, people in the oil and gas industry know Port Fourchon.”
In 2007, the Port of Long Beach had established itself as one of the largest, busiest ports in the United States. But it wasn’t achieving the kind of success that it wanted. Facing skepticism and opposition from the surrounding community was putting pressure on the port’s ability to achieve its business and economic goals. The port asked itself, “What is the Port of Long Beach? A community partner? An economic engine? An environmental steward? All of the above?”
Art Wong, assistant director of communications at the Port of Long Beach, has worked at the port for about 16 years and was part of the internal process to look at the port’s personality, values and brand. That process followed the port’s decision in January 2005 to adopt its Green Port Policy, and the port eventually adopted The Green Port as its brand.
“We’re still a port, but we have expanded what we see a port as,” said Wong. “We’re not just the one or two things we were before. We’re bolder and more inclusive.”
The port believes that integrating economic and environmental interests helps every member of the local and trade communities flourish, and the port wants to be known as “a catalyst for a vibrant Long Beach.” The port wants people to think about “an idea, not a function” when the port comes to mind.
Wong said that there was initially some caution within the maritime industry that this new focus would divert attention, but the organization made the connection between protecting the environment and having a vibrant community.
“You have to succeed in business to have a community that’s livable and happy,” said Wong. “If we’re going to impact people, it should be in a positive way.”
The port puts its brand in action in advertising, publications, presentations, multimedia, educational programs and community events, and it relies heavily on its employees to live out the brand promise.
“People who come to us [to join the staff]want to be part of that promise,” said Wong.
Saint John is the oldest incorporated city in Canada, and the port is a key part of the city’s history. But the community surrounding the port did not always know the port itself. About five years ago, Port Saint John decided it needed to reconnect with the community and reintroduce the port to its neighbors. The organization known as the Saint John Port Authority felt it had a reputation as stoic and non-communicative, according to Jim Quinn, president and CEO.
The organization dropped the “authority” from its name and rebranded itself as simply Port Saint John. “We wanted to break from that governmental appearance,” said Quinn.
The port also began hosting an annual Port Saint John Community Day, bringing local residents in to the port space to learn about maritime operations, as well as participate in a waterfront festival. The port has launched an aggressive and sophisticated social media presence, using Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn to reach members of the local community on their terms. And the port remained committed to more traditional means of interaction, such as meeting with concerned neighbors.
Paula Copeland, the port’s manager of corporate communications and governance, emphasized that when the port is in the community, it is talking about issues of concern to the community.
“Always in the back of our minds, [we think]‘How can we promote the port?’ But that’s not the focus,” said Copeland.
This is a key part of story as a brand element. There are different phases of audience interaction with an organization – awareness, interest, selection/endorsement and engagement – and delivering the wrong message at the wrong time can be counterproductive.
For example, if an audience knows about the port but is waiting to hear why it should support the port, then a message promoting awareness is not going to be successful in moving that audience along in its interaction. Similarly, if an audience is not very aware of the port but is being asked to engage by providing input on a port project or process, the audience could feel overwhelmed or confused.
Port Saint John has been extremely successful in reaching its community by delivering carefully timed and crafted messages to key audiences, and these messages are not always delivered in words.
“We spend a lot of time working with community organizations and helping them achieve their own goals,” said Copeland. “They are learning about the port [through these interactions].”
Many consumer companies utilize brand ambassadors, third parties who are often paid to be a spokesperson or public face of a consumer company. The Georgia Ports Authority doesn’t pay any celebrities to speak on behalf of the organization, but it has launched a campaign highlighting the experience the port delivers by using third parties. “In Their Own Words” is a multimedia advertising effort using unscripted testimonials from port customers to solidify the port’s brand.
“We want our customers to expect service excellence,” said Executive Director Curtis Foltz. “Regardless of external forces, we want them to count on us.”
Experience as a brand element is the hardest to control. “It can be a wild card,” said brand expert Kaiser.
Foltz has sought to make experience with Georgia “reliable.” He said the port takes a holistic view of how customers should be serviced – taking into account the vessel, terminal, road access, technology interface and domestic transportation.
“We put the customer hat on and try to give them a first-in-class experience,” said Foltz.
The port is always seeking customer feedback on the experience it is providing – within the commercial organization and from the port’s customer service group through its client relations center. The feedback is perpetual and it is multifaceted.
Foltz said that the organization has embraced a culture of allowing decision-making at the front line level, which enables the port to be nimble and responsive when it received feedback.
Georgia Ports Authority has also embraced the role of being a conduit with outside groups – lobbying for the industry, trying to make a favorable experience for its customers and trying as an organization to “fly above the fray,” said Foltz.
The efforts seem to be working. The port touts testimonials from its customers such as, “They’ve done a great job embracing the ocean carrier markets and making sure they are doing all of the things to bring in more services.” And business is booming as well. The port ended 2014 with a 10.2 percent increase in its handling of containers.
“The results speak for themselves,” said Foltz.