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Don’t Hide—You Are a Champion!They are world market leaders in their special field. But they are completely unknown to Mr and Mrs Swiss. They are niche providers. Key players on the global market who, although small in size, supply companies all over the world with their highly specific range of services.
They are world market leaders in their special field. But they are completely unknown to Mr and Mrs Swiss. They are niche providers. Key players on the global market who, although small in size, supply companies all over the world with their highly specific range of services.
Close to their customers, they know their needs inside out and create unique added value with their products or services. They ensure that Elon Musk can present his innovations on time. They supply the major confectioners with the most important ingredients for the most exquisite pralines. Or they supply fabrics for world-famous fashion brands.
Often, these companies are built on a solid foundation of decades of experience, commitment, and family structures that continuously spur their loyal employees to deliver top performance. The focus of every decision and every measure is the successful development of the company. Business is the first priority. Customer relationships are personal and have grown over the long term. Operating at the cutting edge of technology, their innovative products and services contribute stealthily to a flourishing economic engine in Switzerland and in the global marketplace.
As successful as business has been in the past and is today, hidden champions also face the challenges of the modern world. In a highly competitive environment, for example, they can only continue to pursue their quality strategy if the price level can be maintained in the long term. In addition, hidden champions are often confronted with a large but one-sided customer base. The right diversification to the right extent can reduce the cluster risk.
Due to the digital transformation, which has found its way into all industries and markets, it is important for hidden champions to surf the wave of the digital tsunami as best they can and to use this change as an opportunity. Above all, however, in the context of the much-cited ‘war for talent’, it is a matter of attracting the right employees for a successful future. What is needed for this is a strong brand.
Digitalisation has turned what were once small niches into large markets on a global scale. The internet has given these companies a worldwide ‘shop window’ and thus the opportunity to present themselves on the international stage.
However, this also means that companies are now confronted with an even larger number of competitors whose shop windows also come to the attention of a potential, new customer quickly and easily via search engines. The result is that customer relations are becoming more anonymous. What helps to convey one's own performance despite this is a strong brand.
We know from our consulting experience that in 9 out of 10 cases, however, the brand appearance of a hidden champion does not do justice to the substance of the company. Static websites, outdated design, and a technical image-oriented world make companies appear to be stuck in the past. If the brand presence no longer reflects the actual development of the company it sells itself below its actual value, which in turn negatively influences the perception of future customers or employees.
As a result, they do not recognise the true value of the services and are therefore not willing to pay the appropriate price or the best employees are not attracted in the first place. This is why it is becoming increasingly crucial for hidden champions to consistently communicate the company's strengths to the outside world. Only in this way can the brand develop its full thrust.
As a leading company in gear technology, Humbel Gears from Thurgau has been successfully manufacturing high-tech gears for a wide range of industries for 25 years—including in various racing classes such as Formula 1, Moto GP or the IndyCar series. The strong growth of the company due to the establishment of additional production sites in a short period of time has diluted its profile and created an imbalance in the perception of Humbel on a strategic and visual level.
To counteract this development, the common sense of purpose was sharpened and a clear direction defined. With the new ambition to be a ‘power family’ their visual appearance then also had to be brought to a new level. This was in order to decisively represent the attractiveness of the brand and thus to survive in the battle for future talents.
Alumo, a hidden champion from Appenzell, has been producing the finest cotton shirting fabrics for world-renowned tailors and garment makers for 100 years. Their high-quality handcrafted production has become a rarity in the midst of mass production. Their fine fabrics are of the highest class and coveted by connoisseurs.
In recent years, Alumo has found itself squeezed by a dwindling market share and the increasing visibility of its competitors. The discrepancy in the perception of customers and employees between the appearance and the actual substance of the company was sometimes one of the main reasons for this.
In order to confront the falling price level, it was time to let the brand shine again with its entire radiance in the future. For this purpose, the brand positioning was sharpened in terms of content and the preciousness of the company was defined with the analogy of a rock crystal—a rarity created for eternity. In line with this, the brand presence was refreshed and made perceptible at all its contact points from the website to the labels, letterheads, and POS materials. This new radiance now allows it to play more of a role on the big stage again.
The modern business world constantly poses new challenges to traditional SMEs that operate as hidden champions. In order to master these challenges and to grow impressively, the brand is a very effective tool.
The two examples mentioned have also experienced this. If the hidden champion succeeds in harmonising the actual substance, and its appearance, the company can steer into a successful future with full thrust.
A main focus for brand managers these days is the Net Promoter Score, NPS for short. They want as many ‘yes’s’ as possible in response to the question ‘would you recommend us?’ The initiatives in the companies that follow the NPS programmes, however, start with the ‘no’. With great effort, analyses are carried out, information is collected and projects are started to combat the reasons for the ‘no’.
For years and decades, it was the epitome of every brand design project, the pride and joy of the agency and the client: the corporate design manual. The reference work by which all those professionally involved with a company's brand should act and think. So much for the theory.
Design thinking, product design, industrial design, fashion design, and organisational design. Everything, it seems, is about design these days. What design means, however, is often unclear. A brand designer’s understanding is different to that of an organisational developer.