FedEx at Forty: Brand Ex

FedEx has become one of the best known brand names in the world, and it didn't happen overnight.

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Perhaps more than most companies, FedEx has used the medium of television to convey its message to its customers. Award-winning commercials include “Fast-Paced World” and “Stick” (pictured above)

The FedEx Way

So much has changed over the 
decades, but the image of FedEx is very consistent. “Whatever we do, we’re going to do it this way,” Tucker says. “Maybe now FedEx does ground service, but it’s still going to be this FedEx way.”

But what is the FedEx way that has been defined over the years?

Tucker holds a branding class occasionally and asks attendees the first thing that comes to their mind when she says “FedEx.” The number-one word she says she hears is “reliable.”

“We create a system around our brand where, if you work for FedEx in Hong Kong or Canada or Dubai, we all use the same brand guidelines and brand tenets, and we all know what our brand attributes are.”

“The FedEx brand is based upon peace of mind,” Glenn says. “If you ship a package FedEx, you can rest assured it’s going to get there in a timely fashion, without damage, and within the time frame committed.”

To get that peace of mind, FedEx uses principles of speed, reliability, dependability, and information. Brand tenets include the concepts “connected, dynamic, committed, innovative, and excelling.”
“Our brand tenets won’t change even as the business changes,” Glenn says. “The brand isn’t an airplane, it’s delivery.”

Corporate lawyers usually cringe when their company’s product becomes common nouns or verbs. A journalist who writes that somebody has “googled” a search item, “xeroxed” a report, “rollerbladed” through Overton Park, or wiped his nose with a “kleenex” may get an official-looking letter warning that those are trademarked brand names.

All the same, this awareness can be considered a sure sign that a company’s marketing efforts are paying off. After all, nobody says they are going to “post office” a letter or even “UPS” a parcel. But when your boss tells you to “FedEx” a package, you know he or she wants it sent “absolutely, positively” overnight.

“We have to protect the trademark and copyright it by all the legal means,” Pacheco told MBQ. “But I think it’s great that it’s interwoven into the language. It tells you how dramatically we have reformed American business.”


The Culture

The most important thing Landor
taught me is there are three legs to the brand stool,” Tucker says. They are the visual, the iconic FedEx logo, consistent around the world; the voice, the certain tone and up-beat spirit in communications so that you might be able to hear a commercial playing in another room and know that it’s a FedEx ad; and the behavior, how the brand is lived out.

It’s the last that is crucial to FedEx’s success, and it’s also tricky to pull off successfully. How do you live out a brand?

The answer is, you have to build a culture. “That’s something Fred Smith founded in 1973,” Tucker says. “He wanted FedEx founded on ‘People, Service, and Profit.’ We all live by it. We have a spirit at this company. It’s crazy to say a brand can’t embody a spirit. But in reality, it’s been the culture since day one. If you treat your people right, they’ll provide great service to customers, and the profits will come. Then you take those profits and put them back into the people. It’s at the heart of what we do.”

When Glenn started in 1981, “The company was much smaller. We were handling about 150,000 packages a day at the time, and obviously we’re a few million more than that now. By definition, the growth and scope of the company has changed things, but the underlying principles and culture are very much intact from what they were back then.”

The brand is FedEx, and FedEx is the brand. “It isn’t an ad campaign, it’s branding each individual employee to go out and be that thing.”

It doesn’t always go perfectly according to plan, as Tucker notes when she asks, “How do you live out a brand with 300,000 employees?”

“The one thing you have to do is recognize change,” Glenn says. “Things we did in the early 1980s to maintain culture are not as easy today. We used to go out to station visits and cook hamburgers for all the family members. When you’ve got a global scope with 220 countries and territories around the world, it’s not quite as easy to do that. You’ve got to reinforce the culture in other ways.”

There’s the positive reinforcement of excellent customer service by each employee in each instance of customer interaction. There’s also the avoidance of negative reinforcements, when things go astray.

“At the end of the day a brand will be made or torn down based upon those experiences,” Glenn says. “And when you have negative experiences, how do you recover? In our world, problem resolution is a critical part of that brand experience. We can’t do anything about a snowstorm in the Midwest. But how we deal with that and communicate with our customers, give them reassurance that we’re going to  get the package there at the earliest possible time, all shape the brand.

“I’m the guy who runs the advertising and promotions,” Glenn continues, “and I’m not minimizing that, but if you don’t have those basic essentials of a brand experience that gets reinforced in a positive way day in and day out, every day, you have a tough time maintaining a reputation like we do. You’re going to have things that happen. It’s how you deal with it that matters. Customers will forgive you for making a mistake. They won’t forgive you for not dealing with it properly.”


The Brand

And, last but not least, what is 
 a brand in the first place?

Glenn says, “A brand is the sum total of the individual experiences somebody has with an organization, whether it be Memphis magazine, Hyatt hotels, or FedEx. The brand goes well beyond the advertising, promotion, public relations, and support. The brand is built upon the experience you have when a courier delivers a package to your doorstep, or you call a 1-800 number, or you walk into a FedEx Office and engage with a team member. Those are much more important in building a brand than the next 30-second ad.” 


Greg Akers is editor of MBQ: Inside Memphis Business; additional reporting by Michael Finger.

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