DEFINING A NEW, EMOTIONAL AND STRATEGIC BRANDING APPROACH
A LEADING ODM REFRIGERATOR MANUFACTURER
Of all the different kinds of business models, that of OEMs, Original Equipment Manufacturers, and of their upgraded version ODMs, Original Design Manufacturers, seems the less likely to need a branding strategy, for the one thing it misses is indeed… a brand!
Typically OEMs and ODMs build products that are then sold under their clients’ own brands. An eminently B2B affair. The difference between the two, in simple terms, is that OEMs follow their clients’ own design and production specifications, while ODMs develop their own design in-house and offer clients a finished product, with the added value of an original personality.
As if the concept in itself wasn’t sufficiently unsexy, let’s add that the hero of this article is an ODM specialising in refrigerators. Yet the secret of the success of this particular player lies in its human, emotional skills and its ability to tie long-lasting, personal relationships based on trust and mutual respect.
Homa, dragon and tiger
Located in Zhongshan, China, Homa is among the fastest growing and largest refrigerator ODM producers in the cooling industry. Since its incorporation in 2002, Homa has experienced a remarkable development and achieved the n.1 position in refrigerator exports.
A dragon on the world stage, Homa is also a budding tiger in its own market and is well known in China as a B2C brand, and growing. Yet Homa vowed the dragon and the tiger are never to meet, this to avoid direct competition with its clients. For the rest of the world, Homa commits to remaining a pure ODM player:
“always ODM, always unique and professional, dedicating different solutions to our clients, and producing cooling appliances in the most competitive way in terms of quality, innovation and flexibility.”
The task of the studio
Studio Volpi was given the task to help Homa develop a B2B branding strategy, starting with the production of a communications toolkit. The aim was to make their clients’ life easier by creating added-value touch-points for worldwide licensors and supporting the growth of private labels’ branding and marketing.
This translated into the production of corporate video contents, and the creation of specific events. Also, given Homa’s strongpoints in R&D and all things tech, the studio deployed its engineering team to help drive innovative solutions and products.
The first issue to be addressed, in strategic terms, was that of how to communicate Homa’s values and culture to its clients as a pure OEM/ODM company, while avoiding to behave like a commercial brand and be perceived as a competitor by those very clients. Thus the project was developed adapting a typical brand consultants’ approach to the specific needs of B2B, creating a universal canvass of communication tools that could be easily modelled to suit any requirement. On the technical side, the Studio needed to embrace and support Homa’s strategic view on developing innovative solutions to anticipate new regulations in energy rating.
Insufflating a marketing soul into a near-commodity
B2B everyday business can be very down-to-earth, with cost and specifications being the main focus of the entire OEM/ODM universe. We are only one level up the “commodity” status. It has been that way since the existence of the concept. But Homa took it one step beyond, and entered the uncharted territory of B2B branding, with a decidedly “marketing” approach clearly showing the client the added-value of Homa’s proposition, yet observing all the precepts of B2B liturgy.
More than a simple supplier
At this point it was critical that Homa successfully conveyed the idea that it was more than a simple supplier, it was a partner, extending its value proposition as far as providing marketing support to its clients for its original design products. That was totally unheard of, and a giant leap forward, or better, upward, for an OEM/ODM.
The next step was thus the development of a communications toolkit aimed at Homa’s partners. For this, extensive investigation and considerable efforts were put into understanding and defining the company’s approach to the market and to its customers, its success factors, and in particular what differentiated its OEM/ODM approach from that of a consumer business. The Studio worked in close contact with Homa’s marketing across a worldwide network of stakeholders and in a multinational, multicultural and multidisciplinary environment.
Emotions with a strategic touch
The Studio then concentrated on finding the best way to communicate values in order to increase the perception of the company as a partner who supports its customers, and grows with them.
In particular, a series of videos were developed in order to support Homa’s communication, from the detailing of the company financials to highly emotional videos defined by a strong storytelling.
During the Covid outbreak it was particularly important to re-iterate Homa’s closeness to its clients and to promote the message that the company always remained active and operational thanks to its flexibility and its consistency with its founding values.
A three-video series was created, to communicate Homa’s empathy with its clients: positive messages with three different creative keys, exploring multiple facets of nature and the human being. The videos also promoted Homa’s digital newsroom, set-up to keep clients informed about company news.
Setting new standards in cooling technology
Maintaining one’s leadership in a technology-based industry entails constant and important focus on R&D. In this, Homa can count on the support of international experts. Studio Volpi is also involved thanks to decades of expertise in the white goods industry and to its global network of specialists. The ongoing innovation process is related to both products and production processes, as is the case for a project aimed at anticipating new regulation on energy classes, due in 2021, with an energy-efficient product.
Respecting the environment in preserving nature’s produce
Instead of developing a new fridge from scratch, the decision was to enhance the existing range. The approach was to integrate theoretical and experimental R&D at different levels:
First, modern insulation systems were inserted - in particular VIP (Vacuum insulated panels) - to reduce heath dispersion and optimise performance of the existing product.
The airflow system was then analysed and measured through a virtual model, in parallel with the real, physical one: this allowed to review the airflow distribution in order to correctly balance it between fridge and freezer, thus minimising energy usage. Also, the thermodynamic circuit underwent an accurate study and the no-frost function, one of Homa’s strongpoints, was significantly enhanced. Defrosting time was reduced by 15%, again minimising energy consumption.
Prototypes are currently under review. The next step will be the adjustment of the production line and processes before the start of the actual large-scale production and the official launch of the product.
Looking at Homa, it seems that refrigerator OEMs have come a long way since they simply assembled big, empty white boxes at the lowest possible cost. Leading the way in a multi-billion industry of global relevance, Homa has transformed its operations into a strategic partnership with the world’s top consumer brands and private labels. Shifting the soft core of the business, the most value-adding, into its own court, was the inspired move that made it possible.
The design, the innovation, the technology and even important elements of marketing, are now part of Homa’s unique proposition, which makes the ODM business a completely new ballgame.