An insight into the branding of the Roy Hill Mine
February 18, 2019
Are commodities brands?
We normally think of branding as encompassing consumer-based products and services. But what about businesses that sell to other businesses, or to governments? Should these businesses hire brand managers or brand agencies? If your product is coal or aluminium or iron ore, do you need a brand strategy?
I recently attended the Hitachi Social Innovation Forum in Sydney, which showcased some of their clients, including the Roy Hill mine. And that got me thinking: Does Roy Hill need a brand strategy?
A mine is more than a hole in the ground
The Roy Hill mine is notable for three reasons: it is the largest iron ore mine in Australia; Gina Rinehart, the richest person in Australia, is the majority stakeholder through her company Hancock Prospecting; and it has pioneered automation, including a remote operations centre with end-to-end integration of operations, marketing, and corporate services.
Not your grandfather’s iron ore
But because their product is a commodity – iron ore – and their customers aren’t individual consumers but large corporations and governments, mostly in China and East Asia, why do they need a public focused website, the same as any consumer products company would have?
You might think in the commodity business generating sales isn’t the issue, price is. And price is determined by market demand, not by the quality of the product, which is fungible.
And yet they do have a public focused website, with links to OUR STORY, VALUES, and a video portal.
You might be forgiven if you think they want to sell iron ore to you, because except for a shopping cart, they look like any other consumer website, with pictures of their product and the brand promise that their iron ore is ‘consistent in quality and grade’.
If the price of your product is fixed, and you can sell everything you produce, why bother to brand yourself?
Because even if you are selling a commodity at a market-driven price to China, you have other stakeholders who impact your business, such as employees, shareholders, contractors, legislators and indigenous groups. And these stakeholders care about more than the price of iron ore. They want to know what you stand for, what you aspire to, and if they can trust you.
Before the internet, companies could control the flow of information. Investors usually had to settle for a prospectus, and potential employees on feedback from friends or family who worked there. And companies could make closed door deals. Now the problem is too much information, and companies that aren’t transparent often pay a price with shareholders, regulators and voters.
Roy Hill tells us:
“Our values of Lead, Care, Think and Perform define how we approach our work at Roy Hill. Our values help define who we are, what we stand for and underpin the behaviours we demonstrate when undertaking our work activities.”
Can you imagine a giant mining company making such a statement 100 years ago, or even 30 years ago? Do you think Gina Rinehart’s father, Lang Hancock, who discovered the deposit that is now the mine, made such promises?
The fact that Roy Hill believes branding is necessary to its business success is a sign of progress, in my view. Because accountability is always a good thing. And branding is a form of accountability. That’s why we call it a ‘brand promise’, not a ‘brand suggestion’.
So we’d love to know… What are your thoughts on the branding of commodities?
If you are in a commodities business, we’d love to hear how you deal with these challenges yourself.