The typically Dutch way of doing business!
A strong brand is important in a B2C environment. But how important is branding in B2B? And does it work to your advantage abroad to be Dutch or to have your main office in the Netherlands?
Royal HaskoningDHV has been a leading engineering consultancy and project management firm for more than 137 years now. In the lobby of this traditional company, bearing a royal predicate in its business name, they have a picture of the royal couple on the wall of the main office. “Typically Dutch,” says Corporate Director Communications & Brand Flip Dötsch with a smile.
A tiny country under sea-level
Dötsch continues: “Being a Dutch company is certainly helpful in doing business abroad. People think of the Netherlands as that tiny country with a lot of expertise in, for example, water management and rural and urban development. Out of necessity, we have to find ways to keep our feet dry and create a healthy and economically sustainable environment in a densely populated country. Our technical universities are highly respected. And the Dutch are discoverers. We score highly on lists of entrepreneurship and innovation. Furthermore, big companies such as Philips and Unilever have built an excellent reputation abroad. So Royal HaskoningDHV is in very good company, that helps.”
“Being locally relevant is more important than being Dutch.” Flip Dötsch
That said, Dötsch calls into question if operating out of the Netherlands is also advantageous. “Half of our employees are based in the Netherlands, but we also have lots of offices abroad. Our colleagues abroad are hired locally. Being locally relevant is more important than the fact that you are Dutch. People do business with us because of our expertise; our knowledge of local stakeholders, dilemmas, and opportunities; and our values in the area of ethics, integrity and sustainability. These are embedded in our total operation, from Sydney to Vancouver.”
The Japanese in the Netherlands
Local relevancy is also the reason why Japan’s Yusen Logistics has its European regional head office in the Netherlands. Our country is an important market for this logistic service providers, as well an important logistic hub thanks to Schiphol and the port of Rotterdam. “But we Dutch are not in the majority at the office,” says Head of Marketing Sanne Visser.
“We work with many different nationalities here. With such a mixed bunch you can’t say we have a typically Dutch culture at the office. In our cafeteria our Japanese staff eat their authentic Japanese food while the Dutch enjoy their sandwiches with sprinkles. Just like us, they are used to work with a kind of polder model, the difference is that you see the Japanese staff work long hours. They are very good in meticulously observing a process to make improvements. The Japanese staff often makes jokes about our directness. Although I don’t know what it would be like if we were in Tokyo.”
“The Dutch are direct with a smile. It isn’t painful, it feels more like an arm around you.” John Dillon
Directness with a smile
The British John Dillon works as Chief Marketing Officer at Dutch software company Exact. He has his own opinion on the directness of the Dutch. “If the British and the Americans are direct, they often get sarcastic. It’s like they want to hurt someone. For me it feels different here. The Dutch are direct with a smile. If feels more like they put an arm around. It speeds up making decisions.”
“What also strikes me is that the Dutch really balance work and life. A lot of my team members have consciously chosen to work fewer hours. That’s something you hardly see in any other country. In most countries around the world people work long hours because they are afraid of what their bosses might think of them. Not in Holland, and luckily so. And it doesn’t seem to affect the productivity. I think it makes for a healthy balance.”
Brand as golden key
Royal HaskoningDHV, Yusen Logistics and Exact: all three of them are B2B businesses. And for all three of them, branding is very important. “In a B2B environment your brand is your golden key,” Dötsch says. “It’s about recognizability. People want to know with whom they are doing business. In what kind of company do I invest? Do they live up to good standards? A corporate brand is the vehicle that gets us there, it builds trust and open doors.”
“A corporate brand is the vehicle that gets us there, it builds trust and opens doors.” Flip Dötsch
Royal HaskoningDHV is currently in the middle of a few transitions, Dötsch explains. “We are moving from being just an engineering, consultancy, and project management club to an organization with a fully integrated offering of more digital solutions and capabilities, such as artificial intelligence and robotics. This fuels new innovative propositions – and from a brand perspective, we need to manage this well to make the company’s brand stronger. Our portfolio is changing, and the brand strategy needs to change to support the growth ambitions of the company. Clear guidance for our innovators is key, otherwise we could end up with small unknown stand-alone brands that would have to invest lots of money to stand out within their field of expertise. You don’t want to put yourself in that situation. In B2B, the parent brand must play a major role. We are re-designing the whole process in that way. What does the brand Royal HaskoningDHV represent? How are we going to organize our portfolio?”
But even though his company is still in the middle of the transition, Dötsch already knows when the transition will be a success: “When we manage to come up with an unambiguous strategy that focuses on ‘less is more.’ And when the governance is so widely accepted that we don’t see people drawing their own plans anymore – then, for me, the branding will be a success. The implementation and ongoing management of the brand is equally, if not more, important than the initial creation of a brand strategy.”
Building and loading
Yusen Logistics has also set a new course with its project Transform 2025. Says Visser: “We operate in a lot of countries, and up until now our company has been structured by country. Now we want to organize our company more vertically. That’s why we’ve engage in verticals such as healthcare, automotive, technology, aerospace, retail, and food. Branding plays a major role in this. In Asia our brand awareness is already huge, but how can we increase the awareness among potential buyers in other markets? Our goal is to become a world leading preferred supply chain and logistics company.”
“We want to be the market leader and specialist in our key industry verticals.” Sanne Visser
“The biggest challenge in building our brand is to ensure that internally we keep doing the same thing consistently,” Visser continues. “All parties have to message the brand values, especially in the industries that we are focusing on. In addition, everyone must put forward how we distinguish ourselves from the competition. It is not always about price, we have to highlight (for example) that a pharmaceutical company chooses us because we transport their product on time, in full, to the right place at the right temperature.”
Exact, in its business of financial software, operates in the Dutch SME market and focuses on small and medium size businesses. “For smaller companies in particular, there aren’t a lot of people involved in the decision process. And the person making the decision often isn’t a software expert. Therefore our marketing methods and techniques are often similar to those used for consumer brands,” Dillon explains. “It’s very important to have a strong brand. A household name speeds up the selection process. Our reputation that helps clients choose Exact software with confidence.”
Offline vs. online
“The Netherlands has a typical way of doing business. There is more personal interaction with the client,” Dillon says. “Locality is important. Clients want to be understood and they want to be sure that you know and act and develop according to Dutch legislation. You have to be close to them for help and support. That’s why we often literally open our doors for trainings, demonstration days, and meet ups. Every year we organize Exact Live with over 6,000 customers in The Jaarbeurs.”
“At these kinds of events and other trade shows we have made good use of [racing driver] Max Verstappen. His stopping power is amazing. Max Verstappen or a Red Bull racing car draw attention at an event, which gives us the opportunity to get in touch with you and start a conversation. It’s a different story in the online world. If people click a banner with Max Verstappen, they expect news on the Formula 1 or a free Max cap. They are not necessarily interested in professional financial software. You have to adopt another approach online.”
“Connecting your brand campaign with your activation campaign makes for a profit. Your brand alone doesn’t sell anything.” John Dillon
Dillon continues: “Connecting your brand campaign with your activation campaign makes for a profit. ‘Click this button to buy.’ People don’t feel an emotional connection clicking an activation button, but they do feel an emotional connection with your brand. Brand is more the touch level. It’s not yet about selling. It’s about showing who you are as a brand. Which kind of problems can we solve for you? If we message this by playing emotions, you will remember us better. People will not become clients instantly afterwards, but if they need software, they will remember us. Internally it can sometimes be though to keep this up. Challenging sales targets can often lead to a switch of focus from brand building to near-term activation tactics. It’s the art to balance the two.”
Yusen Logistics’ Visser observes a trend in logistics: “It’s an industry that’s ready for disruption. Uber Freight, that kind of initiatives will come. Since sustainability becomes more important for consumers, new parties will introduce initiatives like for example around alternative fuel and electronic vehicles. I believe the driving forces will come from outside the industry. That represents a challenge for Yusen Logistics. Assets such as boats, trucks and warehouses are not written off that easily.”
“Logistics is an industry ready for disruption.” Sanne Visser
Dötsch, meanwhile, believes in better highlighting the company purpose. “Royal HaskoningDHV’s purpose is enhancing society together. We still can do a better job in explaining crystal clear what impact our work has on society. I would like for us to engage more in debates on different societal topics – especially areas where engineering, data science, and technology can be used as a force for good. There’s an ideal breeding ground for that now.”
This article is based on interviews with
Flip Dötsch, Corporate Director Communications & Brand, Royal HaskoningDHV
Royal HaskoningDHV has been connecting people for more than 137 years. Together, through our expertise and passion, we have helped contribute to a better society and improved people’s lives with work underpinned by our sustainable values and goals. We are an independent international engineering and project management consultancy leading the way in sustainable development and innovation.
John Dillon – Chief Marketing Officer,Exact
Exact is the Benelux market leader in financial and business software. We serve Internationally operating organizations and local businesses. With 1,400 specialists, we help more than 400,000 entrepreneurs and accountants with our innovative software solutions, allowing them to manage their numbers and successfully run their day-to-day business.
Sanne Visser – Head of Marketing, Yusen Logistics (Europe)
Yusen Logistics is the insight-driven, customer-centric logistics partner to global business.
We deliver this through an extended range of services from International Freight Forwarding and Contract Logistics, to Supply Chain Solutions and Industry Insights covering the full supply chain.
We invest in a deep understanding of our customers' business, their customers, the challenges they face, and the goals they want to achieve. With 24,000 employees covering 45 countries and regions and over 550 locations, we are connecting people, businesses, and communities to a better future every day.
All interviews by Kantar colleagues Monique van Breda and Hugo Schurink. Text by Annelies Kant and Machteld Gelderland.