Icon celebrates its success

Innovative marketing techniques have helped make JCB one of the strongest brands in the UK. The challenge now is to replicate that success in overseas markets. Matthew Gorman reports

JCB%20MachinesConstruction equipment manufacturer JCB is a universally recognised iconic British brand, according to Jamie Kenny, brand account director at Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy (MCBD). But ironically people are largely unaware that it is one of the most successful British manufacturers, he says.

“The success it has achieved puts it in the same band as Dyson or Rolls Royce, but because of the category it’s in – business to business – people are less aware of its achievements,” says Kenny.

To underline that status JCB has launched an advertising campaign that trumpets its iconic British heritage and global success as it looks to raise awareness of the brand among top decision makers (MW last week).

The ads, created by MCBD, will appear in business and current affairs publications such as The Economist and will highlight the company’s importance in UK manufacturing and its success abroad. JCB is now the third-largest construction equipment manufacturer in the world with a turnover of £1.75bn. In 2006, it manufactured more than 55,000 construction machines, giving it a 10.4% share of the global market.

Joseph Cyril Bamford launched JCB in 1945 from a lock-up garage he rented for 30 shillings a week. He built a tipping trailer using a £1 welding set and sold it at a market for £45. By 1948, six people worked for the company and in 1953 the first machine was branded with the JCB logo.

The company now employs more than 6,300 people and produces 278 products. It sells equipment in more than 150 countries and has 17 factories in the UK, the US, Germany, India, Brazil and China. In 2006, JCB’s biggest growth market was India, where volumes grew by more than 40%. The company has since opened a second factory in the country.

Chris Barrow-Williams, director of research at Off-Highway Research – a company that specialises in the construction equipment industry – says JCB has an overall market share of 60% in the UK. For its backhoe loaders, a type of digger considered the workhorse of the industry, that market share rises to 71% in 2006, up from 64% in 2002.

JCB has also expanded the brand through licensing deals with clothing and toy manufacturers. Clothing, footwear, accessories and toys have historically been associated with US rival Caterpillar, the world’s number one construction equipment manufacturer. One industry expert says JCB has joined this market too late for it to be a major revenue generator for the company.

However, these sectors – particularly toys – have helped make JCB a household name. It is estimated that JCB-branded goods are in 2 million UK households.

The company’s heritage in the UK was confirmed in 2005 when a song about JCB made it to number one in the music charts in the week before Christmas. The song, by Nizlopi, became a cult classic with its nostalgic retelling of a young boy’s recollection of driving home after school with his father on his JCB digger.

Bamford has long been credited with driving the business by mixing marketing and engineering. In the 1960s he saw the potential in marketing and was an early adopter of strategies now seen as standard. He began the tradition of using the machines for stunts to publicise the company name and from that the renowned JCB dancing diggers were born. He was also the first person to persuade the construction news magazine Contract Journal to publish his advertisements in colour and pulled off a PR coup by installing kettles into drivers’ cabs.

Barrow-Williams says: “JCB has done well because of its branding and marketing efforts but the products were never the best on the market. The thing it did do very well, even before it became the size it is now, was stay close to its customers.” Barrow-Williams says that even 20 years ago customers could phone up the chief executive directly with any problems they had.

Bamford recognised the need to expand abroad and sent his son – now Sir Anthony Bamford, the company’s chairman – to France as part of a plan to increase market share internationally.

According to Barrow-Williams, Sir Anthony is credited with taking the company global. He saw the importance of adapting the company’s marketing strategy to local markets and would clear away equipment after demonstrations and hold traditional French picnics for prospective purchasers and their families.

JCB%20LogoThat tradition of innovative marketing in an industry most would consider staid continues today. The company promoted the launch of its JCB Dieselmax engine in August last year by using two high-performance versions to set a new world record for a diesel-powered vehicle in the US. The JCB Dieselmax car reached 350.092mph on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah.

JCB marketing director Chris Wright says that supporting challenges like the Dieselmax record not only raises the brand’s profile but also helps attract top engineers to the company and puts a spotlight on British engineering. “The key challenge for us now is to build the brand’s awareness and profile in the US, as well as markets such as Russia and the Middle East,” says Wright.

The company is investing heavily in its operations abroad and is moving into new sectors in the UK. It is extending the brand into smaller machines, suitable for the gardening and groundcare consumer market, and producing DIY tools.

It has also set up a new government and defence business unit to increase sales of machines to the military market. One of the company’s largest orders came in 2005 when it signed a $175m (£86.5m) deal with the US Government to supply its High Mobility Engineer Excavators (HMEEs). The company has also developed other High Mobility products such as the Fastrac Tractor, Rough Terrain Forklift and its utility vehicle.

Over the years JCB has evolved into one of the strongest brands in the UK. The challenge now is leveraging that recognition abroad in markets dominated by the likes of Caterpillar. If it can replicate the success it has had at home, JCB could be moving to the number one global spot sooner rather than later.” 

Timeline: JCB 

1945 JCB founded by Joseph Cyril Bamford. 

1953 Company stamps its first machine with the JCB logo. 

1960s JCB starts using its machines for stunts at shows, creating the dancing diggers. 

2005 The company signs one of its biggest orders with the US Government after moving into the military market. 

2007 JCB becomes the third largest construction equipment manufacturer in the world with a turnover of £1.75bn.

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