Warren Buffett has started rolling out his widely successful investment company, Berkshire Hathaway, into a consumer brand. Starting earlier this year, the famed investor began rebranding the energy companies, real estate brokerages and certain insurance holdings with the Berkshire Hathaway name.
Now plans to license the name to estate agencies in Europe and Asia have been announced. The roll out sees the investment company turned into a brand, while also hoping to leave its reliance on Buffett, the man, behind.
Although Berkshire Hathaway has an incredible portfolio of partnerships with global brands such as IBM, Coca-Cola, Walmart, and Gillette among others, the parent brand has very much been Warren Buffet himself. His personal reputation as a successful businessman and philanthropist shines brighter than his corporate brand Berkshire.
Indeed, Berkshire has long existed in the shadows as the holding company investing in these other big brands. Buffett has fronted the successful investment arm, but his management style is known for being a hands-off one of investing in top talent. So, the transfer of brand Buffett to brand Berkshire should be a natural one for him.
More than celebrity endorsement
Now, the legendary investor attempts to imbue his company Berkshire Hathaway with some of the stardust associated with the Buffett name. By aligning his reputation for financial expertise and longevity with Berkshire Hathaway, the octogenarian is launching a consumer brand with global reach.
Very often consumer brands use celebrity endorsement to create positive and desirable associations for their brands. The rationale is to help consumers to understand what the brand is about by borrowing some personal attributes from celebrities.
Warren Buffett is undoubtedly one of the most aspirational American citizens, an embodiment of the American dream. According to The New York Times more Americans aspire to be like him than Taylor Swift, Oprah Winfrey or even President Obama. The qualities immediately associated with him are wealth, success, stability, longevity and also philanthropy and frugality. These are all very good attributes to sell houses, cars, and insurance.
The alignment of Buffett with Berkshire Hathaway, however, goes further than celebrity endorsement branding strategy. It is more a case of brand personification in which Buffett’s personal traits are yoked together with the Berkshire brand. By tying it to his own character traits, Buffet lifts up awareness for Berkshire Hathaway and speaks out its brand identity. It is a wise arrangement that sees the creator line himself up in the shadows of his creation, making it more visible.
By anchoring his personal reputation as a core value for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, Buffett hopes to make it a trustworthy brand. The brand promise that lies behind the company’s name translates beyond the American dream to fit with consumer concerns across the world when investing in property – for many the largest purchase they will ever make.
Warren Buffett is not quite as famous to consumers outside of the US, but he is definitely not in another galaxy. As he moves Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices into Europe and Asia, he might consider the strategy of co-branding to help Berkshire Hathaway in creating associations that consumers are more familiar with and can relate to.
A similar approach was adopted by the American real estate company Re/Max, which operates in more than 90 countries worldwide through franchising. Taking this kind of “think-global-and-act-local” approach would make Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices more familiar for its global consumers. Especially when local agents, fearful of being eclipsed by the arrival of this new kid in the real estate block, will be holding up their home advantages to secure their market share.
But with continuing uncertainty in global financial markets the enduring strength of the Warren Buffett brand makes it good timing to turn Berkshire Hathaway consumer facing. And in aligning his attractive characteristics with the brand he is no doubt looking to secure his company’s long-term success and reach.
By Adriana Campelo, Cardiff University
Adriana Campelo does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.