Branding Mining 101

By Manisha Singh for Clareo

Mining has a terrible reputation as being an extractive, exploitative industry. When the general population thinks of mining, they think of men covered in soot working underground throughout daylight hours; craters in the ground that ruin the landscape; a death zone where nothing grows or lives. For much of history, mining has indeed been a selfish industry focused primarily on taking without concern for what remains after.

But in our modern world, the products we mine are the building blocks of the lifestyles we maintain. Without mining, we could not sustain our population growth, our standard of living, or our technological advances. Consider the number of electronic devices you have with an on/off switch. Not one could exist without the minerals produced from mining. Apple uses over 40 elements to manufacture the iPhone alone.

As social consciousness has risen, consumer expectations surrounding a company’s social and environmental responsibility have increased. The mining industry has made progress over the past decade; however, these expectations have moved at a faster pace than the industry has been able to change. Further, social media has enabled individuals to voice their opinions anywhere, at any time, and has increased the power of community. This combination has led to greater activism in multiple countries around the world and accelerating negative press for mining in particular.

Because mining has traditionally been viewed as a commodity business, most companies within the sector have not invested in branding.

Some mining companies are ahead of the curve and have worked diligently towards improving their social and environmental impact in the communities where they operate, yet they have not been able to benefit from their efforts primarily due to a lack of branding. Because mining has traditionally been viewed as a commodity business, most companies within the sector have not invested in branding. One notable exception is De Beers, which built a strong global brand with unforgettable ad campaigns such as ‘A Diamond is Forever’. Mining’s general lack of branding means that when a negative event such as community protests/riots or a tailing dam incident occurs at one mine, mining as an industry and all companies within it take a hit, whether they have a connection to the event or not.

De Beers proved that being in a commodity business does not rule out the possibility of branding. Starbucks, Intel, and CEMEX have seen similar successes. Each company chose to focus on a particular aspect of the product or service offering to differentiate from the pack. In doing so, they became highly profitable leaders that revolutionized how customers and consumers think of the commodity.

Implementing the Development Partner Approach can help responsible companies develop a brand of their own, one that ensures they are recognized for the good they do.

Mining companies can follow this example. A key opportunity for individual mining companies to differentiate is to become the preferred partner for industry by embedding the Development Partner Approach (DPA). This approach leverages a new mindset as to how mining secures, nurtures and progressively revitalizes its social license to operate by cultivating partnerships amongst the collective set of stakeholders, including communities, indigenous people, businesses, employees, governments, NGOs and investors. Implementing the DPA can help responsible companies develop a brand of their own, one that ensures they are recognized for the good they do and not penalized for the mistakes of others.