CMO Close-up with Dan Collins, VP-corporate communications, Corning Inc.

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Dan Collins is VP-corporate communications at Corning Inc., a 160-year-old manufacturer of glass products used in telecommunications, consumer electronics, automotive and other industries.

Collins oversees all advertising, corporate marketing and PR for Corning, and recently spearheaded the launch of an ad campaign for Gorilla Glass, a specialty glass used in cell phones, PDAs, tablet computers and other consumer electronics products.

In the following interview with CMO Close-Up, Collins discusses the evolution of the company and the branding challenges it faces.

CMO Close-Up: How is Corning changing as a company and how are you evolving the brand?

Collins: Back in the 1800s, Corning first came to prominence when it created the first light bulb for Thomas Edison. Since then, Corning has been involved in more than half a dozen technologies that have become life-changing innovations. We began producing glass for railroad switches, which led to the first trans-American rail; and 40 years ago, Corning invented optical fiber, which revolutionized the telecommunications industry. We also invented liquid crystal display glass, used in PCs, cell phones and desktop computers.

However, Corning was probably most famous, during most of the 1900s, for being a consumer company, manufacturing Correll, CorningWare and Pyrex glass products. In 1998, we sold our consumer business and faced many branding challenges. The first was, Corning could now say it was truly a technology company, but Wall Street and even our employees and customers still saw us as a dish company.

The second challenge was that in selling the consumer company, we also sold the branding rights to the new owners to maintain the Corning brand in the marketplace. So it's difficult to create a new brand when the world knows you by your old brand. We are still saddled with that identity at times.

CMO Close-Up: Who are your primary audiences now?

Collins: Our audience is clearly a deep b-to-b audience. We are a components manufacturer; our products go into other people's products. It's rare that our customers overlap from business to business. In terms of industries, we are still the world's leading manufacturer of optical fiber cable and equipment, which we sell to telecommunications companies and cable companies.

We also have a display technologies business, selling ultra-thin sheets of glass to product manufacturers of computers, PDAs, cell phones and flat-screen TVs. We want someone like a Dell Computer or Sony Electronics to specify our glass. That is our biggest business.

We also have an environmental technologies business providing clean-air technologies, a life sciences business and a specialty materials business making coatings for the space shuttle, optics for the medical industry and Gorilla Glass.

CMO Close-Up: What is Gorilla Glass?

Collins: Gorilla Glass is a really tough, extremely thin, really beautiful glass being used by manufacturers in cover glass for products such as PDAs and smartphones. Because of its attributes, it provides a measure of scratch resistance. This is what our branding campaign is all about. We're using a gorilla in the ads, and the campaign is a bit whimsical and lighthearted. We want to show a humanish side of the gorilla. It's tough—gorillas are known to be tough—but it's also beautiful. We are trying to get people to look at it in that manner.

CMO Close-Up: How did you come up with the creative concept of the gorilla?

Collins: We are a company run by engineers, and “Gorilla” began as an internal product development name. But we had a eureka moment and realized that this product is really tough, and what name is better than this internal name to communicate to the world that this product is tough? We started to brainstorm and asked Doremus [New York] to team up and help us. We launched the ad campaign in December, but it really took off at CES [the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last month].

CMO Close-Up: Which media platforms are you using with the campaign?

Collins: We're using a variety of media, including traditional print media and a large degree of online media. We're also using mobile and search engine promotion, and we're just about to launch specific social media campaigns with some entertaining 15- and 30-second video ads that will run online.

CMO Close-Up: What are you doing with social media?

Collins: We're using social media in a couple of ways. We're starting to engage in dialogue off our Facebook page and on Twitter and a number of other social media sties, and we will also engage on YouTube to drive messages to show the human side of Gorilla Glass.

CMO Close-Up: What's next?

Collins: We are still pretty early in the campaign. We have a website ( central to the campaign, where we drive people to the website to learn more about it. We just signed our first TV contract with Sony at CES—Gorilla Glass will begin to appear in high-end Sony televisions. We're also having conversations with appliance manufacturers, auto manufactures and architects. We think it's got a lot of possibilities, and as we go into other markets it creates enormous opportunities for us.

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