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FedEx Corp.

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Executives at FedEx Corp. put their brand through an annual fitness test. This year, there has been little doubt as to how it performed on the strength assessment.

The branding message, whether conveyed by Burt Reynolds and a dancing bear, football players or a group of business executives huddled together in a shower, came across loud and clear: FedEx is there to help small businesses with a full portfolio of services.

As the company grows-its most recent major addition was the February 2004 acquisition of Kinko's-developing a clear marketing message for the brand becomes more challenging. Last year's internal directive was to integrate the businesses; this year's task has been to take that branding message to an ever-broadening customer base. "The new thing is to be customer-focused with very relevant messaging for those customers," said Steve Pacheco, director of advertising.

"As the brand has evolved, it's a matter of what our customers' needs have evolved into as well," Pacheco said. "FedEx has always been very customer-centric. We reflect the demands and needs of our customers, and we do a better job of that than most people give us credit for."

In addition to freshening its "Relax, It's FedEx" campaign this year, the company strengthened the brand's relationship with sports. In February, FedEx launched a new TV campaign to promote its NASCAR sponsorship. The ads broke during the Daytona 500 broadcast on Fox. And this fall the company began an integrated campaign, featuring TV, print, radio and online ads, all linked to NFL telecasts and targeting small-business customers. A Web site, www.fedexfootball.com, even paired up nominations for NFL players of the week and nominations for FedEx shippers of the week.

"Sports is still a universal language and people still have their leisure time," Pacheco said. "We've never forgotten they're people with real human needs outside the office. When you're unplugged and enjoying your downtime on the weekends, that's a good place for us to be."

But brand strength doesn't equate to indefinite brand elasticity, a fact that has kept FedEx from sponsoring extreme sports or, as was briefly pondered years ago, adding passenger aircraft to its cargo fleet.

Now, the challenge is to adroitly develop natural extensions of the brand. The latest came in August, when the FedEx Kinko's Web site began selling 25,000 office products, to be delivered via FedEx. It may be the first new business following the Kinko's acquisition, but Pacheco does more than hint that it will not be the last.

"Stay tuned," he said. "We've got so many great things planned for that brand."

-Mary Ellen Podmolik

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