DHL brand strategy / positioning case study

DHL Brand Strategy Analysis

Travel & transportation – logistics & delivery services

Owner of the brand:
Deutsche Post DHL

Key competitors:
UPS, FedEx

Brand essence

Delivering excellence.

Brand values

Excellence, innovation, expertise, customer focus.

Brand character

Global, pioneering, authoritative, rational, corporate, expert.

Dominating archetype

Although DHL is currently a German company owned by Deutsche Post DHL (since 2001), it was envisioned, launched and grown in the United States. Founded by Adrian Dalsey, Larry Hillblom and Robert Lynn in San Francisco in 1969, the business now operates in 220 counters and describes itself as “the most international company in the world” (similar messaging is used by Heineken, a company representing an entirely different product category). The DHL name is based on the initials of the founders’ surnames (D, H and L). At the beginning, the firm specialized in door-to-door express document delivery on one route only, between San Francisco and Honolulu. However, only two years after the inception, DHL began its global expansion and started offering a number of other delivery services.



For many years, DHL’s positioning has been that of a global leader with a brand promise defined as “Excellence. Simply delivered.” Although DHL’s brand strategy hasn’t changed, it’s evident that there has been a slight shift in the company’s messaging and tone of voice. While DHL’s communication previously built an authoritative, expert perception of the brand, now a stronger emphasis is placed on establishing DHL as a true pioneer “revolutionising, shaping, and simplifying the world of logistics”[1] and “challenging what’s possible”[2]. A stronger focus is placed on the innovative character of the brand (the company, for example, has an ambition to deliver to the moon and prides itself on having invented the international air express industry) and somewhat less on its leadership credentials (still an important pillar of DHL’s story).


A big part of DHL’s mass media communication is targeted at businesses (B2B campaigns, thought leadership, logistics and exports education, inspiration to go global, etc.). However, with the growing e-commerce sector, DHL is increasingly becoming a consumer-facing brand. As such, it understood that to attract individual customers, it needs to emanate a slightly different image than it has so far—less corporate and rational. The company started a number of initiatives designed to “humanize” and “emotionalize” the brand with a particular focus on sponsorship partnerships. DHL’s sponsorship involvement spans from rugby, football and motorsports to fashion and music. In the past, the brand was also a sponsor of Cirque du Soleil. DHL Global Sponsorship Manager Fiona Taag told Marketing Magazine: “We’re more about opening people up to the idea of working with DHL, and we hope to be top-of-mind when it comes to choosing a courier. It’s about emotionalising our brand.[3]


DHL’s approach to corporate social responsibility (CSR) differs from that of many companies. CSR is treated as an integral part of the business strategy rather than one of the marketing initiatives. DHL believes that by evolving into “the benchmark for responsible business practice”[4] it will become a delivery services provider of choice for customers, a more desirable employer for potential candidates and a preferred investment option for shareholders. DHL runs a number of CSR programmes (GoGreen, GoTeach, GoHelp and others) and has pledged to reduce its logistics-related emissions to zero by 2050[5].


DHL is still primarily a Ruler brand communicating its leadership position using rational messaging and authoritative language. However, it increasingly highlights its Hero values – a pioneering spirit, constant focus on innovation and delivering what’s impossible.


Dominant colours: yellow and red.

Most important campaigns

1. “Everything And Nothing Has Changed” (2020)

2. “E-Commerce Match #2: Bubble Wrap” (2018)

3. “No Hurdle Too High” (2016)

4. “Power Of Global Trade” (2015)

5. “Speed Of Yellow” (2011)



Official brand statement:

DHL. Logistics for the connected age.
When Adrian Dalsey, Larry Hillblom and Robert Lynn founded DHL in 1969, they didn’t know they would revolutionize the world of logistics. Today, DHL is the world’s leading logistics company. Our 380,000 people in 220 countries and territories work every day to cross borders, reach new markets and grow your business. Or simply send a letter to your loved ones.[6]

We have always been revolutionising, shaping, and simplifying the world of logistics. From inventing the international air express industry to becoming the world’s leading logistics company; we’re thinkers, makers and pioneers that constantly challenge what’s possible. And now we’re tackling the ultimate border: delivering to the moon.”[7]

Interesting facts:

Before DHL was purchased by the Deutsche Post group, it had been using white and red as its company colours. Joe Siegel, Director, Advertising, Brand & Communications at DHL Express U.S. believed that “it was the ugliest red you could imagine. Not pretty.”[8]


1. The Drum on the “Tour Before The Tour” campaign
I. Watson, “DHL Celebrates 50 Years Of Trade With Bryan Adams ‘Summer Of ’69’ Spot”, The Drum, Jun 2019,

2. Interview with Arjan Sissing, SVP Corporate Brand Marketing Deutsche Post DHL Group
“How DHL Is Preparing To Embrace Change As A Force For Better”, Interbrand, 2018,

3. How DHL “emotionalises” the brand via sponsorships
S. Ghosh, “Rugby World Cup Helps DHL To ‘Emotionalise’ Its Brand”, Marketing Magazine, Aug 2015,


Want to hear more?

Sign up here for our weekly

BrandStruck Express News.

Check the newly added brand strategy case studies and get our latest blog post.