Saturday, February 27, 2010

Brand at the pinnacle

I recall reading a survey of senior executives circa 2006 in which the overwhelming majority named brand as their #1 priority in running their businesses. I subscribe to this view, that the CEO's primary role is to act as guardian of the brand. But what exactly does this mean?

To the superficial thinkers on brand that I seem to regularly encounter, the interpretation of this is that the CEO becomes responsible for the "trivial", touchy-feely aspects of the business - commissioning logo design, approving advertisements and dreaming up catchy taglines. Clearly this is not the case.

Brand embraces everything that is important about a business - its reputation, sound governance, corporate social responsibility, being an employer of choice, excellent financial management, stakeholder relations and so on. I have said this in different ways before, but have been prompted to reiterate the case for placing brand at the pinnacle of business priorities, thanks to a meeting that I attended only last week.

It was a meeting of a number of large organisations to discuss the creation of a collective brand under which to promote a common set of values and execute strategy. The meeting was relatively successful, except I noted one thing. The discussion about commercial opportunities was virtually divorced from the discussion about associating through a common brand.

It was clear to me that the common brand values were the key to identifying the commercial opportunities that could be pursued. In one instance and, I must say, no one else seem to realise its potential, I resolved a discussion by identifying that the outcome could easily be determined if we first dealt with the question about what values they might share as a branded collective. The reaction? Yeesssss.... but let's get back to what we were talking about.

The lack of apprecation for the power of brand in shaping strategy and crystallising thinking, particularly among businesses that are clearly sub-scale in terms of promoting brand through mainstream media, is extremely frustrating to me. Brand has nothing to do with whether you have a logo, although I believe recognisable symbols are important in this visual age. Its role is far more fundamental, defining the way you conduct your business and interact with internal and external stakeholders and customers.

That's why CEOs should be the guardians of brand and ensure that every business decision is viewed through the prism of whether it is consistent with the fundamental values enshrined in its brand. Failure to do this results in dissonance in the marketplace and, in modern society, that disonnance is amplified through 24/7 consumer access to information and even services. The corollary, of course, is that consumer empathy can be amplified in the same way.

It just requires business to place brand at the pinnacle of its priorities and see the way it can transform and simplify strategy, staff engagement and customer loyalty.

Having let off this week's frustration, I'll try to reintroduce humour into my next missive...

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