Saturday, August 28, 2010

Brand no longer a marketing function

I attended the annual Rainmaker Marketing Symposium this week, a talkfest for marketing and investment types from the Aussie financial services sector. One presentation from Julie Bennett, Principal of 64 Media, got me thinking about where brand rightfully sits within organisations now. Julie ran through her version of the differences between marketing and PR functions within organisations.

This is a oft-regurgitated discussion and Julie's list of responsibilities were interesting. I actually challenge the value of the term 'PR' these days. It has unfortunately been defamed too often through association with hucksters, frauds and spin to have any credibility. But that's a discussion for another day. Julie's list, while not specifically identifying brand within the PR portfolio, certainly included the key ingredients of brand - reputation and corporate citizenship, stakeholder relations and so on.

Admittedly, Julie is from the PR industry so this could perhaps be seen as a lunge to secure the territory. After all, in terms of influence within progressive corporations, steering brand trumps marketing and/or communications any day. Not belittling these activities at all, but strategy flows from brand, not vice versa.

Not everyone will agree with  this assertion of course. Financial, legal, compliance, investment and a host of other professionals and executives will not see their activities as subordinate to brand. But the reality is that all other activities are, by definition, subordinate to the organisational values and ethos - whether this is formally recognised and expressed or not. Brand is the expression within and projection into the community of underlying organisational values.

Those organisations that understand this will not make any governance, financial, ethical, product or service decision without evaluating how it aligns with brand. Brand is a focal point for everything an organisation stands for.

How many organisations lose customers because their actions are not authentic - truly aligned with the values they communicate to community? Even the mighty Apple brand lost its way for a time when it stepped back from servicing and appealing to the creative industries to pursue the mainstream corporate market with beige boxes built to a price.

When Steve Jobs took his sabbatical, executives failed to realise that its traditional market was a rich source of early adopters and trend setters. The company quickly enjoyed a resurgence when it returned to its core traditions of breaking new ground with slick, appealing design and market-leading user interfaces.

Apple doesn't have customers, it has a community that belongs to it. Nokia, Blackberry and others will never crack the Apple customer base in any serious way, because it's not about price, distribution or even features. It's about Apple.

And that's what Julie's presentation this week highlighted. The marketing list did not include relationship and community development. The communications function did. Therefore, in my view, marketing cannot own brand. It is too one-dimensional, too sales-oriented. Brand is not about making a sale. That is merely a single component. From a brand perspective, the first sale is merely the first customer experience of an organisation.

From there, through on-going interaction, brand is the delivery of a series of consistent, positive experiences through the life of the customer. The outcome of that is favourable customer pre-disposition for repeat sales. Marketing merely leverages that pre-disposition.

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