• The CEO as Chief Brand Custodian

    by  • October 17, 2011 • Branding, Human Resources, Leadership, Marketing, Strategy

    BransonNever in the history of marketing has there been so much talk about branding. The conversation in the 2011 branding world is well beyond product and service brand discussion by marketers and ad agencies. Branding has proliferated big time – we now have personal brands, country brands, political brands, cause-related brands, even cultural brands. The ramification is clutter, the enemy of brand messaging. So, wouldn’t you expect a heck of a lot more company attention to commercial brands? Wouldn’t you expect greater care in stewarding brand identity, personality, positioning, single-mindedness, and strategic consistency? Wouldn’t you expect more innovation?

    Some do it well. I remain impressed with the perennial success of P&G, L’Oreal, Nike, Whole Foods, Pernod Ricard, Apple, and Starbucks. At the helms are passionate brand custodians who are fanatical about the process of branding, their headsets a contrast to those with a fervent focus on the value of the brand asset. CEOs who continually talk about brand assets are often the ones living off the luster of yesteryear’s brand equity. They endorse a whack of dough into media and they continue to extend brand names into other categories, but they aren’t spearheading brand equity growth. The reason: a fundamental flaw in the management process that is supposed to renew brand health.

    The blemish is the abdication of brand attention by top management. CEOs (and to some extent, CMOs) are so preoccupied with Wall Street and/or the management fad of the day that their eye has drifted from the heartbeat of their brands. More and more, the critical role of chief brand custodian is relegated to middle managers who either lack the experience, the clout or the motivation to drive innovation into the brands they manage. Is it any wonder private labels exploit the weaknesses of neglected brand-names that continually discount and line extend for upticks in volume?

    Today’s economy screams for change in the process of branding. I’m not suggesting restructuring the entire brand management system. I’m advocating that CMOs and CEOs recognize the necessity of their own direct and passionate involvement as chief brand custodians. This is the mindset essential to brand resilience. With the exception of niche, specialty, and technology markets, I see little evidence of this. A vast number of the Globe’s most famous trademarks require surgery. CEOs who recognize the reality and are prepared to take corrective action ought to:

    1. Ensure they have the best, most experienced talent available for the brand operation.
    2. Be prepared to be joined at the hip with those individuals during the process.
    3. Champion the brand surgery and the convalescence, personally.

    Spending more in media and promotion without corrective strategic action isn’t the prescription for the ailment. A brand that has undergone successful surgery will have something compelling and tangible to say. That’s when it is prudent to increase media spending; at this stage, today’s customers will be ready to listen.

    (For the record, Egon Zehnder International takes a contrary view in their post, ‘From Brand Custodian to General Manager – The new role of the CMO’. You might like to check out their well documented view at http://www.egonzehnder.com/us/practices/functionalpractices/chiefmarketingofficer/publication/id/17500449

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    Formerlife: Jacobs Suchard CEO (Kraft, Nabob), Strategy Consultant. Afterlife: Palgrave Macmillan Author, Historical Novelist, Business Journalist

    3 Responses to The CEO as Chief Brand Custodian

    1. Alan Kay
      October 18, 2011 at 5:02 am

      Agree that most brands need more attention. I worked on more than a few global brands where the management and marketing team really didin’t fully understand the strengths of own brand. As I would cheekily say, ‘it’s hard to kill a great brand, but if you take your time…’ Brands are resilient and they have life cycles that can be shortened easily by assumptions that are not challenged. And, the SWOT analysis is not the way to do it.
      Alongside more focus on consciously making the brand sustainable via whatever it takes, including surgery, I also suggest marketing people get out of their silos and find out how the rest of the organization can help sustain the value of the brand.

    2. John
      October 19, 2011 at 6:50 pm

      Couldn’t agree more. Marketers need to think about the rest of the organization as valuable members of the brand team.This is certainly the case at Apple and Nike.

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