Your CEO Wants to Learn More About Brand, So Stop the Blah, Blah, Blah
“The truth of religion [lies] within the human capacity to experience it.”
– William James
Brand is the religion of marketing. How executives experience the impact of brand on their business determines its relevance to them. Let’s take Chuck Berger, the ex-CEO of Scotts, whose career accomplishments and knowledge would fill a textbook on brand management. Chuck describes how he got religion about brand in an interview I conducted with him.
“My first understanding of the importance of brand came about as I was working for my father when I was a young man. My dad owned a small drug wholesaling business called the Scranton Drug Company. I remember schlepping 20 cases of Alka Seltzer for every 5 cases of Bromo Seltzer and every 1 case of Bicodol and wondering why the heck my dad bothered with the Bicodol anyway. The next year, I was taking a marketing course in business school, and the teacher was talking about the power of a brand name. I realized he was talking about the same thing I’d noticed in my father’s warehouse! Even though all three of those products were fundamentally the same product, the one with the strongest brand—Alka Seltzer—sold more. Carrying caseloads of antacids from a dusty warehouse onto a truck gave me an innate appreciation for brands.”
So it was only natural that Chuck’s passion for brand centered around consumers’ relationships with the brand of a product and its influence on driving turnover in retail channels. Chuck’s perspective on brand encompassed all of the 4-P’s that impacted consumers’ decisions at point-of-sale, reflecting the viewpoint of the traditional brand manager. For Chuck, the religion of brand was based upon a conventional marketing-centered context. Speaking with him and his peers about brand was like preaching to the choir.
Most executives don’t sing in the choir and need to hear the message about brand in a different way. In its simplest terms, brand refers to an important relationship that significantly influences the purchase of a product or service. Traditionally, as in Chuck Berger’s world, brand referred to product brands and how they influenced consumers to purchase one product over its similar competitor in a retail setting. Secondly, a product manufacturer’s strong brand had value when it influenced retailers and wholesalers’ willingness and eagerness to do business with them. Brand is also very important for companies who don’t sell consumer products, but it’s brand in a different way. Brand is important to every executive and can matter differently to different executives. For many companies talking about brand in conventional marketing terms limits the conversation and the chance for executives to get the real religion of brand. It’s time for a different conversation.
Same Church, Different Pew.
What does brand mean to the executive operating in a typical business-to-business category whose product is not sold on a retail shelf? What does brand mean to an executive of a professional services organization? How about a company where the customer experience greatly impacts the customer satisfaction of the product? What they all have in common is the need to influence customers to buy more of their product or service, and that’s a brand’s job. Which brand?
Brand is important to each of these executives, but in a different way. For the B-to-B company a strong corporate brand or category-leading product brand can have a great deal of value influencing distribution channels. Alternatively, if the B-to-B company sells direct through the organization’s sales force, the personal brand of the salesperson can have a significant influence on driving revenue.
For organizations selling a highly technical product or technical service, the personal brand of the field engineer or technician is a critically important brand influencing customer revenue and loyalty. For the professional services organization, the personal brand of the professional can mean at least as much or more than the corporate brand.
At Starbucks, as an example, the personal brand of the customer-facing team member plays a very important role in customer loyalty. Knowing a customer’s name and favorite drink deepens the customer’s loyalty to Starbucks. The ROI of training and nourishing a Starbuck’s team member’s personal brand clearly outweighs the return from traditional advertising and promotion investments. (You wonder how online ordering may change the personal brand dynamic for Starbucks.)
For businesses that are in a high-growth phase, the importance of brand can have an entirely different focus. As marketing is working hard establishing the brand in the marketplace, senior executives are worrying more about the brand inside the company. Building and sustaining a culture that is behind the genius of the product or service can have a significant impact on the growth of the business. Ensuring the personal brands of employees are in alignment with the brand inside of the company is a critical brand- building challenge. Executives of these types of companies are interested in a very different conversation about brand.
So when marketers deliver their one-size-fits-all marketing-centric view of brand, the conversation about brand is limited and may do little to expand executives’ respect for brand. Here’s a few things that can make for a relevant, interesting conversation about brand with an executive.
- Be relevant. Reiterating the tired and torn clichés about brand like, “brand is an emotional connection” is not relevant to many executives. Expand your marketing-oriented perspective on brand into a company-wide relationship strategy. Limiting the brand conversation to a marketing conversation will limit the brand’s impact and marketing’s role within the company.
- Expand executives’ perspectives on brand. Too many executives have a limited perspective of brand, some even believing brand is a company’s logo. Find the occasion to provide the executive team with a tutorial on the new expanded, relationship-based context of brand, i.e., “the new brand.”
- Create a bigger team of brand managers. Expand the conversation about brand with your non-marketing team members. HR’s role in building stronger personal brands and bolstering brand-centered cultural alignment can be a very important part of any company’s brand building. Including sales management in the expanded virtual brand-building team is another important possibility.
- Let go and grow. For marketing to “own” brand is to limit its growth and importance. Avoid being the owner of brand and be the inspirational leader of brand. Lead the collaborative.
Embracing and implementing this innovative take on brand management may be challenging, but the effort will pay-off for any company. By expanding your view on brand, you are more likely to help more executives to get the religion of brand.