From Brand Identity to Brand Culture
The Evolution of a Strategic Business Function & the Revolution of Its Leadership
At their historic roots, the words brand and branding mean to identify an object or an animal as one’s property by marking it indelibly. Since that humble beginning, the words have acquired more expansive connotations, most often as a result of their adoption by the field of marketing.
For many of us, brand and branding conjure up images of Madison Avenue in the 1950s and 1960s, of the entertainment series “Mad Men,” and of legendary ad agencies like BDM, J. Walter Thompson, Chiat Day, and Ogilvy & Mather. These were the heady times of big ad budgets and massive campaigns by Procter & Gamble, Palmolive, General Foods, Unilever, and the other packaged goods and consumer product giants that established branding as a branch of marketing and used it as a means both of differentiating products and of establishing their identities in a mass market.
In those days, the means to achieve these ends were comparatively straightforward: the development of brand differentiation, the creation of a unique brand identity composed of brand image and brand message, and the building of brand awareness through widespread, repeated, and consistent reproduction of the brand image and message across all appropriate media. What’s more, the brand image and brand message were typically painted with broad brush strokes on a huge canvas, i.e., were designed to appeal to the largest possible cross-section of potential customers and, as such, were usually aimed at the least common denominator.
This blunt-instrument, or shot-gun, approach to branding was the direct result of a paucity of authoritative media and market data, at least compared to today’s prevailing standards for prospect and customer information. Back then, on the one hand, market feedback was often gleaned from small, not-always reliable focus groups, and, on the other, from large, expensive surveys whose scarcely segmented population bases were anything but granular. Consequently, in branding’s early, glory days subjective gut instinct and intuition often held greater sway than did objective data collection. As a result, the development of brand identity and messaging frequently entailed more telling than it did listening.
The Information Explosion, the Media Expansion, and Their Branding Ramifications
It’s not so much an exaggeration as an understatement to say that over the last few decades technological advances have enabled an exponential expansion in market data and a proliferation of platforms for customer and marketplace communication. These changes have incited a ripple effect of marketing changes, ranging from the rise of database and direct marketing in the 1990s through today’s increasingly personalized digital marketing. Along the way, they have also transformed branding from a function focused on one-way outbound communication into a discipline that must continuously absorb as well as internalize an ever-rising tide of market feedback to maintain a brand message that is authentic and more likely to resonate with customers. In short, whereas it was once enough simply to define a brand, widely broadcast it, and occasionally refresh it, now companies must diligently monitor their brands to ensure that they meet customer expectations, which are aired daily in blogs, chat rooms, and other forums dispersed across the broad spectrum of social media. This sea change has coincided with a redefinition of branding and the scope of its mission, changed the background and qualifications necessary to lead the function, and vastly increased the number and types of companies that consider branding important.
The Spread of Branding as a Priority Across the Broader Business Universe
Although at its outset branding was largely practiced in the packaged goods arena, where it was first used to create unique identities for nearly generic products such as cereals, soaps, and laundry detergent, the use of branding rapidly spread to other consumer product categories such as electronics, cosmetics, designer apparel, and even kitchen appliances. However, as the years have gone by, the biggest border traversed by branding has been that between B2C and B2B companies, with huge B2Bs such as Intel, Owens Corning, and Cisco Systems, and even Caterpillar jumping on the branding bandwagon.
In some instances, such as in the case of Intel’s “Intel Inside” chip campaigns or Owens Corning’s “Pink Panther” insulation promotions, B2B vendors engage in branding to create “pull through” demand on the part of their B2C customers’ own end users.
Other times, as in the branding initiatives undertaken by enterprise-wide software providers such as Oracle, SalesForce, and Hubspot, the intended audience is solely the business customer as there is no other end-user to speak of. This is also true of campaigns undertaken by B2B organizations in narrower industries such as foodservice equipment and electronic instrumentation. In both of these examples, branding is practiced to sharpen identity, to increase awareness, and to build preference in a crowded market.
In yet another scenario, comparatively small B2B and B2C companies sometimes employ branding not just to heighten their profiles with prospects and customers, but also to make their businesses themselves more attractive for acquisition by potential corporate or private equity buyers.
When Logos, Style Guides, and Communications Basics Were More or Less Enough
In the years that first followed branding’s recognition as a legitimate business discipline and, in some companies, a crucial marketing component, it was largely concerned with the development of highly impactful communications. Brand identity, brand message, and brand awareness were its primary tenets, and, as such, the function stuck pretty close to the basics of advertising theory like messaging, memorability, frequency, and reach. Accordingly, branding was usually the province of advertising professionals who spent much time perfecting communications elements such as logos, taglines, mandatory type fonts, and color palettes, and then synthesizing all this information into “brand books,” (style guides) to ensure that the company’s highest-level messaging was authorized and consistent. Because the dearth of detailed quantitative feedback data made the evolution of a brand a risky endeavor to be undertaken only with great caution, a company or product brand, once launched, was only revised on a periodic basis and, even then, often amounted to no more than mere tweaks to execution.
The Opening of the Information Floodgates and the Expansion of the Role of Branding
As the Information Age took hold and eventually has morphed into the age of Digital Transformation and company-customer communications have evolved from a one-way broadcast paradigm into a two-way exchange model, the role and responsibility of the branding function has greatly expanded in many companies. No longer is attention to brand identity and brand awareness the function’s mantra nor is honing high-level brand messaging sufficient. Now, customers expect brand characteristics to be reflected in every communication from a company and to be implicit in each of their interactions with it. To fill these new expectations, branding’s responsibilities have expanded to include the creation and ongoing articulation of brand values, development of brand stories, and cultivation of company brand cultures.
The Altered Profile of Branding Teams and Branding Leadership
The many changes in communications capabilities and attendant marketplace expectations have not only expanded branding’s areas of responsibility but, also, of course, the complexion of the function itself. In some B2C companies, this has moved it beyond marketing to place it squarely within the realm of strategic business management. In companies that aspire to achieve a brand culture, it even straddles the line between an outward-facing customer-oriented function and an inward-focused employee-centric one. This is because in such companies every customer interaction and touchpoint–from online and tele-sales down to shipping and accounts receivable–must reflect the brand, communicate its values, and live and breathe the brand story.
All of this demands branding leadership that is more highly placed within the organization and that has a broader skill and experience set than might have been typical in the past. Responsibilities of this order call for C-level or other senior executives with extensive cross-functional exposure, P&L experience, and change management know how, in addition to the usual proficiency in communications and marketing. Depending on the nature and structure of a business, the lead branding job might carry the title of chief branding officer (CBO) and report directly to the company’s chief executive officer (CEO) or, alternately, be a vice president position that reports to the chief operating officer (COO), to the president, or to the executive vice president of sales and marketing. In companies where branding is not viewed as having as great an impact on the company’s overall success, the top branding job might be a senior level management position that reports into the vice president of marketing, and, in yet others, such as regional grocery chains or manufacturers’ rep firms, branding leadership responsibility might simply be held by the senior marketing executive.
In any of these cases, the key to the successful practice of branding is a leader who understands both its foundations, including brand identity, messaging, and awareness, and the key elements of its more recent evolution – the brand story and the brand culture for example.
What Does an Ideal Brand Leader Look Like and How Do I Find One
As with many matters of importance, finding the brand executive or senior manager who can develop a company’s brand or brand portfolio has never been an easy task and, these days, it’s even harder. This is because expectations regarding branding continue to increase, and the function’s involvement with and influence over the rest of the organization is expanding accordingly. Not only must the individual who leads the branding function be adept at deciphering market analytics, recognizing great creative, internalizing customer insights, and articulating the brand story, he or she must also be able to navigate and affect change within the organization’s culture and have the ability to collaborate with the other functional areas to achieve branding’s expanded mission.
The ways of finding candidates for your company’s most senior branding position are almost as varied as the talents and skills that the winning candidate will need to have to be selected for the job. One option is to turn to your Human Resources (HR) department, which will likely put out feelers, review previously submitted résumés, and advertise the opening on major job search engines. HR will subsequently be inundated with both off-target and on-the-mark direct applications, as well as a stream of barely-vetted applications from contingency recruiters, all of which your HR people will need to wade through and some of which will be referred to you for evaluation–so, on the whole, an involved and potentially time-consuming process.
Another option is to ask your management team for suggestions and further request that they query industry peers for recommendations, but this runs the risk of distracting them from their core responsibilities and could also tip off your competition.
Yet another possibility is to seek out the services of a respected, retained executive search consultancy, preferably one with experience in branding and access to proprietary candidate databases. Such a firm will typically conduct an in-depth inquiry into the position’s requirements and your company’s cultural values to ensure that they fill the initial candidate pool with qualified candidates. They will also cull this pool through standard processes designed to yield a select subset of candidates that best meet your company’s needs and are most likely to succeed in its cultural and business environment. The best such search firms will also likely employ comprehensive evaluation procedures such as competency-based behavioral testing and might even offer a no-cost replacement guarantee should a candidate fail to remain with you for a prescribed period.
Because the more responsible the job, the harder it is find just the right candidate, the cost of employing an executive search firm usually varies according to the seniority and compensation associated with the open position. While at first glance engaging such a firm might seem expensive, if you look at the organizational costs associated with the average internally led executive search, it quickly becomes apparent that the truth is often just the opposite. Finally, it’s probably also worth keeping in mind that while you can’t put a price on health or happiness, most companies can very likely put one on brand awareness, authenticity, and preference or–worse yet–on their absence.
This is the latest entry in a series of articles that examines the characteristics and experience that employers should expect to find in candidates for executive and senior leadership positions in mission-critical functions such as corporate communications, marketing communications, branding, business development, digital marketing, product marketing, loyalty marketing, direct marketing, and public relations, as well as sales and other types of channel management.
For comments or for more information, please contact:
Customer and prospect contact: Ronald S. Torch, Founder, Chief Executive Officer, and President, Torch Group, email@example.com, www.torchgroup.com, 440.519.1822 x101.
Media contact: Ronald-Stéphane Gilbért, Global Managing Director, Gilbért, Flossmann & Zhang Worldwide, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.globalmarcomm.com, 216.816.4947.
- Posted by Cassandra Greaves
- On January 22, 2018
- 0 Comments