Brand starts in the boardroom

Brand is Not Marketing

Is your most powerful asset in the wrong hands?

We inherit the wisdom of those who came before us. It is then up to us to challenge this and add to it, with the intent of leaving something more valuable for the ones who will take on our wisdom.

This does not happen half as often as it should.

Take the word ‘brand’ itself. We have inherited this word from the farmer who thought that using a red-hot piece of metal to mark his cattle was a good way of keeping tabs on his property. It was a barbaric practice, but we just carry on using the word regardless.

It is also a slightly useless word. To some it means ‘logo’. To others it means ‘the very fundamentals upon which a company’s reputation is built’. Until we have a single definition that we can all abide by, it remains a little too broad for comfort.

Brand is not marketing

Today we will start with another myth about brand – that the responsibility for brand resides with the marketing department.

In the beginning, brand was lumped with marketing because it included a logo and a colour palette – traditionally the marketing people were weird enough to enjoy that stuff – and there it stuck. In time, the word ‘brand’ and the word ‘logo’ were used interchangeably.

However, brand is much more than a visual expression. 

Brand is behavioural. It is the sum total of the behaviours of every individual who works for the company (or product), if we want to get a little more specific. That, along with the product/service itself, make up the totality of the brand.

While this might sound like a very inclusive definition – it is. In reality, brand also resides in the hearts and minds of its audiences. It is what they say it is. And they perceive our brand as a result of their experiences with our product and the humans they interact with along the journey from demand to purchase to post-purchase.

Brand does have an aspect of it that is handled by marketing but it is a small part of what the term represents. We can trace all the elements that a brand is composed of and figure out which parts should reside with the marketing people.

It starts in the boardroom

Working from the inside out, brand makes its way to marketing this way:

  • Every team member is motivated by the reason for the existence of the company – this is brand purpose. Brand purpose starts in the boardroom and trickles outwards from there.
  • Every team member behaves in accordance with the brand’s core values or principles. This, too, must be lived by the board and executive branch of the company.
  • Products and services are designed to fulfil the brand’s purpose.
  • Products and services are aligned with the brand’s values.
  • Communication is designed and produced in accordance with the brand’s values as well as its personality and tone of voice.
  • Communication is finally given the brand identity treatment – its colours and logo and fonts and all other aspects of its expression are prepared in accordance with the brand guidelines

Using this journey from the boardroom to the billboard, we can see that it’s the last two steps in the journey that are the responsibility of the marketers.

If your boardroom does not get brand, there is a strong chance that your organisation is not growing at least at the pace of the market. In many cases, this is equivalent to a slow slide backwards.

The boardroom is also solely responsible for growth of brand equity. Trying to pawn this enormous burden onto the marketing department is tantamount to abdication.

I was chatting with a friend and the subject of running shoes came up. I suggested a brand and a model that I felt would be the best ‘fit’, as it were, for the purpose. She said she’d never purchase a shoe of that brand locally and that she either orders them online or buys the brand when she’s abroad. I was intrigued and asked for a detailed reason why. It turned out that the brand is represented by a chain of sports stores that ran a body shaming campaign about five years ago. The campaign, in her memory, said something like ‘your ass looks big in those shorts’.

This account shows us that clients view marketing as the final expression of the way a company thinks and behaves. The campaign tells us that the boardroom is fine with this kind of thinking.

Someone thought about this campaign, someone approved the production and the budget, someone saw it in the wild and was fine with it. The company simply wasn’t aligned with the values of its audience. And now, if it is to win a client back, it has to work at least twice as hard to change their mind.

Truth be told

Brand starts in the boardroom. It is an honest manifestation of the core beliefs of the organisation’s leadership. Whether the executive arm of the company is aware of it or not, they are responsible for the way every person at every touchpoint conveys the spirit of the organisation. It is indeed a great burden and the biggest brands in the world are the ones where this awareness drives every decision.

From the boardroom, the principles and the ethos work their way, steadily and deliberately, to marketing. The reverse direction is a recipe for eventual dilution of brand equity, and this is a best-case scenario. At worst, it can spell disaster for a brand – and when it does spell disaster, reparations will, once again, start in the boardroom and then make their way to marketing.

We should indeed update the wisdom we’ve inherited. The sooner we shift the responsibility of brand from anywhere in the company onto the boardroom table, the sooner that organisation can see a steady and sustainable growth in brand equity.

And we know that brand equity counts. While it falls under the appalling misnomer of ‘intangibles’ in accounting terms, it accounts for the largest proportion of value of the most powerful companies on earth.

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