How do we get our boards and executive team to better understand and value brand?
20 February 2020 at 8:20 am
The Xfactor Collective specialist member Darren Taylor answers a common question about how organisations can better achieve their organisational goals with a stronger internal commitment to brand, and provides practical steps to bring brand to the strategic fore.
I’ve run my own brand agency for over a decade, and in that time, it’s surprised me how few boards and leadership teams see brand as a key, ongoing strategic priority. Unless something really hits the fan, brand generally doesn’t get a look in.
In today’s world of Instagram influencers, Ted Talks, and celebrity CEOs, everyone on your board and leadership team needs to understand the value of your brand, not just your marketing manager. It is critical because brand is highly misunderstood – even by leaders, and their championing of it plays a pivotal role in building culture and cohesion, and attracting staff, clients and partners.
“For your organisation to succeed, brand needs to be seen as an ongoing strategic priority, just like finance, risk and governance.”
Brand answers the big existential questions of “who are we?”, “what do we do?”, “why do we do it?” and “what do we stand for?”. It only makes sense that these are owned by the senior-most people in the organisation.
There are many reasons why this is a common gap. Many boards and leaders see brand as simply their visual identity, rather than a core strategic activity that drives value for all stakeholders.
Unless brand and marketing is valued at the board level, these disciplines are often not represented or under-represented compared with finance and operations. Another important reason is that CEOs tend to come from backgrounds other than brand and marketing (typically finance, accounting, law and sales) and their brand education and experience is often thin on the ground.
For your organisation to succeed, brand needs to be seen as an ongoing strategic priority, just like finance, risk and governance. And not just once in a five-year focus to coincide with a special project such as an organisational rebrand or the launch of a new product/service. Brand is always on. Organisations, markets, competitors and clients are in a constant state of flux. A brand advantage one day can be a disadvantage the next. The biggest and most successful brands in the world understand this, and reap its benefits.
Brand and marketing are often one of the first things to get cut when going through tough times. As brand is somewhat of an intangible asset, with its success not easily measurable by figures and spreadsheets, education on the importance of brand is critical.
While ideally led by your organisation’s board and leadership team, the responsibility of brand is actually a shared one, affecting every single person in the organisation. Educating your fellow employees, managers, leaders and board about the significance and value of brand is important.
Take charge of your brand, starting today.
- Involve your CMO/senior marketing person in board and leadership strategy discussions. Encourage them to talk about brand in financial terms, emphasising the bottom-line benefits of brand focus and investment.
- After checking the level of brand knowledge of the board and leadership team, encourage your CMO to educate them slowly over time by directing case studies of successful similar organisations that have used brand as a lever for change and performance. It is important that these discussions and resources are pitched at the right level to ensure they have the desired effect.
- Encourage your CMO to invest in a rolling quantitative brand tracking exercise to provide longitudinal data to highlight positive brand shifts as well issues and risks. Elevating brand to data-driven discussions legitimises branding as a discipline among non-marketing leaders and fosters cross-functional peer collaboration. Brand tracking also assists in the development of business cases for brand and marketing investment. Tracking data should also be fed to the board to inform strategy and decision-making. Providing customer feedback makes brand – a topic that could otherwise be seen as an academic concept, real, for the board and leadership team.
- Brand should be a rolling agenda item for key meetings with the board and the leadership team. Even if there are no pressing issues or current business, its inclusion positions it as being an important strategy item. Brand strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats need to be monitored just like cashflow, sales and risks. And on that matter, if brand isn’t a key item on your risk register, then it should be!
Can you imagine how our organisations would be different if brand was regarded equally as finance, risk and governance by boards and leadership teams? Brand would be championed and embodied by the highest people in the organisation, leading by example for all to follow. Organisations would communicate more powerfully and consistently, and be more effective in attracting and keeping donors, staff and clients. And importantly, they would also be more adaptive by being better connected to the spirit of the time.
How to make brand a key strategic topic among your board and leadership team
- Involve your CMO/senior marketing person in your board and leadership strategy conversations – and encourage them to see and discuss brand through a financial lens.
- Implement quantitative brand tracking to aid brand management, foster cross-functional collaboration, support investment cases and legitimise the practice of branding in your organisation – addresses the challenge of brand being misunderstood, and an amorphous, intangible and “discretionary” concept.
- Make brand a rolling agenda item for key meetings with your board and leadership team – its inclusion positions brand as an important and ongoing strategic topic.
About the author: Darren Taylor is a specialist business member of The Xfactor Collective, and helps organisations become strong, sustainable brands through effective brand strategy.
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