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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The CEO has become Chief Brand Officer

It’s a business myth that marketing ‘owns the brand’. The CEO should. Andy Milligan explains why

Andy Milligan


The Caffeine Partnership

A little over 30 years ago, the first book to set out in one place the various disciplines of branding (positioning, name creation, market research etc) was published. Branding: A Key Marketing Tool by John Murphy, the founder of Interbrand, assigned the role of managing the brand to the marketing department, ultimately accepting that this was where ownership resided.

But within a decade, the role of branding had changed significantly for businesses. Tangible assets became less important than intangible assets, and the importance of owning intellectual property across global markets became paramount for business growth and protection. By the end of the last century, brands were moving out of the marketing department and into the boardroom; McKinsey, one of the most respected management consultancies, would declare that a company’s brand was the ‘organising principle for business’.

We are now amidst a digital revolution, which is still gaining velocity. The ability to instantly find, compare and share information has had a transformative effect on businesses and brands. Today, it is increasingly difficult to separate the brand from the business that owns it. When you can instantly compare price and product attributes, when you can find out who owns a company and how they treat their staff, when you can immediately review and post your comments online, when you can communicate directly with a company via a social media platform and when word of mouth has never been more important, then brands become inextricably linked with how a business behaves. Brands are increasingly an important way of holding businesses to account. Yet still the myth persists that brands are just about marketing, particularly the visible expressions of marketing, and hence that it is Marketing’s job to ‘own’ the brand. My colleague Simon Bailey and I have just published a book, titled Myths Of Branding, which addresses this myth and many others.

If you are the CEO; it is ultimately your responsibility to own the brand. That’s true even if you operate a company with a portfolio of brands, like a Unilever or a P&G. Your corporate brand endorsement is visible to everyone, and every brand within that portfolio will reflect on it and be enhanced or damaged by it. Here’s some reasons why you can’t leave brand to Marketing.

It’s all about the customer

Firstly, your brand is really the sum of the many experiences people have of you. It is the impression that you leave in the mind of your customer.
If you lose sight of what your customer wants, if you’re not consistent in what you say and do over time, then your brand will lose relevance, appeal and trust.

The CEO has to ensure that the business is connected to the voice of the customer

The changing role of the CEO

Giving customers the kind of seamless and fluid experiences they have come to expect is difficult and complex. It requires businesses to be joined up and responsive, and to act coherently across all parts of the customer journey, to orchestrate and deliver a branded customer experience. The CEO has to ensure that the business is connected to the voice of the customer, and that this is reflected in the way the customer journey is organised. As well as having an intimate understanding of the financials, a CEO needs to develop a suite of forward indicators, things that help to ensure continuing relevance and appeal.

The inside affects the outside

A consequence of the digital revolution for business has been to shine a light on the conduct and behaviour of individual companies. If you give customers consistently poor service, it is likely that a lot of people will hear about it very quickly. If you espouse a position publicly but then do something different behind the scenes, the chances are that customers will find you out. If you treat your staff badly, it won’t stay a secret for long; platforms like glassdoor.com allow anyone who signs up to read the anonymous postings of employees from every type of business imaginable.

This has made the internal culture of a business critically important. No system in the world can compensate for poor or disgruntled employees; good service comes from a desire and willingness to do the best for the customer. Almost every celebrated service brand has invested heavily in its internal culture. Companies like Southwest Airlines and First Direct all know that the way to get a great customer experience is to create a fantastic culture. And so do the best FMCG companies, be it global giants like P&G, or nimbler niche brands like Innocent (now of course owned by The Coca-Cola Corporation), or defiantly independent businesses like Lush, or clothing companies like Patagonia.

Structure matters

Organisational structure matters too because it has the potential to frustrate attempts at building seamless and frictionless customer interactions. Businesses can no longer comprise a series of individual departments; they need to get better at corralling multi-disciplinary teams in order to serve the needs of the customer. Data and insight can’t be allowed to languish with the analytics team. Customer service can’t be held back by poor systems. Staff can’t fail to take the initiative because they are waiting for approval. Sales can’t be allowed to frustrate a loyal customer because they failed to recognise them when they logged in. Businesses have to break down silos and inertia and learn to operate with purpose and pace if they want to build brands that people trust.

Andy Milligan is a founder of The Caffeine Partnership which advises impatient leaders how to grow their brands and business at pace. Myths of Branding is published by Kogan Page and available via Amazon, in travel stores of WHSmith as well as direct from Kogan Page.

Brand belongs to the customer

For businesses of all types, future success will depend on the ability to organise around the customer, to accept that reputation is earned and not cynically manipulated, to move from a tendency to command and control towards a more open and flexible way of working, to understand that while trade marks can be legally owned by a business, the real power of brands is that they reside in the mind of the customer and that every single action taken on behalf of a customer has the potential to add value and build equity.

That is why brand cannot be ‘owned’ by the Marketing department. The brand’s IP (intellectual property) is owned by the company, the responsibility to grow the brand with integrity is owned by the Board, the decision whether to buy or not to buy the brand’s products and services is owned by the customer. And the ultimate oversight of all of these interconnected ownerships lies with you, the CEO. Branding is no longer a key marketing tool – it’s now more akin to an operating system for business. The CEO has effectively become the senior brand manager.

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