The Evolution of Branding II

by Brad VanAuken, BrandForward, Inc.

I had mentioned in the previous post that branding goes as far back as recorded history. However, in the modern era, outside of brand identity development, branding activities were largely confined to consumer packaged goods companies such as General Mills, Kraft Foods, Nestle, P&G and Unilever. Then, in the mid-to-late 1990s, companies began to realize that their corporate brands were assets of great value that needed to be managed and leveraged. This is when companies started creating brand management positions at senior, and sometimes even corporate officer levels in the their organizations. I was the beneficiary of this movement at Hallmark Cards, when I was named Hallmark’s brand czar (not my real title).

Since that time, municipalities, universities, museums, professional trade associations, sports teams, churches and even individuals have gotten into the branding act. Talk of brands and brand positioning has become ubiquitous within our society.

When we are asked to facilitate brand positioning workshops for organizations, the workshop participants are almost always the organization’s CEO and his or her staff, not the marketing department (although they participate). Further, increasingly, we are asked to facilitate a mission, vision, values workshop for the company just prior to the brand positioning workshop because the two activities are closely linked for organization brands. I have also written about the need to touch organization-wide communication, training and development, organization design, recruiting, performance appraisal, budgeting, capital investments, customer service design and other functions as a way to ensure that the organization delivers on the promises that it makes. These activities are clearly outside of the scope of a typical chief marketing officer’s role and responsibilities.

I am arguing that for organization brands, brand management has become an activity of the CEO’s office. That person may delegate the responsibility to the chief marketing officer or the vice president of brand management, but the CEO must understand and be conversant in brand management and marketing to be able to do this. Gone are the days of a marketing specialist working with an ad agency account executive to guide the course of the brand. Yes, these people still have work to do, but it is much more tactical in nature, because the strategy for an organization brand is so intertwined with the strategy for the organization itself that it is difficult to separate the two.

Increasingly, in my brand strategy consulting role, I draw upon my Harvard Business School competitive strategy courses to work at the intersection of brand strategy, business strategy and business model strategy. This is not the work of a graphic designer or a copywriter, but of a business strategist.

For instance, in crafting brand strategy, we don’t just take into consideration each target audience and the benefits or values that are the most unique and compelling to them. We also consider the revenue, profit and ROI share and growth rates for each target customer/product-service cell in the matrix. Further, we take into consideration the types of competitive markets, barriers to entry, exit barriers, strategic intent of the organization and the ability of a particular brand position to create space for future growth in additional product and service categories.

Branding at a corporate level requires a much broader skill set not only in terms of functional breadth and analytical skills but also in terms of influencing and persuasion, because unless you are the CEO, there will be much you will need to do to ensure a healthy brand that will not be under your direct control.

Brand management has evolved over the years and it has gotten a lot more important but also a lot more complicated. You may also be interested in reading our blog post on “From CMO to CEO.”

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