‘The brand’ is something that’s rarely discussed in the boardroom, unless the CMO (if you have one!) is around.
But let’s just step back a moment – actually the ‘brand’ is often a point for discussion, except it’s rarely referred to as such. Because the business ‘is’ the brand, and vice versa – and that is always the main topic. But by not speaking in terms of the branding lexicon, we’re probably missing an opportunity to enhance performance and focus.
Too often, the brand is looked upon as the territory of marketing, where in truth it is the responsibility of the whole organisation. Not only can every business-function impact upon it, but each can benefit or suffer from its performance.
Of course brand leadership should it be a board responsibility, but it requires ownership at the highest level.
If we look at the leading global brands, from Apple to Microsoft and Amazon, they are all characterised by visionary leadership who take the brand very seriously. It’s got nothing to do with logos or corporate signatures – it’s about what the business does, and how it behaves.
Corporate culture should be led from the top, and the brand is part of its emotional and cultural expression. It is an embodiment of the values of the organisation and is emergent from their execution and operations.
Great brand leaders demonstrate this in their own performance – how they run the business, their attitudes and dealings with employees, customers, suppliers, stakeholders and the world in general. They understand that the brand exists at the point of interaction between the company and the greater population.
Organisations whose leadership is in tune with the zeitgeist of cultural desires and opinions can prosper even in difficult trading conditions.
Why is brand leadership important?
Brand damage can be catastrophic for businesses. We have seen many examples of organisations irreparably damaged – often disappearing completely, when the brand is compromised. It’s easy to observe the impact on leading brands – which, even when not disastrous, can significantly diminish corporate value.
Take the example of Facebook, ranked by Interbrand as 9th in its 2018 league table of the most powerful brands. It’s valued at $45.17 billion, but lost 6% of its brand value after being embroiled in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
Put simply, poor brand stewardship can cost a business money, so it deserves its place at the boardroom table.
Brands are very real assets. The takeover of Cadbury by US based Kraft in 2010 is a simple example. What did Cadburys have of real value that Kraft wanted? Very little – apart from a shopping basket of extremely valuable brands.
There is a growing number of approaches to brand valuation, but this fact in itself shows how seriously the value of intangible assets may be taken. Like any business asset, brand value should always be in the scrutiny of management at the highest level.
How do we manage it?
As we have already discussed, it is a task that deserves the highest level of attention and leadership. Just as the CEO should be the steward of the corporate vision and values, the brand is intrinsically linked to these qualities. It’s at this level – top board level – that management and leadership must begin.
A simple step is to ensure that the brand(s) should form an agenda item for each board meeting.
Taking this further, for every business decision, we can ask the question – explicitly or implicitly – “How will this affect the brand?”
What we are really asking is; “How will this affect the business?”