Why brands needs to get out of the marketing department.

Why is the conventional wisdom to give the sole "ownership of the brand" to the marketing department. Sure, marketeers should spend time thinking about brand, but when top management hands brand responsibility away (to focus on more important things), they give away the single most important tool to create customer loyalty and retention. It's not just dumb, it is killing companies.

If you are a marketing director and you are solely in charge of “brand”, you are doomed to fail. Well, at least all odds are against you. Why? Because brands are about more than marketing. Brand and branding are strategic tools to create value, differentiation and growth.

A brand is nothing but  a perception in the mind of a customer (or employee, stakeholder etc.) about a product, service or company. In other words, your brand is not your strategy. It’s not your marketing communication either. A brand is an effect, not a cause. It’s a result.

Building a brand means shaping perceptions and experiences. The most important brand question is: Why should they choose us?

To answer this question you have to ask yourself which things will affect how people think of you. And the simple answer to that question is: Everything. Yes, everything matters.

Your products and services, how your people behave, where you sell your products, what you believe in, why you exist…the list goes on. Do you see where I am going with this? Brands are affected by a much broader scope of things than what the marketing function deals with. Marketing is important too, but you really don’t build your brand through marketing. But still 99% of companies are set-up this way, meaning that the brand is “managed” by the marketing department. And what authority and tools do the marketing people have to lead the brand? All too few. This is just incredibly stupid. Most of the marketing people I have worked with (including having been one myself) have nothing to say about non-marketing things. At worst, they don’t even have the respect of sales, which should be a sub-component of marketing.

We need to re-invent the brand function. We need a new model for leading brands inside organizations. I regret to admit that I have yet to personally come across an organisation that has appointed a person to lead the brand from above the marketing department. There are some, but you seldom come across them.

So what can you do about this?

The best test I can think of is to start by asking: Who is in charge of our brand within our company?

When I ask companies this question I get all kinds of strange answers, but never the one I am hoping for. I’ve heard everything from the standard “our marketing director” , “the brand manager” to things like “our graphic designer” or “no one”.

What you need to consider is hiring a CBO, a Chief Brand Officer (call it whatever you want, but you get the picture). This person should be on the leadership team and be tight with the CEO. The CBO has a broad role – one that includes at least the following areas:

Brand Strategy
The CBO must make sure that there is a brand strategy that is in line with the business strategy, as well as with the company’s purpose, vision and values. The brand strategy dictates the area where you play, what you do and more importantly what you don’t do. Many marketeers, together with their agencies, lose track of the big scheme of things, i.e. brand strategy and brand positioning. This is a the heart of branding and marketing.

Innovation & Design
The CBO should oversee offering development, ensuring that everything created is on par with the brand thinking and strategy. He/she must keep focused and resist all temptations to dilute the brand in favour of short-term profits. Innovations outside the brand strategy are welcome, but they must be directed to the right address. Product design, packaging design, environments, digital, print stuff, your service experience, your customer service…it must all be designed to support your brand’s promise.

Customer Experience
A brand, that is, people’s perceptions, are mostly impacted through first-hand experiences (and secondly through second-hand experiences). The customer experience is the sum of everything a people experiences (and partly what they don’t actually experience first-hand). If you don’t have a definition for what it should be, and if you don’t orchestrate it properly internally, you are doomed.

Brand Culture
The biggest factor in brand delivery starts with people. To deliver on a specific, focused brand promise people must not only be aligned behind it, they must be engaged and empowered as well. The CBO needs to take on the role as internal coach and facilitator. He must be able to jump between silos/departments to educate, motivate and empower people to behave according to the brand’s values and promise.

Brand Communications
Finally, we get to the communicational aspect of the brand. This is usually the part which marketing people deal with as the primary (and all too often the only) branding tool. All internal and external brand messaging (and signalling) should derive from the brand strategy. All too often marketing people get lost in execution. You need consistency and clarity here. Which is NOT to say you don’t need creativity. Creativity is what keeps your brand fresh and relevant (meaning both value creation aspects and communication aspects).

A somewhat radical but in my view good idea would be to break down the marketing department into brand teams. A brand team includes other than marketing people (!). Brand teams should be spread out over the organisation so that there are people in charge of the brand delivery in all core functions of a business. These include at least the following: HR, Marketing, Product Development / Innovation / Design and Sales.

The bottom line. Brands exist because of competition. They exist to differentiate in a way that is meaningful to some chosen group of people. Hence, brands are ultimately about value. The brand is a result of your company’s efforts. It takes more than your marketing department. It takes strategy (the articulation of your unique promise), design and innovation (crafting the value you promise as well as expressing it), culture (aligning and engaging people to deliver your promise) and communication (telling your promise in the right way). Brand is really the whole deal, and hence to build it you need everyone to be part of it. Does marketing have a role in building the brand. You bet. But because marketing rarely has the mandate to manage the customer experience, (which affects your brand the most), I believe the brand function needs a new home.