Recent conversations have served as a reminder that not all senior leaders regard brands as something they should be involved with. If you’re struggling to get your senior team to put important brand matters on the executive agenda, here’s some reminders by way of making the case for greater consideration.
A study of the role of CEOs in building trust confirmed the need for senior managers to be brand-aware and brand-involved. The visibility, opinion, involvement and personality of CEOs can have a strong and positive effect on brand trust and brand revenues.
According to Chief Executive Magazine, the key deliverable you must deliver any CEO or senior leader is to help them improve their effectiveness and that of the organization they lead, make the company more profitable and provide insight on future growth opportunities. CEOs in particular are looking for opportunities to provide innovations or for unmet customer needs that can lead to new products and services.
Therefore, when you are looking to engage them on brand matters:
- State a clear – perhaps even provocative – position on a critical issue. CEOs are continually reviewing and re-assessing strategy in changing markets. They are exploring leadership issues such as how to lead change and how to better motivate and incentivize employees. They are interested in operational efficiency. Focus your conversation on your ability to deliver to those agendas.
- Be brief – senior leaders don’t have time to process. Don’t show them the workings, hand them the conclusions.
- Get in early in order to help shape thinking – if your project involves an investment or purchase decision for example, you need to engage with them at the time when they are most likely to be involved.
The hallmark of value creation, and leadership
The findings from the CEO study above underline the assertion made by Mario Simon that business leadership and brand leadership have become inextricably linked. “The successful creation and management of brands will be the hallmark of business leadership in the 21st century.” If your senior team don’t really see brand as part of their business, take every opportunity to remind them that success depends on growth, and that brands are a critical instrument in generating that growth. By championing the company’s brands and getting involved as required to push those brands into market, they enhance their own standing as executives in a world that judges them by what happens on their watch.
In a review of what makes great brands work and the roles that CEOs play in making that happen, Martin Roll points out that iconic brands are the net result of three key initiatives on the part of senior decision makers. First and foremost, great brands are profitable and highly driven operations. Secondly, they actively use differentiation strategy to fashion market leading positions for themselves and then they retain those positions through active innovation which is embedded deep in their ethos and culture. Finally, competitive brands are emotionally charged. They have been able to build and sustain powerful bonds with consumers and stakeholders.
Brands are very much the responsibility of leaders.
As choice continues to proliferate across categories, the companies with powerful brands are the ones making their presence felt. Brand is powerful in market performance terms because it adds meaning (and margin) beyond function. By their very nature, brands seek to be valued by consumers for more than what they do – something that a product or service cannot achieve no matter how good it is. The companies that will prosper are those capable of competing through their brands in a marketplace increasingly requiring intuitive and emotionally-attuned leadership.
Tangible value is decreasing
Just because they can’t see brand doesn’t mean it’s not there. 30 years ago, companies could define their value by what they physically owned and traded. By 2010, according to Millward Brown Optimiser, tangible assets accounted for less than 40 percent of a company’s value. That means intangible value now accounts for more than half a company’s value, and around half of that total business value is generated by brands. They therefore deserve a high level of consideration by senior leaders in terms of business critical decisions.
If you’re struggling to get engagement on this, try framing the issue in revenue or market value terms. Often the more you can define the matter that you are asking senior decision makers to consider, the more likely they are to see it as productive use of their time.
Brands are where strategy comes to life
Companies that are looking to refine or re-set their corporate direction may plan what they are doing behind closed doors but ultimately the activation of those ideas will take place in the market and, inevitably, through the brands that connect the corporate entity with consumers.
When senior teams understand the impact that brands can have on delivering strategy, they are able to co-operate and co-ordinate changes across the enterprise to ensure that change happens where and when it must. In the case of Hershey, for example, their CEO John Bilbrey has led a transformation programme that involved not just brand identification but also product lines, supply chains and corporate responsibility. Without that level of endorsement, changes are quickly demoted to “marketing exercises”, involvement is much harder to secure and the success of the strategy (which senior teams are often judged on) is compromised.
The key to ensuring that companies understand how their brands can further business plans in many ways comes down to how they are positioned. Too often, brands are identified as budget-hungry cost centres within marketing whereas in fact they should be positioned as vitally important corporate assets that require investment, but that in turn deliver tangible, value added returns. So it’s critical to position the brands in your portfolio as assets that have equity – equity that is recognised by consumers in the form of inclination, and by other influencers, such as the media, the markets and partners as the means by which the business represents itself and earns revenue and reputation.
If you are struggling to gain senior level support for an opportunity, frame what you are doing in terms of how it will contribute to the agreed strategy and talk through how building a cross-disciplinary team will positively affect implementation of the strategy. You will have a far higher chance of success if you are seen to be a contributor to what has been agreed, not a distraction.
Updated: This article was originally published in April 2016 and has been updated in August 2018 to include more detail and discussion points. A shorter version of this article was posted elsewhere under the title Helping Senior Leadership Think Brand.