One of the toughest challenges you face as a brand marketer is, very simply, getting your brand noticed.
Today, you have to worry about not just your direct competitors but all of the other brands fighting for a customer's attention. Just breaking through and being heard in this over-communicated, noisy marketing environment is a victory.
So you need all the help you can get. And one place you might want to look for it is at the top of your organization. More and more, senior management plays a crucial role in the success of a brand that breaks away from the pack.
All of the "Chiefs"—CEOs, CMOs, CFOs, and even CIOs—should be enlisted to embrace your brand. Sure, it's "Marketing's job"—but it's management's responsibility.
The collective actions and attitudes of your Chiefs help turn customers, prospects, analysts, employees, and shareholders into brand enthusiasts. If your Chiefs are all on the same page and speaking the same language, your brand will project a stronger image to the public.
This means getting the Chiefs on board early when you launch a new brand or a new brand marketing campaign. It means coaching them on the brand attributes and keeping them informed about upcoming brand marketing activities.
Your Chiefs need to know that something will be happening before everyone else does. One of the worst thing is for one of your Chiefs to be caught off-guard by a customer or investor who has seen a new ad that the Chief is not aware of.
The CEO is the secret weapon
Ultimately, a brand's true hero—its "secret weapon"—is the CEO, who helps turn an ordinary brand into a "breakaway" brand. The CEO shapes the company's brand vision and demands that breakaway branding behavior take place.
The CEO's vision, determination, and guts push a brand to greatness. His or her involvement in the brand—and his or her recognition of the strategic importance of branding to the company's success—will often tip the breakaway branding scale. Without the CEO's functioning as a supportive leader who champions the brand, achieving breakaway brand status is all the more difficult.
A classic example of this is Steve Jobs, who left and then returned to Apple to reinvent the brand. Jobs oversaw the launch of an advertising campaign called "Think Different"—as much a marketing direction as it was his own mantra for the rebirth of a tarnished company.
Perhaps most significant in the Apple/Jobs comeback story was the 2001 introduction of the iPod—the digital music player that pioneered a category and turned Apple into a consumer electronics company. Apple said it sold 14 million iPods in the last three months of 2005 alone. Its revenue for the quarter was up 63 percent from the year-prior period.
To Steve Jobs, iPod was a natural progression for Apple. In a February 2005 Fortune cover story, Jobs says: "The place where Apple has been standing for the last two decades is exactly where computer technology and the consumer electronics markets are converging. So it's not like we're having to cross the river to go somewhere else; the other side of the river is coming to us."
Who is your Steve Jobs?
Admittedly, not every company's CEO has the charisma or vision of Steve Jobs. So what do you do if yours is, well, not a brand marketing star?
Hopefully, you have a CMO, or a VP of marketing, who can sensitize your CEO to the strategic importance of the brand. Or, if need be, the CMO can replace the CEO as the brand's spiritual leader.
Jim Stengel, CMO of Procter & Gamble, is a good example of a Chief who's focused on not just the company's brands but on the critical importance of its audience.
Stengel considers P&G's ultimate "boss" to be the female consumer. While P&G's CEO, A. G. Lafley, is himself a strong brand leader, Stengel has been a tireless and outspoken advocate of brand and marketing innovation—so much so that Brandweek proclaimed him one of its Marketers of the Year for 2005.
The point is that somewhere in your organization's management ranks there needs to be a brand enthusiast—a Chief who gets brand marketing, understands its importance, embraces it, and goes forth carrying the brand torch. If it isn't in your CEO to be the brand champion, you need to find a Chief who can fill that role.
A strong brand is good for business
CEOs who recognize the importance of the brand run organizations that tend to be very successful. Chief Executive magazine in November 2004 published a list of the "Top 25 Brand CEOs" for that year. The top 5 were, in order: Michael Dell (Dell), Orin Smith (Starbucks), Steve Jobs (Apple), Phil Knight (Nike), and Jeff Bezos (Amazon.com). Each company is, not surprisingly, a leader in its category.
In the same issue of Chief Executive, FedEx CEO Fred Smith, who was also on the list, says this about his brand: "One of the things that we recognized about 10 or 12 years ago was that probably of all of the assets on our balance sheet, none was more important than the brand, even though it wasn't capitalized at all."
There is no better evidence that branding transcends marketing and goes to the heart of a successful business.
A brand-aware CEO recognizes that a brand which stands apart has the potential to drive a company's sales, improve its margins, grow its profitability, and increase its market cap. With a strong brand, you can even raise prices without much in the way of negative consequences. If your CEO understands this, he or she can be your best weapon for turning your brand into a breakaway brand.
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