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Five ways to stop your brand management becoming militant

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3rd Apr 2013
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In this series of Smart Insights Best Practice Advice, Danyl Bosomworth of SmartInsights.com shares tips on best practice to get better results from digital marketing. This month Danyl examines when brand police become militia - and how brand owners must cut the red tape for commercial success.

I recently spent a few days in and around a large global brand, a business that we’ve started working with and are still learning about. A business with an enviable brand reputation and standing that evokes immediate feelings of quality and luxury, of innovation and progress.

Yet I’ve noticed that, from a marketing and brand communications perspective, there’s unfortunately great news for their competitors since there are significant, self-imposed road-blocks to focussing on marketing priorities and getting things done. The problem in short is that the corporate ‘brand police’ have more power than the commercial sales and marketing teams.

The learnings are too important to not share since I realise that I’ve encountered the same issues time and again, it’s really not unique. I think these issues will be recognised by those working within brands, and those serving them as contractors. I’d love for others to share their experiences, comments and solutions in the comments below.

The case for brand policing and control

Before I go further I want to be clear, the policing of brand communications matters enormously, there’s a real need to have a process that helps to ensure consistent and effective brand communications. The bigger the business is, the harder and more urgent that becomes. Failure to retain control as to how your brand is presented to the market can create consumer confusion, cultural issues or even offence. This all of course notwithstanding the risk of miscommunication from a promotional perspective and the plain embarrassment of using incorrect assets leading to impaired commercial performance. Either way, you miss the opportunity to persuade and inspire.

I’ve realised how the brand police teams generally appear to have emerged from a long-cycle advertising process. Where the related recipe of approved imagery, typography, strap lines and the correct logo all come into play, more often on long(er) deadline campaigns. I wonder if this is where the problem is born in an always on requirement of marketing?

When brand police become government militia

The why’s and wherefores of this occurring are less important, whether it’s down to fear, inertia, poor management, laziness, over zealousness, excessive pride, ego or ignorance, it will vary from organisation to organisation. It’s not useful to judge, and after all what do I know as an outsider looking in.

Appreciating the consequences and impact however, that’s different and really important to learn from. This happens in small owner run businesses as it does large PLCs, let’s not assume this is only a ‘big business’ problem when a distant team overseas is perceived to “murder the brand”. I’ve seen it in equal measure in businesses with small turnovers who cannot understand why they’re not growing, an analysis paralysis of sorts. The symptom is easy to spot: inertia. You just can’t get anything done. The marketing team are literally throttled. Squeezed at one end by the ‘commercial business’ and the other by the corporate or ‘comms team’ – in small businesses these might be two, conflicting drivers in the same leader! Quite simply, things don’t get done.

Marketing today is 24/7, genuinely. Brands need to respond, to be awake to the consumer, to the market, to events and news – anything relevant to the consumer relationship that the brand desperately needs. I’ve seen a huge global brand team needing to share time sensitive observations with their consumer on Facebook needing to log the post into a queue for another team to check and post 24-36 hours later.

Missing the whole point. It can be the same when a creative campaign is not relevant to a local market, a one-size fits all has to apply because that’s ‘how it is’, rendering the point of the execution useless in the local market. In bigger businesses, each instance sees a person or people making the decisions whilst being unaccountable for the performance in a commercial sense. There is no consequence to the decision maker – they’re not the one fired, at least in the short-term. In the case recently, I observed less experienced, non-commercial people, with no exposure to the consumer attempting to halt progress in the name of corporate brand management, managing to a different set of priorities that were not aligned to business growth.

So what’s the solution?

  1. Brand (and marketing) leadership. Control needs to reside at the ‘P&L’ level – the place where the buck ultimately stops. Leadership is the only real way to prevent restrictive or short-term thinking amongst a wider team, or at the other end reactive, wasteful marketing, from taking place by over excited teams. I’d group good, day-to-day management into this, a leader in any area needs to be able to help a team face in the right direction and manage those ‘characters’ :-).
  2. Roles and responsibilities. Being being able to have an opinion or voice is one thing, and knowing who makes the decision in a particular area is a different thing entirely. Mixed teams of middle managers vying for control is tough to see and really hard to be a part of. People need to know who has final say, and on what specifically.
  3. Process. You need enough resource appropriate to the amount of process and control required so as not to slow things down. You cannot have your cake and eat it, as they say. This enables a consistency of applying the rules, a maintaining of speed and ability to manage wider team expectations to commercial deadlines, avoiding damaging bottle-necks. It’s a cost equation in some ways, too many people incur heavy process costs, not enough and it costs in wasted opportunity and ineffectiveness.
  4. Relevant filters. when deciding what’s right for brand policing, appropriate filters are needed for the business or team size, commercial realities and the talent of the people are factors that come in to play, ensuring good control in light of the commercial realities. You need less process for bright, forward thinking people with lots of experience who have responsibility for a business unit or output, and clearly more when a stretched, inexperienced team in ‘Outer Mongolia’ are shipping something out of the door without a thought about the brand.
  5. Motivation. After leadership I think this is the most important, if people are motivated by the same output – through good management or incentive – then they can move mountains with next to no hands-on management. No matter how big an ego or fearful someone is, if we’re all motivated and on the same page then alignment is inevitable and, I’d suggest, so is increased success.

What are you thoughts and experience around this, please let us know.

Danyl Bosomworth advises companies on digital marketing strategy. You can read his latest advice on SmartInsights.com, and see how your digital marketing rates with the new free interactive health check.

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