How can you better manage your brand as a business asset?

18th Mar 2014

David Ogilvy famously said it:  'A brand only exists in the minds of your consumers'.

Your brand is your reputation. It’s that simple. What does someone think when they hear or see your name? Do they recognise it? Do they have a positive or negative reaction? Do they have a clear idea of who you are and what you stand for?

How strong is your brand?

Do you place enough emphasis on managing your reputation as a discipline of strategic management, rather than a responsibility of the marketing function? Some questions that should lead you to a long, hard look at how you manage your brand as a business asset:

  • Does the brand name of your company open doors?
  • Is it easy to get meetings?
  • Do potential business partners bring you ideas to invest in?
  • Do you attract the best talent?
  • Do good people stay more than 2-3 years?
  • Are your people driven to get the job done?
  • Do your customers advocate you, or simply tolerate you? Are they willing to forgive you when you make a mistake?
  • Has your share price increased steadily in value over time?
  • Do you make margin that allows you to invest and grow and is the envy of your competition?

By asking these questions, you can very quickly establish not only whether you believe you have a strong reputation, but also some very basic parameters around where some of your challenges and opportunities might lie.

The real secret behind a great brand is that it does something very simple. Great brands are single-minded and clear about what they promise. Great brands then deliver on that promise.

The implication is that any organisation can create a great brand, regardless of its size and its resources. In fact, the larger, more complex and global an organisation is, the harder it becomes to stay true to knowing what that promise is, and ensuring its delivery. When these brands falter, it is almost always when they lose focus on their promise and ensuring its delivery.

Isn’t brand all about your logo?

The brand is not just a logo or a function of marketing – understanding the promise and ensuring its delivery should be hardwired into every management metric and process in the business, from supply chain to budgeting to talent attraction and management.

The role of brand management is to play a central role in positively influencing marketplace perception – in terms of the talent market, the commercial market, and the marketplace occupied by other stakeholders. A strong brand must simultaneously do three things. It must be:

  • Authentic. Organisations that try to be something that they are not are generally unsuccessful – particularly in the era of social media and increased transparency and access to information by virtually all of your stakeholders regarding virtually every aspect of your organisation’s operation, wherever it operates.
  • Relevant. If what you are saying is not of interest to those who you seek to turn into advocates, it doesn’t matter how true or different your brand is – it just won’t matter to them.
  • Different.  It might be true, it might be relevant, but it has to be different … and be different in a way that matters.  Being distinctive is where your brand generates a premium price or greater margin than your competitors.

So: Who really manages your brand?

The lines between employees, stakeholders, customers, competitors, regulators and media used to be relatively distinct. These relationships were also relatively manageable within distinct silos. They didn’t require much cooperation internally to manage well.

But technology and social media have blurred or even erased these artificial dividing lines.

It’s a truism to say consumer power is growing due to greater transparency and access to information. What’s less clear is whether the majority of organisations have made the connection between this growth in consumer/client influence, and the way these organisations manage their stakeholder relationships (and indeed their businesses).

This shift in consumer power has a direct connection with employees, contractors, third-party relationships and how the organisation operates in its environment. The model is no longer one where the organisation sits at the centre and neat lines drawn to discrete stakeholders.

Consumers are now media producers – and very influential ones when it comes to your reputation. Stakeholders and partners are now consumers – and, of course, influential media producers. These “stakeholders” may not be who you think they are, and quite possibly are not who they used to be. Your supplier may not only be a competitor and a customer, but may be representing your brand and contributing, positively or negatively, to your reputation.

Who is accountable for making sure that the promise is delivered?

  • Product design (“The features are what people want”)?
  • Sales and marketing (“We need to increase turnover”)?
  • Human resources (“We need to attract great people, and keep the ones we have”)?
  • Call centre staff (“Who do customers call when they have a problem”)?
  • Front of house or retail staff (“You never get a second chance to make a first impression”)?
  • Facilities (“A good retail and working environment is key”)?
  • Finance and credit control (“Have you seen the letter we send our valued customers when they miss a payment”)?
  • Digital and web teams (“We are the key touchpoint for our customers”)?
  • The executive suite (“It’s all about leadership.”)?

The answer, of course, is that all of these people build and protect your reputation, in one way or another. The problem is, if the organisation hasn’t sorted itself out, the person bearing the brunt of all this is – you guessed it – the customer.

It matters a lot what people think – and say – about your brand

So the first thing you need to do if you are concerned – as you should be by now – about what your customers say about your brand is to make sure all of your own people know what they should be saying and doing to deliver it.

If your people – across every part of your business – don’t understand the role they play in delivering on the promise your organisation (your brand) makes, then you will have a disconnect. This disconnect will become very apparent, very quickly, to your customers. If what you say and what your people do aren’t matched up, customers notice very quickly.

They then can tell more people, more quickly than at any time in history, all about it. And as they say: A reputation that takes years to build can be destroyed overnight.

So does it matter what people say about your brand, your business?

What do you think?

Kevin Keohane is managing director of BrandPie, and author of Brand & Talent (Kogan Page, 2014).

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