5 Things Every CEO Should Know About Branding

CEOs play an important role in shaping most brands.

April 20, 2017 Strategy

5 Things Every CEO Should Know About Branding

The recent United Airlines PR disaster provides a great example of how a CEO can help or hurt a brand. The CEO sets the tone and shapes the culture. And if you review the background of the CEO of every company in the Fortune 500, you’ll find that most of them were trained in one of these areas: sales, engineering, finance, or operations.

They either knew how to sell their product, build their product, manage their money, or manage their operations. By the time they’ve moved up to the CEO role, they’ve learned an entirely new set of skills, but their perspective almost always is influenced by their area of expertise.

Did you notice that the marketing function wasn’t on the list?

In previous decades, that rarely caused a problem, because it was easy enough to outsource much (or even all) of the marketing function to an agency. That’s no longer the case today, because the explosion of digital marketing channels has given control of brands to the marketplace, which in turn dramatically affects the strategic decisions that can roll up to the CEO level.

For most companies, the marketing team can’t just shift resources from traditional media to digital media and expect success; most companies need to change their philosophy for interacting with their market.

This must be coordinated across multiple departments – IT, sales, and sometimes finance and operations. It must be supported by the CEO, or better yet, led by him or her.

How to Keep Your Brand Relevant in Today’s Digital Marketplace

If you’re a business owner or CEO of small to mid-size company and you feel that you might be falling behind in today’s digital marketplace, here are 5 things every CEO should know about branding.

1.     The people in your market have defined your brand, and you don’t control it. Your brand strategy should be to deliver an authentic and consistent experience. If you haven’t clearly defined that experience on paper and shared it with your team, then you don’t have a strategy for your brand, which is akin to coaching an NFL team on Sunday without a game plan.

2.     People no longer trust company-sponsored advertisements. People prefer to receive recommendations from friends or family, from industry leaders, or even from strangers who share their opinions online. They prefer to “research” a product or service before buying, “controlling” their sales process and deciding if they’re going to engage or purchase. With so much information available online, people check out what brands are saying and judge for themselves if it’s accurate. If it’s not, they move on.

3.     Your marketing team must think like scientists. Marketing is part art and part science, but new digital channels have placed more emphasis on the science.  It’s impossible to predict human reactions with a high level of accuracy consistently, so good marketers define their hypothesis, test it on a small scale, collect data to measure results, and refine, expand or stop depending on their results. Think of marketing campaigns like experiments, and double down on what’s working. And make sure to collect the necessary data to be able to measure.

4.     Go where your market is. In the Mad Men days, this was pretty easy for many brands. Simply purchase media in TV, radio or print that matches your target demographic and place your ads. There were a handful of TV and radio stations, and maybe 10 to 20 print publications to evaluate. Today, there are hundreds of different channels, serving smaller but more targeted groups. Many people no longer read print newspaper or magazines, and some are opting out of cable TV. They’re choosing new places to interact with content, and you must be visible where they’re interacting.

5.     Everyone facing the market must be a brand ambassador. Social media has created a many-to-many connection between a brand and its employees. The market can interact with employees at many levels, and voice pleasure or displeasure from any interaction, at any time, for anyone to see. Smart companies train their employees about their brand standards and personality – how to treat people, converse with them, and support them – so everybody works to create that unified experience with the marketplace.

The CEOs and business owners who’ve embraced these concepts are still on the front end of the curve. If you don’t have a plan in place today for at least a few of these concepts, you’re at risk of having your market embrace your competitors, and becoming irrelevant.

To start, document the strategy for your brand, and have your team embrace the above concepts and deploy them throughout your organization.

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