Fair Exchange: Brand-led doesn’t necessarily mean marketing-led
by Erna George (@) Why the distinction, you may ask? Many people use these interchangeably, yet they are different. While a common focus behind brand may unite, “marketing-led” as a principle could create a divisive culture.
“Why should marketing lead the way? Surely the customer teams are more important because they land the sales, or manufacturing because they make the stuff that’s sold, or finance because they focus on driving shareholder value?” See the challenge? While there are areas of commonality, “brand-led” means something distinct, or should do so in terms of operating and unification.
Language is powerful
Language is powerful. It’s able to inspire, inflame or divide. “Brand-led” or “Marketing-led” both lend themselves to signifying an external focus but, being human, almost everyone wants to be important — the need for acknowledgement is high. “Marketing-led” may limit the brand expression to a team or function. If this team is lauded as the leaders or as more important, this may lead to competition, in-fighting and ultimately a silo-effect in ways of working. Why?
- The marketing team are more than brand crafters, working across the value chain, from touching manufacturing with new product development to finance with costings and income statements, etc. Marketing is seen as being more than brand.
- A brand belongs to the business and is touched by most throughout the organisation, from being charged on an invoice in accounts to being packed by logistics into trucks. While marketing may be developed and ‘owned’ by a group of marketing experts, how a brand goes to market is owned by many more functions.
If the orientation is to a team or function, it may not feel owned by the rest of the business. As the brand is activated by many in the organisation, the brand expression could be disparate. Similarly, as the brand belongs to more than marketing, it can also unite.
Ever heard the adage, “Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing team”? This is a term that irritated me the first time I heard it. Without internalising what it meant, I took offence. Being a fair bit older and perhaps a little wiser, I see the alternate view that, if everyone is united behind a common vision of the brand, the momentum that may be built is extraordinary — beyond what a single team can generate. Marketing would be key in setting the brand’s strategy but sharing the strategy and infiltrating this through all functions can create a wave with significant impact.
Brand-led means that the organisation is consumer- or market-orientated or has a philosophy that focuses on satisfying market needs. Imagine an entire organisation galvanised behind consumer and market needs — marketing woven through the total organisation so ideas and processes are built around answering real needs. Design-driven around adding the right added-value features; commitment to the right level of quality (not over- or under-specced), a consistent approach and, most of all, always relevant. This could create or provide a common purpose and help inform the culture and behaviour of the business.
To make an organisation brand-led, the brand must be demystified into the elements and language that are most relevant to each in the organisation. It’s key to identify the critical business revenue drivers and align these to brand principles. When this is filtered through the business to deliver, a consistent experience may be developed. Build brand proposition into product principles; brand beliefs and heritage into the sales process or customer proposition, consumer care centre or even supplier meetings. Ensure all departments embrace what the brand stands for and weight in on what that means within their sectors — they identify their stake in and their responsibility to the brand.
If all understand the qualities or principles that make the brand distinct, then sales teams can move a little more beyond price in tough customer conversations and the finance team will talk to the value of the brand in investor interactions.
With brand principles as the rallying cry, everyone is clear on what is expected and what is to be avoided. This allows processes and new initiatives to be designed around the brand. Everyone is brand and consumer champion — the voice of the brand internally and the champion for the brand externally. This should make the marketing role easier. Instead of spending time aligning everyone, marketing teams can more spend time on future-scaping (looking at trends and finding new opportunities) or with stronger external view on competitors. It should be empowering for all and make for a more distinct organisation
Moving to a brand-led organisations does require a strong foundation with tight controls so that the brand, while understood by all, is at inception determined on a clear strategic platform.
- Marketers develop strong brands that everyone understands
- Ensure brands are built with a focus on consumer needs and market view for optimal relevance, and share this
- Avoid making the output dependent or about the marketing function to ensure business doesn’t happen in frustrated, competitive siloed ways of working
The power of a consumer or market-centric organisation is untold — make it about the brand to unlock the power.
After starting at Unilever in a classical marketing role, Erna George (@) explored the agency side of life, first as a partner at Fountainhead Design, followed by the manic and inspiring world of consultancy at Added Value. She has returned to client-side, leading the marketing team in the Cereals, Accompaniments & Baking Division at Pioneer Foods. Her monthly “Fair Exchange” column on MarkLives concerns business relationships and partnerships in marketing and brandland.
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