Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Powerful Brands Start at the Top
Successful brand strategies need management buy-in

Several years ago, I received a call from a man who told me about his desire for “a new company brand.” As the company’s marketing director, his goal was to develop a new set of brand visuals and establish standards for how they would be used.

Sensing that such an effort would require approval from someone higher up the corporate ladder, I asked if his boss supported his plan. “He’s not against it. He usually leaves these tasks to me,” he told me. While I understood what he was saying, I had serious questions about whether he had the buy-in from the top that would be required to launch a successful brand campaign. We needed to meet with the boss!

You already have a brand
Unless your company or community is simply unknown, and that is often the case, you already have a brand. It’s your reputation. You can’t just buy a new one. Brands are forged over many years. Companies with great reputations have great brands and those which have ignored or mistreated customers have a serious problem. Great brands (reputations) are earned with hard work, integrity, time, and investment.

CEO as the Brand
Understanding that brand and reputation are one and the same, it’s only logical that successful brands come from the top. An organization’s top person is responsible for the brand principles and forges them through smart decisions and action.

Take, for example, Apple CEO Steve Jobs. As the founder and creative genius who gave the world the Macintosh computer, I-Pod, and I-Pad, Jobs set the very high standards that other companies aspire to follow. Why do you think Apple’s stock rises and falls with speculation and concern over his health? Steve Jobs and the Apple brand are inseparable!

CEO as Brand Leader
Back in the 1980’s, when I worked in the agricultural marketing industry, I had the honor of meeting a gentleman who was the founder and CEO of what had become a major national seed company. Although he was notorious for his outspoken personality, he was also known as a marketing genius. His secret? Consistent and unwavering customer focus.

From humble Midwestern beginnings, this gentleman grew his little company into a seed powerhouse, respected by farmers nationwide. He did so by following a rigid set of brand principles. Everything and everyone associated with his company conveyed a consistent brand promise.

At every office, the phone was answered in exactly the same way. Business cards and stationery were the same. Signs were the same. Cars and trucks were the same; always Fords. Company apparel was the same. At trade shows, the exhibits were the same and the literature was identical. Regardless of location, customers always knew what to expect.

He knew that in order to win business away from competitors, every employee had to understand and live the brand promise – Make the customer happy, no matter what. Farmers loved him and loved his company. The company’s word and promise were always good. No excuses!

How did he do it? He demanded it! His name was on the company and his reputation (brand) was on the line. Bureaucracy was virtually non-existent and employees were completely empowered to do whatever was required to make customers happy.

You see, you can create a new logo and brand visuals, but in order to build a truly successful brand, top management must establish and demonstrate customer-centered principles and see to it that the entire team lives the brand. That in place, marketing communications tools can effectively support the brand excellence you desire.

Brand Acceleration is a full-service advertising, brand management and public relations firm operating from Indianapolis, Indiana and Charlotte, North Carolina. The agency’s focus is on economic development, architecture/engineering/construction, and real estate.

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