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Branding is too important to be left to the brand people: why your business could use a brand council

Branding is too important to be left to the brand people: why your business could use a brand council

David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, once observed that “Marketing is too important to be left to the marketing people”. A more current corollary might be, “Brand-building is too important to be left to the brand people”.

The historical role brands have played – serving as symbols to guarantee a certain level of quality or as images to attract attention – is no longer relevant or useful today. A brand can’t just be a promise; it must be a promise delivered. That’s why brand stewardship can no longer function under the exclusive purview of marketing departments and brand managers.

A 2008 survey by the Association of National Advertisers revealed that 64 per cent of chief marketing officers and brand managers do not influence decisions made at their companies. Brands may drive communications activities, but little else. This means that nearly two-thirds of companies are pouring millions of dollars into marketing and advertising to promote certain values and attributes that may or may not be aligned with the reality of the business. Customers no longer tolerate the disconnects that arise from such gaps – and companies can no longer afford to keep brand-building a costly, discrete and subjective set of activities.

Brand-building is a function that business leaders, owners and general managers – the people responsible for the organisation’s culture, core operations and customer experiences – must drive. Smart companies form brand councils to meet this leadership imperative.

Brand councils are comprised of senior executives from a range of company functions: key business unit leaders, influential staff leaders from human resources, marketing, legal and finance, and sometimes even the CEO. On occasion, senior executives may designate lieutenants to sit on the council as their representatives, but they ensure these reps have the social capital, as well as the authority, to participate fully.

The brand council is charged with using the brand as a lens for strategic decision-making. The council uses the firm’s brand identity and positioning as guardrails to assess the appropriateness of proposed initiatives and as standards to evaluate their execution. The charter of a brand council is usually limited to oversight and approval, not implementation, so it draws the line between what is on-brand and what is not, and holds project teams and working groups accountable.

Brand councils usually devote the most attention to three areas of the organisation.

1. Product development often requires strong executive brand stewardship because the pursuit of innovation and the pressure to fill the pipeline often cause teams to veer off-brand. A brand council can resolve conflicting priorities, or at least bring parties with different interests together in a brand-focused discussion.

2. Corporate partnerships are also potential brand stumbling blocks that deserve attention. Whether it’s a strategic partnership, a distribution deal or a co-marketing campaign, companies often enter into agreements primarily focused on the business opportunities and the terms of the contract. A brand council can ensure brand objectives are met and brand equity is protected in the arrangement.

3. Brand councils are actively involved in people issues. Not only do they shape people strategies throughout the employee life cycle, from recruitment to transition, but they also serve as champions for brand alignment and engagement across the organisation. Councils often oversee the development and deployment of brand guides and tools, and they may provide leadership for brand roll-out meetings and experiences.

Forming and running a brand council requires a significant investment of time and energy from executives who already have very full plates. But companies must stop thinking about brands as static objects. No longer is a brand an experience mediated through messaging and marketing communications. A brand is the sum total of the experiences delivered by every part of the organisation, every day. As such, the highest levels of the firm must take charge of brand-building. It can’t be delegated to a marketing department or an advertising agency. It must be driven – and embraced – as an enterprise-wide strategy. A brand council is how savvy companies ensure this happens.

Ultimately, though, the best brand councils operate with the goal of making themselves unnecessary. Rather than relishing the role of brand police, they inform, inspire and instruct the organisation on the stewardship of the brand, so that over time every employee knows how to appropriately interpret and reinforce the brand.


*Original Article by Denise Lee Yohn: