The CEO as Brand Manager

On LinkedIn there is a group for Chief Marketing Officers which I have joined to see what people talk about these days. Most of it is about all things digital for obvious reasons.

One topic as a discussion was ‘what makes a great brand’ and the responses have been a range from the whacky to the intelligent. But what struck me was if a CFO was to read this stuff; it is all chat and opinion with very little substance someone outside the marketing community would comprehend.

There is an awful lot of garbage around and I haven’t seen one comment that relates brand status to financial consequences. All of us involved in the slighty fluffy side of business need to nail down some factual markers smart people understand. There are some good and helpful reports around such as Interbrands measure of brands, not a scientific assessment but nevertheless a very good attempt of putting values to brands.

Before I turned up at Ogilvy a client satisfaction survey had been commissioned (I think by Richard Pinder who went to a top job at Publicis) and the results arrived just after I started. It was worth gold dust because it gave me information I couldn’t get internally; the net result of the client research said Ogivly was rated 5 out of 10 across a wide range of attributes. I then used this as a way of giving the agency goals and every six months I presented the latest results. It removed all opinion by giving us measures we needed to address. It also worked as over the course of two years our net assessment rose to 7 out of 10, not perfect by a long way but all in the right direction – if my maths are correct a 40% improvement over two years.

I was trying to manage our brand in the eyes of our clients. The outcomes are obvious in terms of client retention, new business, organic growth, etc., etc.

The curse of marketing is jargon combined with qualitative opinion. I think the root cause is the reality of the rare visionary who says ‘it’s all over there’, and they are spot on, versus most of us who are challenged in the vision department. However we all talk like the visionary person and mostly it is hot air. I stand by the LinkedIn discussion on brands as support for this conclusion.  It can easily come across as verbose hyperbole.

Sadly this truth gets in the way of truly very smart, imaginative, visionary people who do exist. I think the tough challenge for clients is trying to work out the person who has swallowed a glossary of terms versus the one who is talking intelligent and perceptive thinking.

My obssession when talking with clients is getting some form of measurement in place to track performance. I am shocked how little investment is made in the most elementary tracking and how little clients know about the perception of their business and brand. My mantra is to consider the investment as a low cost insurance policy, if it costs £100K a year to track the KPI’s it is only 1% of a £10m media spend. To me it is a no brainer but it frequently gets pushed in to the ‘maybe’ pile.

The question is ‘is our reputation going up, down or is it static?’ I wonder if Tesco had this radar switched on last year, or Argos, or Mothercare, or French Connection et al. It seems to me at the CEO level one would want this data fed in monthly. In terms of brand management at the top of any organisation the CEO cannot rely only upon the input internally as it has a vested interest in all things being good; some form of external intel tells the boss how his brand is doing in the real world. Good intel gives the boss the time to adjust the business, too late it becomes a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

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