Opinion

Why brand development needs to move away from the marketing department

Uber's recent company culture furore made it clear that a brand cannot simply rely on marketing team wizardry as a cover-up for bad brand purpose. Instead, the task of brand development must start with its leaders, writes Janice Radomsky.

My vision is that we take brand development and ownership out of the brand teams. Yes, that’s right. I’m suggesting we move it upstream, to leadership. Here’s why.

To start off on a positive note, experience tells me that more and more businesses are talking brand purpose. They’re in search of Simon Sinek’s “Why”: that guiding light that will give a business direction and its people a meaningful reason for doing what they do.

However, experience has also shown me that businesses are going about developing their brand purpose the wrong way round. They are starting from the outside in, rather than the inside out.

It seems that for many businesses, brand purpose is born within the silo of the marketing team. It is often crafted in conjunction with a brand positioning: sometimes in a rush to get into a creative brief, sometimes to make it into a hype reel at a company conference. Essentially, brand purpose is often developed as input to a communication strategy.

The fall-out of this, in my opinion, is significant misalignment in so many businesses: employees don’t necessarily believe the consumer messages, the customer experience is incongruent with the brand promise, and leaders are simply not walking the talk.

I’ll give you two examples: one from my perspective as a customer, the other as a strategist.

Let’s talk about Qantas. My recent letter to them began with the opening line: If Qantas calls Australia home, why is the brand experience anything but homely?

The backstory is for another time, and you can judge whether two Qantas Club vouchers are sufficient compensation for close to a full day’s worth of my time with their call centre (most of it on hold). But imagine how differently I’d feel if Qantas had genuinely showed they cared about getting me back home to Australia.

The second scenario is about a company in the medical industry. I came on board after they had developed their brand purpose, altruistic and seemingly genuine. My role was to sense check that the purpose resonated with employees ahead of a country-wide road show and a new advertising campaign.

Now, we all know that employees love to whinge to independent, third parties. However, what I uncovered was a deep-seated level of mistrust of management. Employees simply did not buy into the authenticity of this new purpose.

And so, my brand strategy presentation turned into unsolicited HR advice: deal with some serious issues on the ground before even thinking about a new advertising campaign. Needless to say, the project came to a grinding halt.

This misalignment is not new. So why does it matter so much these days? The answer is simple.

In the “old days”, businesses could behave one way behind closed doors, while sending contradictory, glossy messages to the outside world. But in this day and age, there is nowhere to hide. Open channels of communication thanks to social media, the 24/7 news cycle and the resulting cultural shifts have all opened the doors of authenticity and transparency. Unless all links in the chain are in harmony, the cracks will appear for all to see. We just need to look at the recent “outing” of Uber. Say no more.

So to end off with how I began: I believe we need to move brand development and ownership upstream to leadership.

I believe a business is its brand – the two cannot be separated. And I believe in building brands from the inside out.

This means we begin with a purpose that leaders truly buy into, and then we ripple this outwards, first to company culture, then to the way we hire and value employees, and only then to every single engagement with and message to customers.

This will not only connect, but align businesses to their purpose.

From this place, we can guarantee a more enjoyable and meaningful experience for everyone the business touches, both inside and out. This is how we build truly strong, authentic brands. And, in turn, this is how businesses earn the love of leaders, employees and customers.

It is also from this place of integrity that, I believe, long-term business success flows.

Janice Radomsky is a brand and communications specialist.

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