Why the CEO needs to be the real 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 ranged from the whacky to the intelligent. But what would happen if a CFO 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 Interbrand’s measure of brands, not a scientific assessment but nevertheless a very good attempt of putting values to brands.

Before I turned up at Ogilvy in London 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 like gold dust because it gave me information I couldn’t get internally.

The net result of the client research said Ogivly rated five out of ten 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 seven out of ten, not perfect by a long way but all in the right direction – if my maths are correct a 40 per cent 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 presence 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 differentiate the person who has swallowed a glossary of terms from the one who is talking intelligent and perceptive thinking.

My obsession 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 KPIs it is only one per cent of a £10m media spend. To me it is a no brainer but it frequently gets pushed into 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 and it becomes a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

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About Paul Simons

Paul joined Cadbury-Schweppes in brand management and then moved to United Biscuits. He switched to advertising in his late 20s, at Cogent Elliott and then Gold Greenlees Trott. He founded Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson in the late 80s, one of the leading creative agencies of the 90s. Simons Palmer then merged with TBWA to create a top ten agency. Paul then joined O&M as chairman & CEO of the UK group. After three years he left to create a new AIM-quoted advertising group Cagney Plc. He is now a consultant to a number of client companies. Paul also shares his thoughts on his blog. Visit Paul Simons Blog.

One comment

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    In a B2C consumer brand analysis, there is no escaping quantitative measurement. If there aren’t metrics tied to every aspect of the brand, you are going to find yourself without answers at critical times. However, you have to pick the right metrics for the dashboard. What is really driving consumer behavior? Brand management is half art and half science.