These philosophical discussions are a hot topic in today's business books and articles. They're interesting -- but largely irrelevant.
That's because the answer isn't about marketing; it's about branding. And it's about why we need to appoint chief branding officers rather than try to reinvent marketing people and processes.
Marketing is just one of the primary functions within the organizations that support brands. With retailers, for example, merchandising, logistics and store operations each have an equally important role to play in the well-being of the brand.
The problem is, however, that brands don't exist as neat, vertically organized entities. Brands exist horizontally and/or holistically. They transcend the influence of any single function like marketing.
COMPETING POINTS OF VIEW
The inherent flaw in traditional marketing and brand management structures is that their competing points of view often result in separate executional programs. The broadcast folks do their thing, as do print advertising, promotional, PR, direct marketing, in-store and e-commerce people. And, more often than not, it shows.
Look at the majority of retailers in North America. They're brand schizophrenic. One minute they're seducing prospects with a warm image message, a nicely packaged co-marketing offer or local community PR program. And the next they're screaming about their "Lowest Prices of the Season!" sale, and telling you why you should rearrange your sleep patterns to be at their store by 7 a.m.
We know this type of behavior doesn't work in our personal relationships. So why do these retailers fool themselves into believing it works with their customers? As advertising legend David Ogilvy said many years ago, "The consumer is not stupid. She's your wife."
BRING ON THE CBO
To our knowledge, no manufacturer, service provider or retailer has a chief branding officer. So, while there aren't any CBO "best practices" to follow, there are four areas of responsibility essential to the appointment of a chief branding officer.
nEducation. Most companies don't plan to make their brand look bad. But how many have been taught the difference between good and bad branding? Between branding programs that have worked and those that have failed?
A CBO must take the responsibility for telling management the whole truth about their brand.
nEncouragement. It's one thing to be given a title such as chief branding officer. But it's another to get people, departments and corporate cultures to change in order to make total branding a reality. An effective CBO should be a motivator first and foremost, and a cop only as a last resort.
nEnforcement. Eventually, however, someone has to be the brand police -- with the authority to demand modification of an off-kilter idea or program. And, if necessary, to incarcerate it. A CBO must be given this power, it must be clear and it cannot be subject to "exceptions."
nEvaluation. There's an adage that says nothing gets done that isn't measured. For brands to succeed, they need regular, insightful feedback.
From customers to associates, and every other important stakeholder, CBOs need an objective scorecard that everyone in the organization can understand.
Having read this, it's possible to conclude there is no one in an organization qualified to be chief branding officer. And it may, in fact, take some time before the academic and corporate worlds can produce a development program consistent with the needs of total branding.
Rather than wait until that day arrives, however, we recommend creating the Office of the Brand. It would be a small and empowered group of senior executives (three or four people at most) that can make the hard choices needed to keep the brand consistently focused and on course -- despite the short-term discomforts its decisions may cause.
Also, to ensure a balance of perspectives within the Office of the Brand, we are of the opinion that one member must be from the company's marketing communications agency, ad agency or whomever it values as a creative and objective external counselor.
IS THERE A NEED?
Does your organization need a chief branding officer? Or do you find this notion a bit too farfetched for your tastes?
Before concluding one way or the other, ask the following four questions:
* How would your executive committee define the essence of your brand?
* How would your associates define it?
* How about customers?
* Would their answers agree?
Assuming there are inconsistencies in their definitions of your brand, it's illogical to expect different results by conducting business in the same old way -- with the same organization, marketing, promotional and communications plans.
A chief branding officer would be responsible for making more of the name, not more of the same!
It's an idea whose time is about to arrive.