In my role as adviser to marketing leaders, I am often met with the question: “How do I figure out if it is better to invest in brand or to invest in something else?” To which I often respond with a perplexed, “Is there anything else?”
Brand is what keeps the lights on in my home and the bar stocked with Bourbon, so you will excuse my brazen partiality. But hear me out. Companies take products and services to market and create experiences for prospects and customers – these are “things” that they manage. Brand is an all-encompassing perception that holistically reflects how these “things” are viewed. When the organizational gods draw their charts, they more often than not drop brand in the domain of marketing. Indeed, there is an umbilical relationship between brand and marketing, but it would be entirely erroneous to view brand as circumscribed by marketing. Anything and anyone that shapes brand perception drives brand.
The brand does not belong to the CMO alone. It belongs to all, from the CEO on-high, to the front-line brand ambassadors. It runs from the fountainhead of marketing through every part of the business, from ritzy show rooms, through distribution warehouses, to IT data centers. If you listen hard, you may hear a Woody Guthrie variant reverberate off cubicle walls: "This brand was made for you and me." This is the anthem for modern marketing.
During the global financial crisis that spun out of control in 2008, I worked on a multi-year consulting engagement with the head of credit card collections for one of the largest Latin American banks. Bad debts were at astronomical levels, and customers were defaulting in droves. We reconfigured the risk management algorithm to separate “good” customers having a rough year from inveterate defaulters. We designed innovative products to ease the repayment burden. We trained collectors to diagnose and prescribe with empathy. And when the dust had settled, while other banks looked like loan sharks, we came out of it with loyal customers and a reputation for being accessible, transparent, and on the side of the customer. With investments in systems, people, processes, and training, we had made the most unlikely of functions – a collections department – a brand engine!
The trick to investing in brand isn’t a trick at all. It follows the conventional logic of allocating resources to maximize return on investment. Sometimes it takes a campaign to build awareness and create emotional attachment. Sometimes it takes operational commitment to live up to expectations. And at other times, it is investment in people that brings alive the brand promise. All of it is investing in the brand. Figuring which one will pay off more is all about understanding how prospects and customers will respond to this new experience that the investment hopes to deliver.