The brand in identity crisis
Two years ago, SWOCC (the Dutch Foundation for Scientific Research Commercial Communication) boldy announced: “there must be a Chief Brand Officer role in the organisation”. This thinking was not unexpected. The idea is that the brand is on a journey, and the arrival of the CBO is the next step towards brand adulthood.
Two years on from the announcement, are we seeing a change? Unfortunately, we’ve barely witnessed the arrival of the CBO. We are seeing, however, an ever-increasing number of brand managers being appointed, yet it’s unclear what role they should play and what place they should take within the organisation. It’s apparent that the brand is assuming greater importance for businesses. Even so, in most organisations the brand is not yet fully established at the core of the business. How is this still the case, when organisations claim to recognise the importance of brand? It’s probably a combination of factors. However, I would like to suggest a theory, one for which we must step back in time.
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Brand 1.0: how it all began
A brand was once a synonym for the logo of an organisation. According to the dictionary, a brand is “every sign, symbol or external appearance which distinguishes a product or service from that of a competitor”. Where Brand 1.0 served as a type of quality stamp which clearly identified who the maker of the product was, this was later extended to include other visual elements which made the identity of an organisation visible. At the time, responsibility for brand development and brand management resided in the corporate communications department.
Brand 2.0: the brand as a guide to marketing communication
Achieving a consistent visual identity, while worthwhile, was not in itself sufficient to provide stand-out in the increasingly competitive landscape. Therefore, the brand developed and was increasingly used to indicate what an organisation stood for. Here, Brand 2.0 was born. With brand positioning at the forefront, the brand was mainly visible in marketing communication, where the communication message displayed reflected the image of how an organisation wished to be seen. There were a lot of ambitious attempts at this, meaning that brands did not always live up to their promise.
"The brand manager is now required to understand how the organisation is organised, what contribution each of the departments makes to the business, and how each of these departments can help make brand promises."
Brand 3.0: the brand as a guide for the behaviour of an entire organisation
This paved the way for Brand 3.0: the brand as a guide to the organisation’s entire operation. The components of brand changed, and with it the way in which it must be managed. With this, the brand is no longer only the basis of communication, but is also the basis for the actions of an entire organisation. This approach required additional capabilities and qualities from those responsible for managing the brand. The brand manager must now understand how the organisation is organised, what contribution each of the departments makes to the organisation, and how each of these departments can help deliver on the brand promises. The typical communications professional may not have experience in this area. However, business professionals have more experience in this role. This is a professional group which is generally unrelated to brands, but have responsibility for organisational structure and management issues.
Managing Brand 3.0 is in its infancy
With pioneering work still to be done in this field, communications professionals are alone in this evolution. While we see the brand is gaining ground, the question remains how can it move beyond communications – a necessary step to make Brand 3.0 truly land in organisations. We see positive developments. Indeed, there are organisations where the brand transcends beyond the communications department, and where it’s treated more like a business asset rather than a communication tool. It is striking that these organisations don’t talk about the brand per se, but use terms such as ‘core ideology’, ‘DNA’ and ‘purpose’. The meaning is the same, but by expressing it in a different way, the brand seems to be much better behaved throughout the organisation. Of course, this helps if the message is broadcast and promoted by the CEO, and not just by the communications department.
The brand in identity crisis? Perhaps. But what you promise as an organisation remains one of the core priorities for organisations in the coming years. A key first step is to develop a relevant, coherent and distinctive communication message. However, to embed it across all aspects of the business is a challenge. Whether this is called brand management or otherwise, it’s clear that work in this field is more important than ever. What is beyond doubt, we shall remain pioneers in this field for some time.
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