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Brian Richards
Umbrellas vs Leaky Bucket Behaviours
Brands Need A Seat At The Table boards 2000x1333
Thoughts
Brands Need a Seat at the Table

On so many occasions, when invited to address the board, I’m placed late on the agenda and asked to “keep it short”. Stepping onto the bridge, I find a lineup of individual bucket experts appointed to keep the ship afloat by ensuring their bucket—be it finance, legal, HR, and the like—is devoid of leaks.


Branding within an organisation can be an ambiguous, hard conversation to have for those single-bucket holders appointed to watch for their respective leaks. Many companies talk about being integrated rather than vertically driven by their individual buckets. But the reality is that the environment needed to let this horizontal brand conversation flourish has so often never been developed. Branding is rarely discussed as a whole, and few directors understand the difference between branding and marketing. The dislocation caused by “bucket thinking” deflects responsibility for the brand almost solely to the sales and marketing people. The result is endless campaigns that are disconnected from the business’ potential to shape a unique brand and point of difference in their category.


Defining The Dripline

I have delivered countless workshops over decades on the subject and have always used an umbrella diagram to talk about the holistic nature of branding within an organisation. Each part of the company has a role in upholding the umbrella, from the C-suite to the soldiers. To prevent strays outside the dripline, everyone needs a common belief system and commitment to delivering value in a way that aligns with the ethos of the company. For a brand to thrive, its stories, tone of voice, hiring practices, customer experiences, the experience of employees—and more—must all seamlessly connect together to support the company’s raison d'être: reason for being.


Defining a brand’s purpose, mission and vision—from which everything should emanate—needs to be a board-level topic. They must be the ones to shape and safeguard this, with complete buy-in from all. These foundational principles should guide every decision and action within the organisation. Boards must never abdicate this responsibility, and their involvement must extend beyond reactive crisis management, to proactive brand building and protection.


Enabling The Conversation

Too often, boards are made up of traditional professionals; finance, legal, HR, technology, marketing, and operations. All necessary appointments, of course, to mitigate risk and effectively run an organisation. However, more boards should have strategic branding professionals at their table, able to provide the thought leadership required for companies to build enduring brands.


Boards need to engage in open and honest discussions about the state of the company’s brand(s) and address any problems that could be detrimental to its value before it's too late. They must grasp the risks that could jeopardise the company's brand reputation early and collaborate with senior management to develop strategies for value creation as well as risk mitigation. Taking a proactive approach to brand management is essential for preserving its long-term value and reputation. This entails continually measuring the brand's effectiveness and ensuring that all decisions align with its ethos and brand strategy.


To ensure the relevance of branding throughout the organisation, it's essential to recognise its impact on reputation and performance. Board members typically think branding is simply the design of visual identity systems, rather than a core contributor to shareholder value. Research by Kantar found that, of the more than 18,000 companies surveyed, those with the strongest brand strategies, on average, tripled their growth compared to the S&P500. It also provided greater growth in periods of economic expansion, and greater resilience in periods of economic contraction.


Given the times, brand centrality has never been more important.


Does your board have a shared understanding of the value that a strong and consistent brand strategy brings?


What processes have you set up to ensure your decisions always remain aligned with your brand ethos?


Your brand needs a seat at the table.


Brian Richards

3rd May 2024


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