BRAND BUILDING IS JUST GOOD BUSINESS
By Tom Dougherty
A CFO is usually tapped to be the catchall when it comes to corporate spending and finance. As the economy shrank, it was the job of the CFO to look for ways to cut costs while attempting to increase revenue.
Now as the economy begins to sputter lethargically back to life, it is your job again to decide which corporate initiatives provide the greatest opportunity of success and are worthy of allocating precious corporate funds.
Your job function flows back and forth between a manager of transactions to that of a strategist and communicator. Your role continues to morph away from the mergers of transactions to the merger of financial strategies because of the ever-increasing pressure being placed on your function from both those within your organization.
Solid financial strategy may be what has enabled your organization to survive through the current financial crisis and it will certainly enable your organization to grow in better times.
Being a CFO today demands that you understand the dynamic nature of your business, more than just in terms of dollars and cents. You must understand IT, Operations, Sales and Marketing, and Human Relations in addition to your native finance duties as well as the strategies of each of these functions and how it relates to the overall corporate strategy. Corporate strategy must be the ultimate arbiter in deciding what projects are funded and which are not. You must understand and be part of the branding process too.
Questions to Ask as a CFO
However, there is a strategy that will enable you and the rest of your executive team to better, more efficiently and decisively manage your corporate strategy: Brand.
Before you dismiss brand as something “they do in marketing,” brand is markedly different than what many have come to know.
Brand building is not a logo or an ad campaign. The branding process itself is not a cost center that goes unmeasured. Brand properly utilized and fulfilled is an agent of change initially and a long-term, complimentary element of sound, revenue building and cost-constraining corporate strategy.
Diligence requires you to be skeptical. Furthermore, you may already believe you have a strong corporate brand. If you do, write down your brand in one sentence on a piece of paper. If you are a bank, is your corporate brand process about service, longevity, or some kind of value proposition (best rates, most locations, etc.)? If you are a manufacturer of packaged goods, is your brand about providing your customers with the best goods you can at a reasonable price? If you are a technology firm, is your brand about service, uptime, innovation, or state of the art?
Then, as objectively as possible, ask yourself if any of your competitors say the same thing. Are you saying you are the best? If your competition is saying the same things as you, and they are not emotionally relevant to your target audience, then your brand is not strong enough to steal market share.
Brand Actually Reduces Expenses
Weak or non-existent brands in organizations end up costing those organizations much more money than brands that resonate. Meaningful brands provide an organization focus and purpose.
Weak or non-existent brands are inefficient and pull organizations away from the center, creating silos and infighting between what is “best” and what is “right.”
Moreover, brand provides an organization with meaning. Meaning is something that humans are always seeking. In the absence of a stated meaning within an organization, audiences (including your own employees) will make up their own meaning, further defocusing the entire organization.
Brand building is an extension of those you wish to influence. That is, it comes from and is part of the emotional makeup of your target audience. It is made up of their aspirations and beliefs. Because it comes from your target audience, especially those who do not already use you, it is not corrupted by internal inefficiencies, politics and tunnel vision of the organization. Brand is not about what you make or do. It is about what your customers believe or aspire to be.
Brand building serves as an objective roadmap to achieve the overall corporate strategy because it is devoid of internal “corporate speak” and personal agenda. Brand aligns and unites divisions. It removes inefficient and wasteful spending on “flavor of the month” advertising and sales promotions, expense in R&D activities that are not brand centric and builds positive corporate culture. It serves as a metric to measure, improves overall productivity and revenue generation, while building an emotionally resonate connection with those you wish to influence.
If marketing wants to spend money on a brand project, make sure you ask them if the promise means improved corporate efficiencies, reduction of wasteful spending in R&D and product development, and a strengthened corporate culture.
If the promise does not, then marketing is searching out the wrong solution to the wrong problem. The way to build an organization is not through a simple logo tweak or corporate image overhaul. If that’s the belief, then you can plan on spending money again while receiving little long-term value from the original investment.
The lack of persuasive and unique brand position is not a simple matter to be resolved with the marketing function. Rather it must come from and be directed by the occupants of the C-suite. A true brand transcends marketing and should be looked at as a long-term corporate investment.