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The most valuable business tool ever invented!
Blog / Design

The most valuable business tool ever invented!

We’ve seen over the years, time and again, companies abandon this tool for other marketing activities without addressing what we consider to be their most important marketing asset – their brand! Inspired by an article written by Tom Roach, Managing Partner at BBH, we decided to see if we could get to the bottom of why.
 
Tom’s article ‘Fwd to CEO: The Most Valuable Business Tool Ever Invented’, addressed the need to consider brand as a key driver for success – the ‘secret weapon’ in the battle for business performance. But therein lies the challenge, and the reason Tom wrote so eloquently in addressing his frustration.
 
This got us fired up. With the benefit of more years’ experience than I care to admit, I am totally convinced that the work we are doing on a day-to-day basis, expanding upon the brand strategies that our fantastic team at Pull develop, and refreshing or reimagining visual identities, absolutely makes a difference both internally and externally for our clients. We’ve seen first-hand how it can transform business and deliver success, changing minds, winning new fans and reinvigorating the workforce. Indeed, I’ve lectured to students about the power of design to make or break business and affect opinion! But it’s not enough that we believe that. We want businesses to recognise and value the power of their brand.
 
The rub is that once we’ve completed a project they often do! Just recently we’ve had two incredibly valuable pieces of feedback. The first from a music instrument retailer who has just been awarded the title ‘No.1 Retailer in the World’ and reflected that their rebrand was a large contributor to their success. The second shared some correspondence from a senior sales manager who waxed lyrical about the reaction their brand was receiving from customers and fellow exhibitors at a trade show, giving him a huge sense of pride in the organisation he represents.
 

How to convince companies that brand can be a powerful driver of success…

But there are two big points here. The first; convincing companies that brand can be a powerful driver of success is tough, and the second point feeds into the first; testimonials are wonderful for our vanity, but how do we prove our work has hit the spot and therefore generate evidence for those clients who trusted us, and for those who aren’t convinced?
 
The sad truth is that many business and financial leaders don’t appreciate brand or the benefits it can bring. Not CMO’s though! A report by the Chartered Institute of Marketing stated that ‘67% of marketers thought their senior leaders didn’t get brand’. And the Journal of Brand Management went a step further by suggesting that ‘together in about 86% of firms there is some form of resistance to placing brand at the centre of their strategy’. Why is that? Well for one thing it can be challenging to prove.
 
Tom’s answer was to drop the ‘creative language’ and talk facts and figures, citing some clear statistics that draw parallels between business success and brand investment. But many of his examples focussed on large corporations quoted on the stock exchange.
 
Marketers are up against a huge challenge in the face of leaders who are obsessed with performance marketing and a short-termist approach. It’s understandable. Pressure is huge across the board to deliver results fast and validate the business model, and as such the appetite to play the long game seems to be waning.
 
It starts with defining what success looks like. Is it as simple as sales? Ultimately, it must play a part – let’s be honest, that’s the end game for any investment or activity undertaken by an organisation and certainly the ROI that the CFO is looking for. But then there are many more challenging concepts to consider; reputation, sentiment, awareness, recall etc. Digital activities are of course easier to reflect through analytics, but they don’t tell the whole story and it’s clear these other concepts are drivers to purchase and ultimately business performance.
 
As Design Business Association members, we are well aware of the Design Effectiveness Award scheme that celebrates the business success generated by the projects that are entered. It’s interesting to consider the values that the DBA cite as key indicators of success; changes in stakeholder attitudes and behavior, improvements in customer experience, efficiency/cost benefits, improved footfall/attendance, increased engagement of internal or external stakeholders, new revenue streams created, media impact/reach, digital growth/engagement etc. They are all considered valid and measurable constructs but also, crucially, indicators of brand impacting business performance.
 

But brand is more than just a logo…

But the big one for agencies is education. For one thing, it is shocking to consider that there are still many business leaders that consider brand to be a logo! It seems crazy to those of us whose lives revolve around it, but the reality is that the concept of brand isn’t being communicated in the most effective way, so is it any wonder that there are cynics out there? Of course, a logo alone can’t deliver success. But where education really stands or falls is in the evidence. We need to be so much better at measuring the effectiveness of brand in order to present a credible business case. Share price might be an indicator for the Fortune 500, but it won’t cut it for the majority of businesses in the marketplace. So how then?
 
Some marketers consider mainly softer metrics, i.e. that they considered to be ‘on-trend’. We’ve also heard the Net Promoter score quoted as a key metric because of a reliance on the sales force as brand advocates. But, if your sales force fail to perform, or don’t talk about the product or brand in the way you planned then everything you’ve done is doomed to fail. If they aren’t enthusiastic and aren’t ‘living it’ then the brand metrics will be bad. Engaging your internal audience is such a vital piece of the puzzle. They need to be enthused first or you can forget about success.
 
In our cause to convince business leaders of the benefit of brand, I do think language and attitude does play a huge part. We as agencies need to be better at referring to brand as a business tool. We need to ensure that it is not seen as an exercise in vanity, but of a strategic business investment targeted at delivering real results on the bottom line.
 
One thing is clear though, as reported by Willie Schoeman from North-West University: “until accountants reflect brand value on the balance sheet, CFO’s won’t take it seriously”. What if you could measure ‘brand purpose equity’? If you could you’d be measuring something that’s immensely powerful. As an agency, when we’re trying to convince a client to architect a meaningful brand, yet they don’t believe in it, where can you go? Imagine being able to prove to them they have a negative purpose equity!
 
Ultimately, we need to find a way to show business leaders that a long-term strategy and investment in brand is where the wise money is spent. Not in short term goals that are difficult to sustain, but in discovering and communicating authentic, believable purpose through a brand that customers are enthused by and can believe in. That’s where long-term growth lies, and where the promise of big rewards wait to be uncovered.
 

 

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