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Branding & Leadership

Brand Management vs. Brand Leadership


In many marketing organizations the premium is on management. There’s a big difference between managing and leading. Most marketing organizations are over managed and underled.

Management and leadership in marketing organizations are two separate things. Of course both are necessary to get things done, but understanding why the distinction between these two things has profound implications on brand building success, is equally essential.

There’s so much mindless chatter these days about marketing ROI. The metrics obsession is everywhere one turns in the business press and in the blogosphere. Opinions and points of view abound about “best practices” in marketing and brand management. All marketers are seeking the holy grail of ROI. It’s pretty hard to define the return when the investment is equally cloudy.

Truthfully, I don’t know what ROI really means any more. The majority of brands in the marketplace are just me-too slush–brand followship rather than leadership. Where’s the ROI in clawing your way to middle?

I have written many times that beating your established competition within categories is folly. For example, Blackberry (once a brand leader) attempting to out iPhone the iPhone–pure folly! Why waste precious resources trying to create and compete for the value created by another rather than create new value?

Why does the world need another smartphone, laundry detergent, fizzy sugar water, or department store brand? Pick your category and you will find a brand leader and a brand follower. The brand leader always brings new value to the user–delighting them with magic and surprise. The brand follower is heads down managing process and worried about marketing ROI.

To manage something means to bring about, to accomplish a task, to be responsible for a deliverable. On the other hand, leadership is about influence, guidance, innovation and following a unique path. This distinction is critical for brands. Here are a few more important differences between management and leadership for you to consider:

•  the manager administers, the leader innovates.

•  the manager is a copy, the leader is an original.

•  the manager is focused on structure and systems, the leader is focused on people.

•  the manger relies on command and control, the leader inspires trust.

•  the manager thinks near-term, the leader has long-term vision and perspective.

•  the manager has their eye on the bottom line, the leader has their eye on the horizon

•  the manager imitates, the leader originates.

•  the manager invests in the status quo, the leader challenges it.

I’m sure there may be some who will think this dichotomy may be overstated. True enough, woe to the marketing leader who ignores the bottom line, and woe to the brand manager who fails to inspire trust. Marketing organizations (and the brands they bring to the marketplace) must possess both talents to build enduring brand value and the financial equity that value represents.

For brands to achieve their highest and fullest expression in the marketplace, stewardship, integrity,authenticity and trust must suffuse the entire organization. These are qualities that brand leaders bake into the culture of the organization–not platitudes grafted onto its exterior.

By necessity these qualities begin with leadership.

This can only happen by leaders who can do more than count transactions; leaders whose highest priorities are about inspiring the shared values of their organizations to the people their enterprises are designed to serve. Managers too must be personally aligned and committed to these shared values their brands represent to customers. But leadership sets the tone and the tempo and without it even the best managers will be pushing water uphill.

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Shane Boyd
Twitter: PersonalBrand21
on August 14th, 2013 said

Interesting points here Thomson. Something I think is pretty cool is that Millennials are naturally good leaders. They are the thinkers and inventors. Gone are the days where a bunch of old men sit around a board room trying to figure out how to better their business. The boardroom for the 21st Century Entrepreneur is Starbucks or the local used book store down the street.

I mention this because college text books still teach the old fashioned boardroom style, and truthfully, that’s not where it’s at. As you mention, “the leader inspires us” and “the leader challenges it”.

Well, that describes Millennials precisely. They are stuck fixing the blunders the boomers created. Kudos to them and kudos to you for blogging about it.


Clayton Perkins on August 15th, 2013 said

Brand leadership comes from the top. No matter how engaged, inventive, and aspiring a branding team is; if the executive team is not pushing for brand leadership then brand management will be the status quo. In so many ways are brand defined by the people who lead them; through their actions, their style, and their attitude.

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