Brand Strategy: The Rudder That Steers The Ship

Thomson DawsonDecember 21, 20113153 min

In many business organizations, there is still much confusion about the role of strategic brand development and brand management and who within the organization should lead it.

Brand strategy and brand management is too important to be left to marketing people.

That’s my spin on the famous David Packard quote (as in Hewlett Packard) about marketing being too important an activity to the well-being of a business enterprise to be left in the hands of marketing people alone.

Business leaders have notoriously looked at marketing with a critical eye. Marketing is not a “hard discipline” like engineering, sales and finance. Business leaders love quantified activities that facilitate a predictable return. Marketing doesn’t provide predictable returns.

And in today’s social media, permission and privacy driven world, marketing is even more suspect by consumers. Customers want real, authentic connections and engagement to brands, not more marketing and selling.

Brand strategy and brand management is not a sub-discipline of marketing.

As brand strategy and brand management becomes more essential for marketplace success, enlightened business leaders have moved it further away (and upstream) from the core competencies within marketing organizations.

Yet for many organizations, brand strategy and brand management is an activity mostly managed within the marketing discipline. Consequently everybody in the marketing profession does “branding” these days. Branding gets bundled into a plethora of tactical marketing activities like PR, advertising, social media, sales promotion, packaging and marketing communications. Brand strategy and brand management is not marketing, advertising or communications.

This by no means diminishes the essential role of marketing for creating awareness and demand. Brand strategy and brand management is not about creating awareness, it’s about guiding the quality and relevance of organizational behavior in serving a specific group of customers/consumers. It’s a more sacred and strategic process defining the who, the what, and why an organization or a product exists in the first place – beyond money making. Brand strategy and brand management is about the soul of the thing–the intangible, the unseen, the meaning rather than the physical.

Brands make promises to people. Break the sacred promise and no amount of clever marketing will rebuild lost trust. Just ask Netflix or Tropicana what can happen to your business when the bonds of trust breaks. The value of brands lies in the perception customers have in their minds about what makes a brand matter to them. To matter nowadays, requires brands build deeply rooted emotional connections and never fail to deliver on the promise.

The discipline of brand strategy and brand management is centered in creating a set of unchanging, universal principles that guides the behavior of organizations and the products they bring to the marketplace over the life of the enterprise. It’s not about informing the next advertising campaign.

Brand strategy and brand management is a top down discipline.

The principles that guide the strategy and management of a brand have to be driven by the leadership of the organization. Brand leadership begins with business leadership.

Business strategy informs brand strategy which, in turn, informs marketing tactics.

When marketing organizations (or worse their advertising agencies) attempt to define and lead brand strategy, it becomes more marketing. Consumers / customers loathe marketing. Marketing now gets in the way of real engagement with a brand. Marketing needs to be baked into brand strategy, not the other way around.

Business leaders must drive brand strategy. Leaders determine the higher purpose, vision and values of the business enterprise, not their marketing organizations. Consequently, when leaders have clarity on “why” their brand exists, it’s much easier and more effective to weave the elements of brand strategy into the fabric of the organizational culture and guide the behavior of the organization at every customer touch point in the value chain.

Brand strategy and brand management is internal, marketing is external.

Brand strategy informs everyone within the organization why they exist and matter to people, what values they share, what markets they serve, what products they innovate and bring to market, what processes they use, and what experiences they are to create for customers and the community at large. Without this solid foundation firmly established, marketing organizations (and their agency partners) have nothing to go on – no map, no guidance, and no discipline – an aimless ship adrift without a rudder.

Brand strategy and brand management is the rudder that steers the ship.

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Thomson Dawson


  • Daniel Milstein

    January 5, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    I totally agree that branding needs to be completely separated from the marketing efforts. Branding involves more stricter and insightful strategy. One thing I learned before I became a bestselling author and long before Inc Magazine voted my company as one of the fastest growing companies is that having a solid brand strategy in place helps drive a better and effective marketing strategy.

  • Scott Sundheim

    January 5, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    As a brand director for a major CPG company with over 13 years experience manging and developing brands, I don’t fully agree with this article. While I do agree that brand promises need to be fully integrated and infused into everything a company thinks and does, I do not agree that business leaders should drive the brand strategy and management. I strongly feel it still needs to reside and be managed within Marketing. Contrary to the article, I believe Marketing shouldn’t just be about advertising and communications to stimulate awareness and demand. It needs to be much much broader and encompass the who, why, and what is being served to the consumer. This is even referenced in the American Marketing Association definition of marketing: the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.

    As Marketing should best understand the consumer and its wants and needs, so should brand strategy and management emanate from Marketing. Once the strategy is set, it should then drive the brand promise and be lived by the entire organization. As a result, Marketing should be both Internal and external to be fully effective. Internal to set the brand strategy and external in terms of advetrtising and communication. While brand strategy and management should be the rudder that steers the ship, I feel Marketers are best equipped to lead it as they have the best pulse on the consumer…not the business leaders.

  • Eric Mwiti

    January 6, 2012 at 8:21 am

    I dont think so Scott. I totally agree with the article because this topic addresses the greatest undoing for many organizations.

    1.Brand strategy is too important to be left to marketing department, since branding has to encompass the whole organization right from finance, HR all the way to the store clerk. Why? Because brands are guided by what we call core beliefs/values. Hence the involvement of the senior management, led by the CEO, as chief brand advocates, is of utmost priority to make sure an organizations has a unified brand vision, which is aligned to the whole organization. Hence the senior management is best placed to do that.

    2.The reason the article says Marketing should be a sub set of branding is because, all organizations should have a reason for existence. Branding helps organizations know their ‘why’. Hence the purpose statement (A statement describing the companies ‘why’) helps the organization stay focused, reminding the finance, HR, Procurement or even Marketing teams of their important role in contributing to the companies purpose. Hence Marketings role is to make sure that the external audience is engaged and understands the companies brand essence, which is the heart and soul of the brand.

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