Build The Brand AND Make The Quarter
“We want to build our brand.”
Most often, there is an unspoken follow up to that statement. We want to build our brand … as long as we do it while making the quarter.
Therein lies the debate, build a brand vs make the quarter. Not all priorities are created equal. And, most often the quarter wins over the brand.
We all have the same branding heroes - Apple, Red Bull, Virgin, Nike, and so on - but we forget all the risks and bravery it took for them to get there. It wasn’t done in a quarter. It took a long time and some significant leaps of faith, but clients sometimes want that level of success overnight. It’s like wanting a marathon runner’s body after running regularly for a week. It’s just not gonna happen - it takes time.
Debating this point once with the CEO of a client, we came to an interesting compromise. In reality, marketers have three quarters to prove their branding efforts are working and worth continuing.
It comes down to earnings calls. What are you going to tell the analysts?
Q1 call: “We’re launching a new brand campaign.”
Q2 call: “We’re in market and we’re in the process of collecting data/results.”
Q3 call: “The results are…”
Chasing the goal of building a brand can be dangerous and perilous work. Look no further than the average tenure of a CMO or the average tenure of a client/agency relationship. Patience is a virtue and not something found in abundance in today’s ever-accelerating marketplace. Everyone wants to build the brand, but the leash is short and the time pressure is high.
Playing a game with stakes that high, two things can better your chances.
Think about the earnings calls. What do analysts listen for/ask for? Your CEO will be put on the spot to answer questions about how the business is doing, what the growth projections are and what is the plan for achieving it?
The achieving it part is where branding comes in. Specificity is going to instil much more clarity both for the marketing plan as well as the earnings call. For example, which instils more confidence:
1. We’re going to grow awareness and build the brand.
2. We want to increase consideration by X% and we will do so by gaining a more favourable opinion on these three key decision criteria among our target audience. We will do so based on this new insight we’ve discovered.
Establishing clear objectives and goals is both an offensive and defensive strategy. On the offensive side, it lets people buy into the vision you’re setting out for the brand. On the defensive side, it helps take personal opinion out of future judgement.
Any branding effort will always have its critics and people are never shy about giving a critical opinion. If you’ve set out your objectives clearly in the beginning, they become your best defence. Dear Mr./Mrs. Critic, you don’t like the marketing? Well, based on the objectives, it seems to be working just fine.
Nothing great ever started with a committee. It always started because someone had the courage to lead. The same holds true for building a brand. Someone has to stand up and lead the cause.
Typically, it’s the CMO. If you’re lucky, it’s the CEO.
There will always be detractors. There will always be those who are afraid of change and uncertainty. There will always be those who would rather stay with the status quo than instead of pushing to new, higher ground.
To the winners go the accolades, the case studies and the promotions. After all, it isn’t really interesting to read about how things stayed the same. We celebrate those who have taken a risk and transformed brands.
When they win, we call that person a brand champion. When they lose, however, we call them a scapegoat. With risk there is reward, but also failure. Given the financial pressures of ‘making the quarter,’ there isn’t much patience to see if it works. Again, this is where having the right metrics in place will both show progress and keep the wolves at bay.
Leading the brand building effort takes courage. Those that do it, understand the risk and reward and they’re comfortable with patience.
If you make it to a year, congratulations. Celebrate your idea’s anniversary. You’ve now got a fighting chance that your idea can define a brand, become part of culture and shape opinion and decisions.
Marcus Fischer is CEO of Carmichael Lynch