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Business Observer Friday, Apr. 25, 2014 7 years ago

Form a council to keep your brand on track

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How a time-strapped CEO can manage, maintain and maximize his company's brands with authority.
by: James R. Contributing Columnist

Successful companies are nimble, fast-moving and continuously reinventing themselves to ensure maximum returns and to remain relevant with their customers.

New strategies are the hallmark of an ever-changing business landscape. There is good reason why corporations leverage brands to positively impress that intangible asset that occupies some of the most valuable real estate in the world — their consumers' brains.

Brand councils, comprised of knowledge-based personnel, are designed to oversee the implementation of a strategically focused, integrated communications system across all touch points within an organization and with its customers.

The most successful branding programs reflect the vision of the CEO, but few CEOs have the time to closely oversee implementation. That responsibility falls to the chief marketing officer (CMO). There are times when periodic oversight by the CEO is not only needed to assure an alignment of brand with the vision but also to provide traction for the campaign where support is less than assured.

Forming a brand council can provide a diverse group of corporate thinkers a forum to conceive, discuss, explore, debate, and plan their business strategies in the most conducive atmosphere possible. Within their framework, brand councils can express diverse opinions and perspectives that will generate more effective solutions.

Ideally, brand council meetings should be chaired by the CEO or the CMO, who assign responsibility to other members of the council to run various parts of each meeting. Here is an organization example of a successful brand council at a large global company:

Executive brand council — CEO, CMO, CFO, CRO, IR, HR and business unit heads (annual meeting or meet as necessary)
The executive brand council is made up of senior officers. Its main role is to restate the message that the brand is the responsibility of the entire organization. When the CEO has a clear and consistent commitment to the brand, that commitment will flow through the various echelons of the corporation as a unified entity. The executive brand council's primary purpose is to set budgets and to approve overall brand strategy and direction.

Communications brand council — global communications and marketing leadership (quarterly meetings)
These managers implement the communications programs. The communications brand council has to formulate, coordinate and execute the marketing and communications strategy based on the executive brand council's approved budget and direction. These meetings are designed to hold the communicators accountable for making sure that goals are met and to identify problems before they happen.

President's brand council — an appointed cross-functional team of business managers (appointed by business unit presidents) to represent the business unit and its branding needs (annual meetings)
The president's brand council consists of multiple disciplines including: purchasing, graphics, marketing, sales, legal, accounting, procurement, production, administration, training, human resources and public relations - key managers who control all brand touch points. The role of the president's brand council members is to identify the various requirements of the brand and to evangelize/proselytize the brand back to the various groups they represent.

Outside consultants
Ultimately, brand councils are designed to oversee the implementation of a more sophisticated and reliable integrated communications system across all touch points within an organization and outwardly to all customers groups. Sometimes a company won't have certain specialists on staff and will seek outside consultants to fill the role.

One of the best brand councils I've served on was with Robert Zito when he was the chief marketing and communications officer at the New York Stock Exchange, and later when he held the same position at Bristol-Myers Squibb. Bob included both insiders from the company but also outside consultants who were full participants on the council, which enriches the discussions and adds credibility to the council itself. 

Some specialists to consider — a lobbyist, or a knowledgeable Washington “beltway” insider, is always helpful to provide perspective on key regulatory issues.

No doubt the impact of new technologies on products and social media is also extremely important to monitor over time as companies grow and diversify. An independent outside IT or social media specialist might have a role on the council.

Facilitation of meetings is also something to consider for especially sensitive topics. Many times it is easier for an outside consultant to make a point, or to get a task completed rather than an employee of the company.

Brand councils work for all sizes
At this point, you should not be thinking this is just for big companies. Brand councils are great ways to get your team members together and to make sure they are all on the same page no matter what size company you manage. If I only had three people in my company, I'd still recommend having a brand council. It is a formal time set aside to discuss your brand strategy without the daily pressures that force tactical decisions rather than long-term strategy development.

James R. Gregory is founder and chairman of CoreBrand (www.corebrand.com), a global brand strategy, communications and design firm headquartered in New York, with offices in Los Angeles and nationwide. He helps clients develop strategies to improve their corporate brands and bottom-line performance. Jim lives in Bradenton and serves on the board of directors for Tervis Corp. in Venice. Contact him at (212) 329-3055 or [email protected]

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