Embedding brand and marketing culture into your business

January 2011

One of the truly great things about my job is the broad mix of businesses I end up working with, and these currently include a Highland estate, premium food brand, leading wild bird-care brand, an industrial conglomerate with interests as diverse as security fencing and machine guarding (think something which stops a worker being killed by a moving robot in a car factory), a double glazing and timber frame house manufacturer, and not to leave out a major tourist attraction whose focus is the wild Atlantic Salmon.

Do these massively diverse businesses have anything in common other than their outstanding choice in brand and marketing consultant? In truth, and as you might expect, nothing entirely unifying which all patently share, but it would be fair to say that most, in varying degrees, have lacked an overriding culture which ensures that ‘brand’ is understood – both in a broad sense and their own – and all marketing activity is strategically driven. But then of course, part of my remit (agreed with the client or not…) is to make all of that happen, though not overnight and in some cases never completely – for reasons you’ll see further on.

Let me give you some examples. A client I’ve worked with for a few years, and following a recommendation from me, took on a bright young marketing exec to develop their digital channel. We tasked her with putting together a detailed digital plan and she’s done just that. But not just that, because what she’s done is brilliant – clever, insightful and thorough. Problem is though that getting it fully embraced by the business owner, and in a time scale which allows us to even just play catch-up with the competition (who are streets ahead), is going to be one tough call. And an example of how tough is that the business owner apparently described Facebook (in a marketing sense) as ‘bollocks’. That isn’t to say of course that the business owner isn’t a good person (they are), isn’t clever (they are), and hasn’t got rich by making good business decisions (they have), it’s just he’s from a different generation and both understanding and day-to-day priorities lie elsewhere. So the situation is one of excellent junior manager who completely gets digital and in the broadest brand and marketing sense, but in a culture, and driven by the business owner, who doesn’t.

Second example: Another client and another business owner, except that this time the man at the top completely gets the whole piece – and more. Problem is that the employees of his wide ranging industrial business don’t all get it, and that is partly driven by the nature of the businesses (think manual and industrial). Most weeks throw up something which alarms me, with actually two in the last few days. The first was an e-newsletter sent out by a sales manager (they’re generally the worst…) which was actually for December and included a Christmas ‘thank you’ message (complete with clipart Christmas tree) from the business owner – and much to his horror when I forwarded it on to him and pointed out we were in mid-January. Then a proposal from another sales person working in a different division of the same business, that we do ‘more consumer PR’ and to prove her point had been onto a national TV channel offering their services. Problem is, that consumers aren’t interested in this particular product (and it isn’t even sold direct to them) and the marketing strategy very much points towards trade PR – something very different and with different aims.

My two examples are both for SMEs (though one towards the high end of medium) and you could be forgiven for thinking that in larger businesses, and with dedicated marketing teams in place, the problem of not having a brand and marketing culture embedded in the business was much less. Not so. In fact it can actually be worse and a read through my October 2008 comment will clearly demonstrate this. What’s more, I’ve carried out very large consultancy projects in recent years for two businesses with an international presence (one who operates in more than 80 countries) and both suffered for the same reasons.

So it isn’t about size, it’s about success and that success is typically driven by a brand and marketing culture. That has long been the case and probably since the industrial revolution created brands as we know them now, but what’s changed is that digital is making it a necessity for business survival. Why? Because digital leaves nowhere for most businesses to hide. And no examples needed because you’ve probably already thought of five yourself.

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