Opinion: Meddling with a brand does not help manage it

Last week, Matthew Barrett, the new chief executive of Barclays, made his first public appearance, to deliver the full-year results. Along with announcing a 30% rise in operating profit, he said all the right things about boosting Barclays’ presence on the internet.

Last week, Matthew Barrett, the new chief executive of Barclays,

made his first public appearance, to deliver the full-year results.

Along with announcing a 30% rise in operating profit, he said all the

right things about boosting Barclays’ presence on the internet.



He also discussed the importance of branding, in terms of exploiting the

potential for brands such as Barclaycard to become what he calls a

’global monoline’.



And that just has to provoke a somewhat weary sigh. Why? Because he

joins the growing group of chief executives who, despite a lack of solid

marketing experience, talk the talk of branding, but whose ability to

walk the walk is still unproven.



The problem is that when heads of companies wake up to the fact that

their brand really is important, the results are too often less about

active brand management and more about active brand-meddling.



What many of them don’t readily grasp is that branding is more than a

catchy phrase and quirky advertising, as Duane Knapp, a branding

consultant, points out in his recent book, The Brand Mindset. There are

still too few examples of companies with the mindset that brand strategy

is not only a thought process stemming from the top, but emphasised as

the key business strategy, he argues.



What happens when the chief executive talks about how critical branding

is, without a real understanding of what that means in practice, is

nowhere more evident than in the case of Bob Ayling of BA. His position

at the helm of the airline came under attack yet again last week when

the BA share price slipped below 275p, something he had promised last

November would never happen.



There are many justifications given for Ayling’s woes, but the nub of

the issue has to be an inability to match brand promise with brand

reality.



Compare him with Jorman Ollila of Nokia, who in just eight years has

used his strong brand vision to transform Nokia from a conglomerate with

businesses in areas such as chemicals, tyres, cables and TV sets into a

tightly-branded, highly-focused, telecoms star brand.



Sometimes it’s not so much about meddling as about arrogance, especially

in companies which have coasted on their reputation as the ultimate

brand managers. Levi’s, for example, has now had to use its valuable

trademark and other assets as collateral to secure more funding in the

midst of a less than sterling performance.



Recent research published by the organisers of the Marketing Forum

underlines the lack of connection between what’s said and what’s done.

The research, carried out on board the Oriana last September, found that

the concepts of brand marketing and total business activity are becoming

increasingly synonymous, especially in service industries.



However, many of the participants pointed out that senior management

tends to be ’insulated’ from customer issues, whether by accident or

design.



This leads to a diffusion of the brand message due to a lack of overall

unifying factors. In other words, the head of the company is not making

sure all bases are covered when it comes to what the brand should stand

for.



Maybe the answer is for chief executives to talk less about branding and

put more of their energy into making sure the brand speaks successfully

for itself. After all, actions speak louder than words.





Laura Mazur is a business writer and author.



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