The cover pages of Fortune, the US business magazine, recently carried a headline we all knew would have to appear some time. “Brands are back,” it declared, apparently astonished at its discovery.
Ever since Marlboro Friday, marketers have known that “death of the brand” hype was off the mark. But as the rest of the world begins to come round about the issue of brands, there’s little cause for rejoicing: the marketing profession’s own crisis remains as deep as ever.
Brands in general may be back, but there’s still growing unease about the fast-moving consumer goods (fmcg) model of branding. Ever since McKinsey published its article on marketing’s mid-life crisis, doubts about the role and future of the marketing department have, if anything, grown.
And with the flood of new and unsettling developments – from the globalisation of brands and marketing structures, through the burgeoning media revolution, to the rise of one-to-one marketing and the emergence of new disciplines like internal marketing – marketers know there’s much they should be thinking about and doing. Yet somehow they never really have the time. Everyone knows the old marketing machine is broken. Many experts have suggestions as to what to do with various parts. But no-one yet knows how to fix the machine as a whole.
A powerful attempt to do so has now been made. In a new volume – The Brand Chartering Handbook – author Chris Macrae of the World Class Branding Network suggests a framework for companies to manage the current swirl of change and benefit from the energy it generates. He also develops a coherent and inspiring vision for marketing’s future: as overseer of the company’s brand architecture. Because brand architecture “interconnects with all other core business processes” this is “the ultimate megaprocess”, he declares.
Traditionalists won’t like some of Macrae’s conclusions. He is, for example, firmly in the “marketing is too important to be left to marketing department” camp.
The classical brand management system has bred a non-entrepreneurial bias, spawned a proliferation of brands and accompanying power battles as managers fight over resources for each brand.
It has also created what Macrae calls a value destroying syndrome, the main cause of which is the delegation of brand decisions to juniors whose time horizons are far too short.
Macrae also firmly believes the fmcg standalone brand model has passed its sell-by date. Throw out old ideas of targeting and selling based on fine product differences. Bring in the sustainable marketing of a leader’s purpose. And bring alive all the connections which a smart brand relationship can cultivate with the three Cs: end consumers, company employees, customers (such as trade channels).
“The classical brand management system encouraged companies to brand products. Recently it has become far more important to brand businesses instead,” he writes. “The focus of your brand equity needs to be changed to higher-level banner brands which represent brand organisations [not just brands] to consumer and customer.”
But the core of Macrae’s contribution is his brand charter. Marketing’s key task, he argues, is to manage brand junctions, where many people’s inputs come together to create the brand’s added value and where consumers experience (or fail to experience) a brand’s relationship holistically.
Macrae codifies 12 main brand junctions. Not all companies need to focus on all of them, he stresses. Though, he adds, it’s a pretty good idea to know whether you have developed an awful black spot with any of them.
Some of them are quite familiar. Under the creating heading, for example, Macrae gathers brand essence, identity, heritage/friendship, and future news – issues which loom large for all those dealing with traditional marketing, advertising, design, PR etc. Under managing, he puts other familiar issues such as master briefing (use and deployment of different media) and the quality and value balance along with newer themes such as “umbrella connections” (the revolutionary topic of umbrella branding), and flow/networking.
This is the management task of making sure that all contributors to the creation of the brand’s value really understand what the brand stands for and where it is going. It also ensures the company has an organisational structure capable of giving consistency over time and through personnel changes – so that the “brand process flows reassuringly as smart service relationships with consumers and customers”.
The third level is directing. Included under this is directing brand architecture, with the aim of integrating and maximising a company’s total goodwill and leadership capabilities. According to Macrae, this involves moving beyond fragmented brand portfolios to get the most out of potential linkages, either by presenting two brands together in ways which offer consumers the best of both worlds, or cultivating valuable alliances with other organisations.
An overview of the whole brand portfolio is essential to see how each brand brick fits to create the whole brand building, he points out. Only then can sensible decisions be made as to whether it should be a traditional standalone brand, a product sub brand, corporate sub-brand, or um-brella brand; a local, regional, or global brand; a tactical or strategic brand.
Other directing junctions include being a strategy architect (moving beyond planning to invent/build the brand’s longer-term future); being an organisation architect (where banner brands become a Unique Organising Purpose for global companies); and the drama of leadership. “Strong brands are never managed,” says Macrae. “They are always led.” They cultivate a sense of purpose, especially internally. And they use this sense of purpose to drive forward, to “accelerate the future”, often by creating discontinuity in competitors’ supply chains.
Separately, none of these issues are new. But part of marketing’s recent crisis has been its inability to fit the swirl of new ideas and developments into a coherent whole. Now, in this book, a leading brand management thinker has started to forge some sort of synthesis.
As Macrae says in his introduction, “there has never been a more exciting time for marketing and branding”.