For the past eight years, Omobono has completed annual research on the state of marketing for global business brands. Gleaned from more than 1,100 participants around the world, this year’s research, in partnership with Marketing Week, reveals key insights about a critical topic for marketing leaders: the strategic brand.
Our research shows that marketing leaders are experiencing a broadening shift in focus from a tactical view to a strategic one. When asked about their biggest marketing objectives over the next 12 months, marketers across the board report raising brand awareness is number one, above deepening customer relationships and strengthening thought leadership. Directly related to raising brand awareness, they report developing brand position as the third most important objective. This has risen in importance since 2011, when only 9% of marketers ranked it as most important.
A full 85% of our respondents report communicating a clear brand vision poses a major challenge. There is no doubt that brand is in the spotlight this year. And it’s because brand is central to business strategy as a recognised driver of business performance and commercial impact. Marketers face a two-part challenge: gaining visibility for the brand and clarity around what the brand actually represents.
Marketing makes gains in respect
Seventy-six per cent of our respondents say marketing is viewed as important within their organisations, with nearly half agreeing that it is very important (47%), while 61% agree that marketing’s importance has increased in the past two years. This means the perception of marketing is improving, which gives marketers more license to lead.
When asked about challenges, 90% of marketers indicate that ensuring business strategy is clearly understood by stakeholders is top of the list. Communicating a clear brand vision is a close second.
This correlates with what we have seen from our own clients over the past three years. Brand is increasingly seen as a central connection to and expression of the business strategy. Business strategy is a blueprint for the challenges and opportunities that the brand must address. Brand will lead the charge for the corporate strategy, ultimately embodying the company. Thus, business strategy informs marketing and the role of the
brand, and marketing now informs how we communicate strategy.
This explains why marketing leaders are increasingly partnering with the C-suite to translate business decisions into easy-to-share and easy-to-understand strategic frameworks. Why? If employees and management are unclear on the company’s direction and how they can lead in that direction, they cannot make the boat go faster. Marketing leaders are increasingly becoming the enablers of the C-suite.
Third-party research reveals that brand value represents 20% of a business’s market capitalisation on average. Having a strong brand is no longer “a marketing thing” or a nice-to-have. It’s a critical business asset. As one of our clients put it: a strong brand helps create air cover for all parts of the business, including sales.
C-Suite brand champions
The C-suite is increasingly understanding the value of brand awareness and positioning. Between an average eight-year CEO tenure, a four-year CMO tenure, and a three-year business transformation cycle, today’s organisations go through significant internal changes at a staggering pace. To transcend these changes, the brand must maintain its connections with vital audiences.
Between the overlap of CEOs and CMOs, internal championship of the brand changes frequently. Having the C-suite as a co-champion and partner with the CMO helps create continuity.
Further, our research shows that marketing is gaining influence cross-functionally and in the C-suite, as well as the boardroom. As a result, they are having a direct impact on overall business strategy.
Interestingly, “ensuring the organisation lives the brand” is ranked the least important marketing objective. On one level, we were not surprised – a previous edition of our research showed that only 18% of marketers had the value of the employer brand as one of their KPIs. On another level, we were surprised because we experience notable exceptions to this daily via our clients.
First, many organisations invest in their employer brands. This means understanding the value proposition of the business to current and potential employees, and applying that understanding to the external brand. After all, customers are 33% more likely to hear from someone in the company other than the marketing department. This begs the question: who is in charge of ensuring that what employees say (and how they behave) is on-brand? We are increasingly seeing that HR is stepping into this space as a strategic partner to both marketing and the C-suite.
Second, we are increasingly invited to help C-suite leaders in the midst of forming new organisational strategy. They realise that developing and activating a new corporate strategy is not just about bringing in the consultants to crunch numbers and help make decisions. It’s about getting that strategy out of the boardroom and into the hearts and minds of their people. This is especially important as today’s employees need to buy into the company more than ever before – its purpose, mission and impact on the world. The old directive modes of working no longer apply with millennials and younger generations.
By partnering with marketing, the C-suite can pressure-test the new strategy, help articulate its logic, and infuse it with a narrative and passion that makes sense to all employees, regardless of their level. Marketing is uniquely enabled to do that because, while they may not be business analysts, they will approach the strategy from the point of view of the audience: your people. After all, it’s your people who will bring your brand and strategy to life, meaning both must be clear and clearly important to them.
Landing the brand
A combined 94% of marketers feel brand awareness and brand positioning are their most important objectives, while business strategy is their number one challenge. There is a connection. The next 12 to 18 months will be crucial for marketers to take hold of their strategic brand imperative.
Marketers must identify how the brand brings the business strategy to life. Being closer to the business strategy means marketing has a more intimate knowledge of the challenges and opportunities the brand must address, both inside and outside the organisation. By making friends with the CEO, marketing can ensure business strategy is clearly understood by all – from crisp strategy playbooks, roadmaps and internal comms campaigns, all the way to measuring levels of understanding and adoption among employees. This is a chance of a lifetime to make a massive impact on the business. Will marketers step forward and raise the bar?
Philip Black is the US head of strategy at Omobono, the creative and tech agency for global business brands.