The Truth About Brand Leadership...

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Marketing is changing. We all know it. We may argue about how much, how fast, and what next, but not about the reality of change itself.

But just because we know it, does that mean companies will adapt?

I was taken by Tim Suther's recent post, Why Aren't More Companies Shifting To Treat Their Best Customers Best? In it, he asks "if customer centricity is so compelling, why do so few companies embrace it fully?". After all, the economic benefits of focusing on existing customers have been well known and proven, for at least a decade or more.

And then there's Bill Lee's provocative Marketing Is Dead. He asserts that "many people in traditional marketing roles and organizations may not realize they're operating with a dead paradigm".

I might disagree on the lack of awareness. But what both touch on, is how difficult it is for companies to change their approach to marketing.


In my experience, there's 3 major issues:

1. Marketing's version of the Innovator's Dilemma.
If the model that successfully built the brand is still producing results, why shift to something new and unproven?

After all, the capabilities have been built, and the processes embedded in the organization, and institutionalized in the budget. Supermarkets' adherence to the weekly circular is just one small example.

Unfortunately, by the time it stops producing results, it's too late…

2. Marketing's version of Predictable Irrationality.
The value of building long term customer relationships may be beyond doubt. But the immediate boost from short-term promotions, and acquiring new customers, is just too tempting.

And once that boost is in the sales base, it's difficult not at least to match it the following year, just to protect sales growth...

Just look at the impact of switching from short-term promotions, to everyday low pricing, on JC Penney's sales this year.

3. It's not in the gift of the CMO alone.
Whatever view you take of the changes needed, the days of creating an external image for a brand, at odds with the company behind it, are gone.

Any new marketing model in today's environment, requires a company wide approach, to be effective. The brand is the culture, and the culture is the brand.

So what's needed?

In short, a CEO, who sees their role as the brand leader, as much as the business leader.

The late Steve Jobs, of course, immediately comes to mind, as do Howard Shultz at Starbucks, Tony Hsieh at Zappos, and Jeff Bezos at Amazon. Fortunately, there's more.

I was lucky enough to work for one at Tesco, Sir Terry Leahy. He focused Tesco around customer centricity. Under his leadership, Tesco moved from being a UK supermarket business, to the 3rd largest retailer in the world. His recent book, Management in Ten Words,  tells you all you need to know about his approach.

I also had the pleasure of interviewing on stage recently AG Lafley, the CEO of Procter & Gamble (2000-2010). Again it struck me, here was a business leader, who talked customer and brand first.

Of course, there's more to making such changes happen than just the CEO.

But without such leadership from the top, the changes needed are unlikely to take root...

Until it's too late...