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The Whiteboard: What determines brand success in your department? Answers vary

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Brands are ephemeral concepts. They can be as hard to measure as other human capacities. For example, could you quantify how much you love your children?

But brands also require an investment of time and money to stay effective and growing, so it's natural to seek a connection between that and your organization's larger goals.

Imagine a CEO asking his executive leadership team this question: "What determines brand success in your department?" This is what you might expect to hear:

The CFO: "Marketplace performance is the bottom line. No matter what we sell or how we sell it, there has to be a payoff in profits. That's why we're in business. But there are finer points to analyze than just quarterly profits. Having a strong brand helps us charge a premium for our products and service. It helps us make a good profit in the best times, and sustains us through down markets. Our brand is also one of our greatest assets. We have to consistently invest in the brand to sustain it and keep our customers coming back. We have to build equity in new products or services or in new geographic areas. Ultimately, however, it has to be worth our investment of time and money."

The VP of Sales/Customer Service: "Our department is where the company's brand has the most direct contact with our customers. Our sales team is promoting products on a daily basis. Our customer service group is handling questions and problems every minute of the day. The quality of those interactions is a huge part of how we deliver the brand of this company. It can't just be about being nice people who are easy to deal with and try to solve your problems. When we apply the principles of our brand to the everyday tasks of our business, we can push our customer experience to a higher level. And that makes our brand more successful."

The VP of Human Resources: "The quality of your internal brand culture is critical to having a strong outward brand. If you look at brands that are wildly successful in their markets, you will usually hear about the strength of their internal brand culture. By this, I mean how the company's employees understand and embrace the brand and how it bonds them together beyond the basics of a steady paycheck and benefits. The employees of successful brands generally demonstrate tremendous pride in their company. And when they go to work for other companies (if they ever do), their new employers want to know how to bring that kind of energy and focus to their new jobs, because they see how valuable it is."

Chief Marketing Officer: "Our primary purpose is generating the next lead, the next order, the next new customer. If you're an existing customer, I hope our brand has built enough equity with you to be the first choice the next time you need our product. If you're a new customer, I hope our marketing campaign around the brand has piqued your interest enough that you'll stop in our store, visit our website or at least give us a call. The easiest thing to do these days is to not change your behavior. Just buy the same stuff over and over. So, on one hand, I need a brand that will help me keep our customer base strong. But, on the other hand, I need a brand that will continually generate interest from new sources, so we can sustain our growth. That means a brand that can adapt to changes in the marketplace and customer demands without losing its focus."

The VP of Research and Development: "We are in charge of improving our existing products and developing new ones. For us, brand success is creating new products that fit our product line and deliver on the brand. A good analogy would be that Rolex doesn't make $50 watches, even though they could. We have to have the same discipline to maintain the brand."

Our hypothetical CEO has sat quietly, listening intently and nodding at each of the responses. He manages all of these perspectives as he guides his company or organization forward. He sees brand strategy integrated in each of his departments. He knows that successful brands generally affect all facets of a business in both the short-term and the long run.

Taking a cue from Procter & Gamble, to him the brand is the business and, while his team can evaluate it in the many ways listed above, the success of the company and the brand are one and the same.

David Taylor is president of Lancaster-based Taylor Brand Group, which specializes in brand development and marketing technology. Contact him via www.taylorbrandgroup.com.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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