The CEO Doesn’t Get It!

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A reader recently called to talk about a problem with her CEO. For reasons that are about to become abundantly clear, this reader will remain nameless.

She told me that she and her work group have great energy to develop a branding program for their company. They want to bring the company “out of the dark ages” of a production/sales mentality, into a new day.

But the CEO isn’t having it. He doesn’t think branding applies to his company and doesn’t see it as a priority. How, the reader asked, could she convince him otherwise?

I’d like to imagine CEOs like this don’t exist – surely he must have some idea of the potency of branding. But I’ve heard more stories like these than I can number. I’ve heard the same story about presidents, veeps and the rest of C-suite.

My friend Doug Hall has some advice for difficult work situations. He says you have three choices, which I’ll paraphrase:

1) Never ever, ever, ever give up.

The biggest issue may be one of understanding. Maybe the CEO sees branding as an initiative involving logos, websites and sales collateral.

But branding is not an initiative – it’s everything you do. It’s happening right now, and it will continue to happen as long as the company exists. The only question is whether it will be managed or not. If it shapes perceptions, it’s branding – because your brand is simply a perception in someone else’s mind.

As one example, ask the CEO to consider a major airline, such as Delta – and the actions they take that influence our perceptions of their brand.

How about their flight schedule? If they’re not going where you want to go, you can’t experience the Delta brand.

How about their hiring and training practices? At some point, Delta’s flight attendants, check-in staff, and/or call-center employees are going to shape your opinion.

How about Delta’s ability to land their planes on time? The in-flight meal (or lack thereof)? The cleanliness of the plane? The price you paid for your ticket? The ease of use of the website? How Delta handles issues when they arise?

All these factors and more define the Delta brand in our minds. In other words, these are all branding issues, even though they cut across operations, management and human resources. So a branding program can’t start and end with your marketing department – it has to be led from the top. Who better to effect these decisions in a brand-positive way than the CEO?

This simple example has helped many a CEO understand that their brand is everything they do.  And that a cohesive, consistent branding program must be a core element of effective management strategy.

You can also find out what motivates the CEO. If he’s a sales guy, there’s plenty of data to show that true branding drives sales. Otherwise, why bother? If he’s a finance guy, the numbers are clear that intangible brand equity can account for a half or more of a company’s total valuation.

Get creative. Enlist co-worker support. Visit the CEO daily with reminders about the importance of branding. Forward columns and articles that deliver the message. Barrage him with info, and don’t stop until he’s fully on board.

Oh, yeah – the two other options for tough work situations:

2) Sit down, shut up and sell out.

If you’re not going to work to change the situation, then you have no right to bitch about it. Sit at your desk quietly and accept it.

3) Beat it.

Ride off into the sunset. If corporate leadership simply won’t be moved, then say goodbye. Plenty of companies understand the power of branding. If it’s important to you, you’ll find your way to one of them.

I hope you pick door #1. And I wish you success. Because there’s plenty of room in this great big goofy world for one more strong brand.

A version of this post appeared in the Cincinnati Business Courier on December 14, 2007, in the column “That Branding Thing.” Originally co-written with David Wecker.

About Matthew Fenton: Matthew helps challenger brands to focus, grow and win.  Since founding his consultancy, Three Deuce Branding, in 1997, he’s helped hundreds of brands to achieve “brand clarity.”  His consulting services and speaking engagements help brands to focus on what matters through positioning, strategy and ideation.  Contact Matthew here.  He calls Chicago home.

Copyright 2007 – Matthew Fenton.  All Rights Reserved.  You may reprint this article with the original, unedited text intact, including the About Matthew Fenton section.