How to Run a Brand with the Brand Leader Front and Centre

Brand LeadershipPeople outside of marketing tend to think marketing is rather easy.  It’s just a bunch of TV ads, sell sheets, twitter accounts, new products and spending endless money without any ROI or responsibility.  People debate the value of marketing.  During a downturn, it is the first thing that gets cut.  Some companies have even begun separating product from brand–what a mistake.  The two have to be one, not two.  Other companies are sales led, selling what they have, with marketing following what sales needs.  And there’s even recent debate going on that the CEO should drive the brand.   The CEO should focus on being the CEO.   Why hire talented, high-priced marketers if you’re just going to over-rule them and micro-manage the brand.    And shouldn’t the CEO stick to doing their own job, driving the results for the shareholders and inspiring greatness for everyone in the company.

Instead of driving marketing down, it is time to build Brand Management back up and placing them front and centre within your organization.  Everything in the company should feed off the Brand DNA.  The Brand DNA (some call it the Brand Essence) is the most succinct definition of the Brand.  For Volvo, it’s Safety, while BMW might be Performance and Mercedes is Luxury.  The Tool I use to determine a Brand’s DNA revolves around the Brand’s personality, the products and services the brand provides, the internal beacons that people internally rally around when thinking about the brand and consumer views of the Brand.  What we normally do is brainstorm 3-4 words in each section and then looking collectively begin to frame the Brand’s DNA with a few words or a phrase to which the brand can stand behind.


The Brand DNA should help frame 1) Brand Plan that drives the business for the upcoming year or the next 5 years 2) Brand Positioning that connects to the consumer through marketing communications 3) Customer Value Proposition that links the consumer needs to the benefits of the brand 4) Go-To-Market strategy that frames the distribution and the selling process 5) Cultural Beacons that help define the brand internally through values, inspiration and challenge and finally 6) Business Results, with each brand offering a unique way that it makes money.   Each of these six needs feed off the Brand DNA, look to the definition as a guideline for how to align to the brand.  

When you begin to blow this out one step further, you can start to see where the complexity comes into play with each of the six areas have their own needs that should still feed off that Brand DNA.

  • The planning area should help to frame the Brand Plan which is a combination of a one year Brand Plan and a 3-5 year strategic plan.  The Vision and Mission provide the future direction, objectives align to the Business needs and Brand Funnel objectives and Strategies and Tactics help to drive towards those objectives.  Included as well should be a Calendar and Budgets.  For a tutorial on how to write a Brand Plan, click on the following link:  How to Write a Brand Plan
  • From the DNA, map out a positioning statement that can help frame the Marketing Communications plan.  That includes the creative big idea, the media mix, earned media (PR, Events) social media, key influencers (e.g. Doctors or Contractors or Bloggers).  As well, the positioning frames the identity which could include logo, language, look and feel and brand book.  My hope is that you don’t change this very often.   Looking at the complexity of the Brand Management system outlined here, it baffles me that Brands facing tough times reach for changing their logo so quickly when so many other factors could be driving the issues.  For a tutorial on writing Creative Briefs, click on:  How to Write an Effective Creative Brief
  • The Go-To-Market plan should also feed off the Brand DNA and come out of the Brand Plan.  The Distribution strategy and needs should match up to the needs of the brand, including decisions around Key Account focus, pricing, sku mix, promotion and the possible role of new products.  In a fast-moving category like cereal or gum, or a high technology driving category like computers, phones or TVs, both share a high need for product innovation.  For brands that require in store selling, you should also include the In-store experience which could be demonstration, signage or trial as well as possible selling messages for sales people on the floor of the distribution channel.  These messages should feed directly from the brand messages.
  • The Customer Value Proposition outlines the relationship of the consumer needs to the Benefits offered by the Brand.  First, map out the 2-3 consumer insights that epitomize the needs of your consumer target.  When you list out the main features that you can offer, you’ll start to begin to match up these features into a zone where you see benefits.   With each feature, put yourself in the shoes of your consumer and say “so what do I get” and push yourself until the benefits come alive.  Remember, your consumer doesn’t care what you do until you begin caring what they need.  Try to find a balance of rational (thinking) and emotional (feeling) benefits and provide those to everyone that might touch the brand.   Within this area, you should track insights, target segments, use a brand review to find the changes within the consumer.  The brand funnel provides a great tool for measuring brand health with Awareness, Consideration, Trial, Purchase, Repeat and Loyalty.  To me, it’s like keeping track of your internal health such as Blood Pressure or Cholesterol scores.
  • The R&D plan should feed off the Brand DNA and develop products that match the brand.  Too many times, R&D is in their own world, trying to invent things that have nothing to do with where the brand sits.  They expect marketing to be able to sell their inventions.  Even in a technology driven business, Apple is driven first by the consumer.  Steve Jobs really understood that you don’t just sell what you have.
  • Brand also drives the Culture and the DNA should provide a beacon for the People to follow.  The brand story told within the company is even more important than what you might tell the market through your advertising.    Talent management means hiring the right people and providing the right training.   Too many companies are cutting back on training.   Remember that better people produce better work that drives better results.   Keep investing in your people and the business results will come.  Empower your people to get the most from their ideas.  Leverage values, inspirational touch points and processes to inspire and challenge them on achieving greatness.
  • Brand drives the Business Results.  Slide1 The more loved a brand, the more tightly the connection it has with their consumers.  This connection becomes a source of power that the brand can wield in the market to drive higher growth rate and profitability.   The Brand Leader is responsible for driving the P&L, driving sales and share, managing the forecast and costs for an efficiently run brand.  The Brand Leader must figure out the levers of the P&L it can use to drive more profits.  For a tutorial on driving profits through your brand, click on:  How to Drive Profits through Your Brand

Putting the Brand Leader front and centre will allow you to leverage the Brand DNA into each of the areas of your business, whether that’s marketing, sales, R&D, finance or human resources.  Brand should be at the centre of this hub, with each area looking to the Brand DNA as a beacon of how they can do their job most effectively in helping the brand drive long-term growth and profitability.

To read more on this subject, read the following presentation:


And once you get your plan done, here’s a summary on Brand Management:  


Brand LeadershipI run the Brand Leader Learning Center,  with programs on a variety of topics that are all designed to make better Brand Leaders.  To read more on how the Learning Center can help you as a Brand Leader click here:  Brand Leadership Learning Center

To read other stories on Brand Leadership, click on any of the topics below:

There is a Facebook page called Brand Leadership Learning Center” at 

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If you or team has any interest in a training program, please contact me at

About Graham Robertson: I’m a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands.  My background includes 20 years of CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke. The reason why I started Beloved Brands Inc. is to help brands realize their full potential value by generating more love for the brand.   I only do two things:  1) Make Brands Better or 2) Make Brand Leaders Better.  I have a reputation as someone who can find growth where others can’t, whether that’s on a turnaround, re-positioning, new launch or a sustaining high growth.  And I love to make Brand Leaders better by sharing my knowledge. My promise to you is that I will get your brand and your team in a better position for future growth.  To read more about Beloved Brands Inc., visit   or visit my Slideshare site at where you can find numerous presentations on How to be a Great Brand Leader.  Feel free to add me on Linked In at  or on follow me on Twitter at @GrayRobertson1

48 thoughts on “How to Run a Brand with the Brand Leader Front and Centre

  1. Loved your story Graham – but you’re wrong to sideline the CEO. Brand Managers have the responsibility and the passion for driving the brand but only the CEO has sole accountability for success of the brand in the marketplace. If the branded product doesn’t sell in at the right price to generate sustainable margins, the CEO can not deliver for the shareholders. When you accept the role of your CEO, you’ll be well on your way to being a well rounded marketer. You’re clearly able to present our story with a talent that needs to be shared.

  2. There’s no right or wrong, there are just choices. And I’m not sure I sidelined the CEO, but I am hoping the CEO does their job and not play the role of “super brand manager” and get into everyone else’s business. And let’s not glorify the CEO as the be all. Most do not have a marketing mindset. Many are not investing in the brand for the long term, but driving the brand for short term gain, knowing their term could equally be short term. The micro-managing CEO that was Steve Jobs should be rare. The CEO that has to be the smartest person in the room doesn’t inspire leaders. Here’s a David Ogilvy story for you: At a global management meeting he handed each executive a Russian babushka doll. Inside was written. “This doll symbolizes this agency. If we hire hire people smaller than ourselves, we become a company of midgets. If we hire people bigger than us, we become a company of giants.” I really think he was on to something.

    Where you and I likely disagree is it sounds like you want a “top down” follow me approach and I want a “bottom up” you lead approach. That’s not right or wrong but just a choice. I believe in the idea that the better the people, the better the work and the better the results. As the head of marketing, i wanted my people to lead me.

    One of the best CEOs I ever worked for, had a very interesting line that he shared with me. At first I thought it sounded crazy, but as I moved up, it all made sense. “Every time I make a decision, I weaken myself”. To me, a great CEO hires great people and pushes them to be even greater. Another great leader once told me that great people are like thoroughbreds. They need to be run fast and hard, but they also need stroking and coddling. But they should never be constrained.

    For me, I want that brand manager to own it. I want them to run the brand. My role, as their boss, is to challenge and inspire them. Push them, guide them, and support them. But I need to give them the chance to lead me. A great brand manager makes me follow them. I used to purposefully say “I have zero budget and no brand, I follow you, so lead me”.

    I know when I was coming up, I would have quit on the CEO you offer. Yet for one that wants to challenge and inspire me, I’d work 80 hours a week for. I want a CEO who wants me to be great. And lets me do what they hired me to do. Run the brand. Leadership is not just about being out front. It’s also about turning around and seeing others following you.

    So David, there is no right and wrong. But I do know that I’d love to compete with a company led by the hand of the CEO.

  3. Dear Graham, The Article is good. Would like to add few of my thoughts to it. I am forced to agree with Mr.David. Don’t get angry. Will explain my reason.

    I believe the brand is created by the organization. But over a period of time the organization is seen or perceived by the feeling the brand creates, if positioning done properly. People forgets what they seen, what they heard, but they don’t forget how they felt.

    And if a company has provided best of products and best of services, people associate that with the brand and that’s the feeling they carry over for that brand.

    So to achieve this objective, the brand DNA has to have a close or inseparable association with the Vision & Mission of the Organization.

    A CEO, who is in charge of profit making for the organization and wealth creation for the share holders, has to always have the Vision & Mission in his TOM (top of the mind) for every decision he is making, whether on Business Development, Operation or on Finance & Admin.

    So this man literally has to live with the Vision & Mission and naturally thus more attached to the Vision & Mission which is the life line for any organization.

    Once brand positioning is over, then when the stage of enhancing the Brand Reach comes. Here as the strategy normally moves on to Penetration Mode. There Brand Manager, who would have by then formed an endearing love for his brand, may be tempted to do a high branding exercise (meaning, creating an high expectation, which is difficult to cater). If such a situation happens, it can have a detrimental effect on the brand.

    But a CEO who is attached to the Vision & Mission, and who is aware of the deliverable capacity of the organization, will be the right person to point it out.

    May be how the CEO handles the situation decides what sort of CEO he is. Instead of pointing out it as a mistake – which is not actually – he takes the guard of patience, and make the Brand Manager see the objective of that exercise is not in line with the Vision & Mission of the Organization – stroking & coddling like you rightly said – without the killing the josh of the Brand Manager, then the CEO makes a mark.
    So what I would like to drive home is an effective Brand Manager is important, but he should not be allowed to overpower the CEO in the brand decision.

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