Elevating the Role of Brand

“Brand is not a product of marketing. Brand is a driver of business.” This is a perspective that not all companies have come to terms with. It’s a perspective that sets forward-thinking businesses ahead in their respective industries. Recognizing that the brand plays a bigger role than the marketing function allows businesses to leverage this asset to ignite and elevate the performance of the company across all departments. And oftentimes that means bringing brand to the C-suite with the creation of a “Chief Brand Officer” or similar roles.

To dig into this topic, we started by looking at the rise of the “Chief Brand Officer” role in many prominent companies. Yes, sometimes the CBO role is a fancy name for the top marketing executive with expanded responsibilities. However, our research shows that more commonly such roles are put in charge of leading the company’s strategy and aligning a broad range of functions to deliver on the long-term vision. Brand defines the purpose, the vision, the direction. CBO is truly a business leadership role – not a marketing executive job – setting direction from innovation and growth to culture and operations, to finance and investments.

Brand strategy and marketing professionals often talk about the difference between big B and little b. The distinction comes down to a tactical and strategic view of brand. A tactical approach to brand (or branding) is a function of marketing – focused on The 4 Ps of Marketing (product, price, place, promotion) – and measured in the short-term on monthly, quarterly, or annual basis, generally defined as Marketing Return on Investment. It’s driven by business reporting practices and is easy to measure. But what you measure is what you get. In this instance, you get short-term results based on an incremental lift on your typical return. Repeated every reporting cycle month-to-month, year-after-year.

With brand elevated to the C-suite and its role understood in the broader strategic context, brand is liberated to drive business in the long-term. With focus shifting away from the 4 Ps, CBOs have a mandate of business sustainability, fueled by an elevated meaning of brand and measured by long-term metrics. For example:

  • When General Mills created the CBO role at the end of 2021, the focus was specifically on growth leadership to drive relevance and innovation.
  • Krispy Kreme in Australia chose to double down on building “love of the brand” rather than aggressive marketing promotions to move ahead of the competition in the long-term.
  • P. Morgan Chase CBO Leanne Fremar highlights customer response as the ultimate success metric for the brand.

When applying a long-term, strategic perspective, brand impact can be attributed in many ways, such as:

  • By customer loyalty and brand-following
  • Differentiation and competitive measures
  • Cost reductions
  • Innovation and overall proactivity in light of market dynamics

Not as straightforward to measure, but undoubtedly long-term business success indicators. As such, brand is viewed and recognized for its role as a driver of business results (instead of “returns” in the short-term).

Not every company and organization is ready for an elevated perspective on the brand. Those who are, recognize that brand is an expression of a greater purpose that stands behind everything the company does and creates alignment in how it is achieved. In our experience at Northbound, the perspective of the brand has less to do with the age or size of a company, but rather with the maturity of its leaders. Startups and large, long-standing companies alike can build a brand that transcends short-term pressures and propels the business (and people inside and outside the organization!) to sustainable growth.

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