Worst Brand Management Mistake CEOs Make

Every so often when I bring up the subject of brand value or brand differentiation to a CEO or business owner, I hear the response, “…oh yeah, our marketing team handles that.”

As someone who works with CEOs to build stronger and more relevant brands that improve metrics such as sales, awareness, uniqueness and advocacy, it’s one of the most difficult things for me to hear. Let me explain…

At the time when someone decides to give up the security of having a good paying, stable job with great benefits to start his own company, he must invest a substantial amount of time and energy into answering two fundamental business questions:

  • When I open my doors, why will people want to buy from me instead of from my well established and proven competitors, most of whom have a great reputation? This is the burning question that requires a clear and decisive answer for all brands – not just start-ups, and it must have much more substance than “better” service delivery and/or “better” product quality, because that is what everyone claims. The answer to this question has nothing to do with marketing. The answer to this question serves as the foundation of the brand. Marketing simply promotes the answer through a combination of communication vehicles.
  • As my business grows, why will high-quality people take a chance on working for me – a start-up, instead of one of my well established competitors who provide great compensation packages? When a new entrepreneur begins interviewing high-quality, high-demand people in his industry, the candidates will be cross interviewing to get an understanding of what the company stands for, its cause (a.k.a. the “why”) and its values. A company’s purpose, cause and values have nothing to do with marketing – it serves as the foundation of the employer brand.

When a CEO loses sight of why she started her business in the first place, decides to surrender the brand over to a marketing person, or worse, a freelance designer, the brand will soon be diluted to the point where nearly all unique brand value and differentiation becomes lost. It’s not an insult to people in these professions – defining a brand is something a marketing person or designer simply cannot do because it is not their company. It doesn’t matter how talented or experienced a marketing director or artist is, they are not you, the CEO. They cannot answer the two questions that kept you up countless, sleepless nights. The answers are so innate, so personal and so visceral that it is often times hard to put into words. The most important job of the CEO is to maintain ownership of the brand and make sure the brand promise is delivered through every person in every function one hundred percent of the time, and to make sure it is properly communicated through a solid marketing strategy and great design. Anything different would be the worst brand management decision a CEO could make.