Brand as a management tool

Don’t be misled. It’s a huge missed opportunity to consider your brand as merely a marketing tool aimed primarily at an external audience, and/or something that is too abstract to play a leading role in operations. It’s actually one of the most powerful tools that leadership teams can use to get their organisations functioning optimally. 

Depending on where you sit, this might make perfect sense to you. Or it might sound like complete nonsense. If you’re in the latter camp, that’s ok. I can understand why many still see this thing called brand as not really important to the actual business of doing stuff; it’s just a lot of fluff and marketing bollocks. Your skepticism is noted and understood.

However, what if I told you your skepticism is unfounded? What would be the implications?

Treat this as food for thought, or just a short reading break between emails, but I put to you the following: brand is arguably the most comprehensive (and powerful) tool at your disposal to help you achieve organisational excellence and, in turn, achieve great financial results. In other words, brand is your best bet to manage the actual business of getting stuff done.

If you sit in the latter camp, let’s see if I can make a dent in that skepticism with two thoughts. I’ll lean on the work of others to help inject some objectivity.

Thought #1: Purpose gives you a competitive edge

In 2009, Simon Sinek gave a TED talk on How great leaders inspire action. He introduced and explained his concept of the Golden Circle. It consists of three concentric circles with a question in each one: from the inside out, why, how, and what. Every organisation in the world knows its what (what they do). Some organisations even know their how (their unique value proposition or USP). But very few organisations know their why (their reason for being, or their higher purpose, which is on a far more fundamental level than making money). The most important and fundamental question that needs to be addressed is why, followed by how, and then what.

Sinek's findings show that leaders able to define their why create a huge competitive advantage for their organisations —by being able to inspire action. His point is that the why gives people a reason to believe, and with that belief, you can build incredible loyalty. This reasoning applies as equally to customers as it does to employees, partners, and even investors. (And I would even argue that your employees’ loyalty is far more important than your customers’…but we’ll leave that discussion for another post). He makes a strong case for why those individuals and organisations with a strong sense of purpose consistently outperform those without a true sense of purpose.

That true sense of purpose is exactly what a brand is meant to capture. Your brand is your why. However, in the time it took to turn what remains of my hair into more salt than pepper, most of the organisations I’ve seen have only ever defined their brand in terms of the how and the what. The why always remaining unaddressed. So these brands are incomplete to start with, and consequently lack any fundamental substance. That is the fluffiness you perceive, but I promise you it’s not the brand’s fault. 

Without a clear why (brand purpose) it is very difficult to get effective alignment and collaboration across an organisation. Without that shared sense of purpose, all organisations feel like they are pulled in many different directions at the same time.

Of course, purpose is not strategy. All the organisations I’ve ever worked with had a strategy in place. Granted these strategies were in varying degrees of clarity, but nevertheless there was always one in place. And yet the leaders within these organisations complained about the same symptoms: the sense of having a fragmented organisation; departments working in silos rather than collaboratively; insufficient and inefficient communications, in both content and delivery; performance metrics encouraging the wrong behaviours; decision-making cultures that either take too long, involve too many people, or both; and people who are more concerned with protecting their turf rather than doing what’s in the best interests of the organisation. 

If any of this sounds familiar, I can tell you with a good degree of certainty that your organisation's brand is lacking a true sense of purpose. 

However, purpose without action is meaningless, right? That brings me to my second point. 

Thought #2: Purpose drives performance

In a Harvard Business Review article titled How great companies think differently, Rosabeth Moss Kanter describes six ways that great companies use institutional logic as an advantage that can radically change performance. (It’s a really good article, and if you’ve made it this far, I recommend you take a read).

In a list that includes things like innovation, long-term thinking, and partnering with the public, number one is having a common purpose. She asserts that purpose and values are inextricably linked, and together are the core elements that: 1) buffer an organisation against uncertainty and change, and 2) guide peoples’ efforts to serve the business and society.

In essence, Kanter’s idea of a common purpose is the same as Sinek’s why. However, Kanter talks about the role of values as the principles guiding behaviour, thinking, and decision-making in the organisation. We should all agree that any brand worth its salt should have a defined set of values and that, in theory, these same values should guide behaviour, thinking, and decision-making in any enterprise.

Connecting the dots

Let’s step back and connect the dots. 

If purpose drives belief, and belief drives loyalty, and loyalty drives business success (even perhaps exclusively), then by definition: purpose drives business success.

Since a strong brand captures that true sense of purpose, and already encompasses the values that dictate behaviour, thinking, and decision-making, it is the perfect tool to modulate product development, service delivery, internal and external messaging, story, budgeting, operational excellence, and innovation. Leadership that employs brand as a holistic organisational filter can bridge organisational values, culture, operations, profitability and ultimate success, hence directing, shaping, and aligning its entire organisation.

And so, it appears we’ve come full circle.

Brand is one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal to get your organisation functioning optimally, but only under one condition: that you actually use it as such, and not simply for marketing purposes. 

As the saying goes, “It’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools”. If your brand still feels like fluff, then, again, I promise you it’s not the brand’s fault.