Helen Edward's column in Marketing really is a great read. In a recent column (subscription needed) she complained that the majority of prizes at The Marketing Society Awards were for communication, not for more fundamental business revitalisation.
Beyond Image Wrapper Branding
This reminded me of one of my first ever posts on this blog about what I call "brand-led business". I used Apple as an example of this approach, using the brand idea to drive everything they do: the stores, partnerships with brand like Nike, product design, the OS user interface.
For companies like Apple, the brand is the business is the brand. In contrast, many other companies still think branding means creating an "image wrapper" of communication and visual identity to cover up a mediocre product (see below).
Helen seems to be on the same wavelength, saying: "Consumers don't really 'need' communications. What consumers need is better products, improved service, easier lives. The proper job of marketers it to identify, or better still, anticipate, these needs and imagine ways to fulfill them that lead to sustainable returns."I love the examples she gives of what this would mean for different businesses. For example, "If we are to meet our promise as a feel-good bank, we need to invest another £55m in our call centres to shorten wait times."
But why don't more marketers focus on this "proper job", and content themselves with creating communication?
Brand-led business is hard
One key reason as Helen points out is that "It is harder, and a great deal riskier, than chosing whether to drop TV for online". Few marketing people have the balls and business knowledge to take on the bigger issues. To make things worse, the average tenure for marketing directors of c. 2 years means most of them are not round long enough to work on true business change. And even for marketers who are up for the challenge, organisation structure often gets in the way. In many companies, especially service businesses, marketing people have a communication role, with service delivery and customer experience in a different, more operational part of the company.
Brand-led business starts at the top
Brand-led business needs leadership from the very top. With this in place, it can happen, as is the case with McDonald's, who Helen picks out as a worthy winner of the Grand Prix in the Marketing Society awards. Back in 2008 I was posting on this example of brand revitalisation here, suggesting that the re-vamp of the total experience would pay-off as it included everything from food to decor and staff training. This has delivered a stunning 24 successive quarters of growth for the company.