What is a Chief Brand Officer?

What is a Chief Brand Officer?

Building a tribe around your brand requires a chief brand officer. Sure your CMO can broadcast your message, but the planning of the company’s image and direction is not in a CMO’s wheelhouse. Crafting and reinforcing your story and design requires a new or repositioned role focused solely around how the brand grows.

Branding Upstream: C-Level Brand Ownership

Marketing exists to communicate messages and ideas to a wide audience. A Chief Marketing Officer can craft a strategy to spread a brand’s message across the country or around the world. While CMOs are well-equipped to propagate ideas, it is beyond the scope of the marketer to decide what these ideas should be.

That’s where the Chief Brand Officer (CBO) comes in. A CBO is required to sit beside the CMO to oversee the cultivation of a coherent brand story and corresponding design vocabulary. This key executive presence provides a unifying force and singular focus to both the marketing department and the company or organization at large. Spreading a brand’s message is about delivering authentic brand experiences.

Branding Consistently: Does United Airlines Do it?

Some companies get this right, and others don’t. Profitable as the airline industry is, it’s been under attack from many sides.Without a CBO to develop and manage an airline’s brand story at a high level, individual marketing messages can be disparate and even counter-productive. For example, certain brand promises marketers make may be contradicted by other departments. United Airlines’s marketing might assure customers the company is “Flyer Friendly” but spreading this story isn’t relevant when United’s customer service scores a dismal one-star on consumer affairs or an embattled CEO resigns amidst a corruption scandal, while its incoming CEO begins his tenure with an apology. Indeed, infuriated users dedicated a website called untied.com to share their actual experiences of the brand and expose the glaring holes in United’s customer service. American Airlines made a similar miscalculation when it dropped its iconic logo designed by Massimo Vignelli for a sterile corporate “update”. To paraphrase Vignelli, companies without a sense of history don’t understand brand equity and will often make change for the sake of change.

Branding Authentically: JetBlue does it!

In contrast to United and American, JetBlue has built a brand based on reputation not dictation. The airline is brand-centric, revolves around its brand values, uses social media to connect with its customers, and has seen 47 quarters of growth to show for it. JetBlue’s success can best be summarized by Laurie Meacham, Customer Service Executive: “We’re a customer service company that just happens to fly planes.” This spirit translates naturally throughout JetBlue’s various channels. As Marty St. George, JetBlue’s CBO, said: “People call it social media but we actually see it as the opposite of media; it’s direct communication with the brand on a one-to-one level.”

Southwest also gets the brand right by protecting flyer perks to keep fanatically loyal fans — and spends eight times more than JetBlue in advertising to achieve this positioning (a whopping $161 million to a mere $20 million in 2014). In contrast, JetBlue enjoys a persistent halo effect because of its lasting challenger positioning, but will this last? JetBlue’s Air on the Side of Humanity advertising campaign juxtaposes pigeons with a narrative of the woes of the modern flier to “give a voice to underserved fliers everywhere by using the most overlooked and underappreciated frequent fliers on the planet.” While the spot champions JetBlue’s perks, the reality is that the brand promise is being diluted. Is this what loyal fans are, if JetBlue’s challenger “difference” has flown away for good? Campaigns reinforce the brand promise but do not always answer lasting concerns or protect halos; St. George is missing an opportunity here. JetBlue gets a lot right but wouldn’t a CBO want to communicate more about the airline’s redirection, assuring concerns and exciting fans about the future?

CBO’s and Branding by Example: WWE, McDonald’s and more…

Fortune 100 companies are already embracing the cohesive energy that a C-suite brand owner can bring. For example, Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) CBO Stephanie McMahon has revolutionized the brand by embodying it entirely (she also plays a character in the WWE universe). McMahon’s “lead by example” approach has instilled a culture of authentic fan interaction throughout the organization. Even staid brands like McDonald’s are repositioning to ride the winds of change. After a painful quarter, McDonald’s made headlines by promoting CBO Steve Easterbrook to the CEO seat, then promptly announced a “progressive rebrand” to begin the long road towards rescuing their “stale brand image” and reputation.

One domain of brand communications ripe with possibility as well as danger for CBOs and CMOs is social media. Jon Oliver consistently pillories brands with a tone-deaf social voice, a failure that often springs from a lack of attention paid to their audience. CBOs look at the bigger picture, know their brands, understand their customers ,and smartly and consistently interact in the social ecosystem. McMahon cautions her WWE stars that “anything you put out on social media, you should assume it has the reach of a national television program. My number one rule. . .is don’t drink and tweet.” Most social mistakes spring from a lack of self-awareness about what a brand has the authority to speak about: the domain of the CBO and CMO.

Brand Takeaway: Branding as an Obsession

Brands are more decentralized than ever, the brand ecosystem is more complex, and a CBO can elevate consumer insights from leading the living brand presence to drive the business forward. The true role of the CBO is not to dictate a brand to consumers, rather it is to create the values that earn brands real, lasting reputations. A great CBO, above all else, creates a unified culture that ensures that all of an organization’s wide-ranging efforts are inspired by consumers’ real feedback, and aligned with the core brand story, design, and beliefs. Your CMO can broadcast your message, but building a tribe around your brand requires a CBO. Take a page from most Fortune 100 companies: hire a CBO now.

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