On Thursday, July 23rd, I hosted the latest episode of our Future of Branding virtual roundtable series. I welcomed five CMOs whose brand leadership is inspiring transformation at their companies, from prominent B2B and B2C brands to newer direct-to-consumer disruptors.
Since April, our Future of Branding discussions have focused on how brands were responding to the pandemic. However, in recent weeks, as countries, states and cities start to reopen, our focus has transitioned to how brands are resetting to propel business continuity and, in many cases, transformation. Today’s conversation explored themes such as marrying purpose and action, brand leadership, how crisis is pushing marketing back to its basics and the rise of empathy and authenticity, especially for Gen Z and younger Millennials consumers, who ask why before asking, how much? One thing is sure. Brand building is no longer about words and pictures—it’s about deeds and experiences.
In closing, I posed the following questions to these brand leaders. As we look to the future, how are you defining brand? And what is your commitment to making sure brand plays the role you believe it should in this reset? Here’s what our panelists had to say.
Early on in the pandemic, I was lucky enough to be on a weekend call with Indra Nooyi (former Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo) and I’m going to quote her elegant definition. She said to us marketers, “brand is the soul of a company.” There is a lot to that concise statement. Brand is the beating heart, the DNA, the thing that is true in good times and bad. It is not about a quarter or the year. It’s something that has a longevity to it, and it’s a promise. A promise to our employees and our customers that we will uphold what our brand is about. In our case, building a world that works.
We are in such a challenging time right now. I think the commitment is doing before saying, ensuring that the words are inherently matching the actions. At GE, people count on us. It is not just 9-5 or Monday through Friday, because we’re involved in industries that are essential. The commitment is that of the promise we keep to the people we choose, and that’s customers. If you can keep your North Star in mind, at the same time you’re doing what you’ve promised you’ll do, you’re able to marry the reality of your commitments with the hope and the promise of the brand. To me, the mistake is when companies and organizations try to create a brand that isn’t steeped in who they are and what their business is about. That’s where you eventually can run into real trouble. Ultimately, it is all about authenticity.
—Linda Boff, Chief Marketing Officer, GE
There is a lot of truth to the notion of brand being the soul of a company, especially now. Consider brand as being a north star because it is how your brand shows up in the world. It is how your customers and your constituents, investors, owners, and in our case, hotels, how they think about you. What we saw through the pandemic is that customers are looking to brands to be leaders. And brands stepped up to fill that void, and that’s significant. For me, it is a reflection of values and a powerful north star.
In terms of my commitment, it’s about as marketers protecting our customers, and continuing to be their voice. We’ll continue to listen to our most important constituents and stakeholders. We’ll continue to bring that voice forward and those critical, relevant insights to customers that will help keep brand at the heart of everything we do.
—Amy Martin Ziegenfuss, VP, Global Brand Marketing, Hilton
The brand factor in an automobile components company is slightly different than other companies. We have different ways of communicating with our final customers, but regardless of methods, we will continue to support our customers in any way. And that’s the brand promise and delivering on our brand promise. Even at the height of the pandemic crisis, we had an essential part to play because we make transport possible. Without an axel, you will not be able to drive a truck. Supporting communities in areas that use our products in every way possible is part of the brand promise. It has been crucial and will continue to be important in the future.
—Douwe Hilarius, Director of Product Stratgey, Marketing & Comms., Europe, China, Japan, ASEAN, Meritor
Brand and values are inextricably linked. Your brand promise is your commitment, and you’re delivering on your company’s values. Therefore, it cannot just be spoken. Everything must be backed with action—from the smallest choices to the most significant decisions your company makes.
There have been times where we’ve had lots of discussions out in the world about compliance or privacy, and I watched a tech industry where several marketers washed all of their communications with the word ‘trust.’ And it was so frustrating because trust is earned. And it was equally dangerous because these communications were not supported by action.
When there’s a void of political leadership, like we see today, business can be the greatest platform for change. Our CEO says that, and I sincerely believe that. All of us have an opportunity to show how we can live our values and do programs that help produce positive change. Brand and values are so deeply connected, and you can’t just do it in marketing campaigns or tags. You have to do it through actions.
—Stephanie Buscemi, Chief Marketing Officer, Salesforce
As an engineer, I will not attempt to define brand. However, I agree with everything my fellow panelists said, especially Linda Boff’s comment that “brand is your soul.”
However, I will say that brand is an outcome—not an input, not a logo and not a strategy. Nor is it your color palette or a big tentpole campaign. It’s important to note that marketing does not own the brand. Marketing happens to be the orchestra conductor of the brand. But every single person, every single function in an organization, owns the brand. If they don’t, then it’s a facade.
Unfortunately, in the growth world, brand has become a stigma. If you use the word ‘brand’ in many organizations, you have to be fearful, because you will be slated as somebody who doesn’t understand the business or is only there to spend money as a cost center. My commitment is to prove that authentic brands that have a purpose, that are empathetic and brave, do drive business growth. These are inseparable.
—Mayur Gupta, Recent Chief Marketing Officer, Freshly
This is a biweekly series for brand-side senior marketers. To request an invitation, visit events.siegelgale.com