Branding and Organizational Leadership - The Critical Nexus

Tomi Ogunlesi
May 5, 2011 — 1,789 views  
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Before you became a CEO, you prided yourself on visiting every unit in your region, you got to know the employees, you spoke directly with customers - you had your hands on the pulse of the business. Since you became the have lost touch and the unavoidable gaps in your own expertise loom larger than ever."    -   Excerpt from Harvard Management Programme
We have come to realize, in the past few decades that brands have without doubt become the most phenomenal wealth-creation properties in the contemporary business context on a global scale. Branding as a concept therefore has had more premium being placed on it in this critically challenged economic period, a situation which has seen it ascend up the value-chain of business.
Presently, many more organizations and business concerns have come to appreciate the pivotal role the concept of branding plays in making the overall outlook of their organizations (from a corporate perspective) and also their offerings (i.e. products and services) much  more desirable to target markets and stakeholders - This is why, for instance, a Rolex timepiece or a Louis Vuitton clutch bag can be priced at thousands of US dollars, as against generic items in the same category which cost only a negligible fraction of what their branded counterparts cost.
The potentials inherent in carefully building brands are intriguing - or how else can one describe a scenario in which Uganda, reckoned to be the 8th largest grower of coffee in the world, is paid a regulated commodity rate which essentially translates to peanuts, in comparison with the US$400 which the global coffee retailer megabrand, Starbucks, is estimated to earn per kilogram of the same commodity, the only difference being that Starbucks' Coffee has got added value with the huge benefits accruable from branding, making it no longer a commodity but an experience treasured by millions of it's consumers globally.
The major issue in focus at this juncture however is an imperative assessment of the structures, frameworks and systems which prevail in business and organizational contexts
Now, one will observe that what usually obtains in many an organizational set-up is that the brand manager's function is usually restrictive in terms of requisite and meaningful wherewithal to implement crucial policies that affect the brand are concerned. Usually, in many organizations, brands have been observed to be effectively relegated to junior management, at best, a middle-level managerial role overseen by a ‘senior manager'. This is what obtains in the traditional business context.
It is however very imperative that the brand is led right from the top by CEOs of organizations and top management functionaries. I think that the above quote at the commencement of this article, which I culled from one particular CEO's comments on a Harvard Leadership Programme, is very thought-provoking and highly instructive in this regard.
As global competition heats up, top management cadres of organizations are being made to realize the imperativeness of brand knowledge and leadership from the topmost hierarchies. This is further underscored by the realization that these individuals equally represent key decision makers and approving authorities in terms of brand identity and communication as well as campaign look, feel and orientation in many cases, even though they may not have been trained as core marketing professionals in the real sense.
The visions and implicit purposes of companies must necessarily link directly to the brand (being the fulcrum upon which other elements rest). The better the brand is led (by the CEO and top management) and managed (by those specifically charged with the brand management responsibilities), the better and improved the value offer to stakeholders, in terms of the cost-benefit equation.
Now, the general purpose in business is to make profit. However, enlightened companies and CEOs who've put the longer term in perspective see the fundamental purpose of business to be the creation of value as uniquely defined to meet the needs and wants of key shareholders such as staff, customers, shareholders and the broader community.
Essentially, a brand is the ultimate vessel capable of holding this value and delivering these expectations. Brands define business and importantly, provide them with competitive distinctiveness. A brand vision will serve to enable business sustainability beyond short-term fiscal returns - A brand vision is why Arthur Guinness can still be celebrated, a whooping 250 years of Greatness down the line! In Summary, BRANDS ARE THE TOOLS THAT CREATE BUSINESS, NOT VICE-VERSA!
In conclusion, business must shift from a fixated stance that prioritizes the management of efficiencies alone, to a more holistic and forward-looking orientation which also focuses on creating and adding brand experiences.
Tomi Ogunlesi, a professional member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (UK) is a strategic planner at Bates Cossé, Lagos.

Tomi Ogunlesi

Bates Cosse

A consummate marketing communication professional with experience spanning diverse brand categories ranging between corporate, FMCG, financial services and aviation, among others. A member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM, UK) He is also an alumnus of both Vega, the Brand communications school and the Wits Business School Product Strategy & Brand Management Programme. He is currently a brand strategist at Bates Lagos, where he works as Brand Manager responsible for Segment and Product marketing for a leading African Financial services brand. He is also presently an MBA candidate at the Lagos Business School.