What does your brand need most?

Leadership! And you thought the answer was better data. (Not that it wouldn’t be nice to have!) In many organizations, we find that brand leadership at the very top is lacking. Too many members of the C-suite consider branding a marketing issue and not a strategic imperative. No matter how talented, the vice president of marketing or the CMO can’t deliver a powerful brand alone.

Yet, when top leadership aligns everybody behind a specific vision, the results can be stunning. The CEO, CFO, CIO and COO are critical to the brand.

• The CEO sets the tone and inspires others to get in step — not just for a brand launch but day in and day out.

• The CFO figures out how to support the vision financially rather than always saying no to the marketing budget.

• The CIO supports the vision with the right technology and data to inform decisions and connect with customers.

• The COO makes sure everyone across the organization buys in, and helps break down fiefdoms and other barriers to success.

You can certainly build a successful brand by focusing on tools such as your website, advertising or sales process, but it won’t have the same emotional pull. Great brands happen when everyone hears the vision, believes the vision and thinks they are an integral part of the vision. Think Ritz-Carlton. Think Southwest Airlines. Think Google.

Part of the leadership imperative also involves risk-taking. Not every marketing idea will work, but as long you entered into it thoughtfully, you can learn from it. Unfortunately, as organizations get bigger, it becomes far easier to say no to new ideas. As John Scully, former CEO of Pepsi-Cola and Apple, has said, “The only reason for small companies to exist is to think differently and act differently.” Risk is inherent for the smaller company trying to take market share. Larger companies need to rediscover their willingness to take marketing risks as they grow and get more comfortable.

Finally, the C-suite needs to truly empower everyone to make the brand better. One of my favorite stories about this occurred at Epcot. My colleague and I had spent three long days doing brand interviews and were bone-tired. Summer storms found us grounded at a nondescript airport hotel for one more night. Trying to make the best of it, I suggested we go to Epcot for dinner. Upon arrival, we were sad to learn the entry fee was the same at 7 p.m. as it would be had we arrived in the morning. We told our tale of woe to the woman behind the counter, and she didn’t seem too impressed. But in a flash, she took out a wand and said, “This calls for a pixie dust exception. Enjoy the park.” We went in for free, had a great dinner, bought souvenirs for our kids and watched the fireworks.

I have told this story in countless speeches and anytime anyone is critical of Disney as a brand. This woman created an emotional connection for us by simply being empowered to give us a different type of experience.

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