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Soul searching for brands – with a Chief Brand Officer

Gerard Hoff

Planning Director





The brand is not what it used to be.

Over the centuries, the brand has been on a series of steep climbs up the career ladder. This rise of the brand calls for a new definition of branding; we call it “Absoulute” branding. We believe the brand is becoming the soul of a company and, as a result, becoming the driving force behind – and filter of – everything a company does. It is synchronizing all departments; almost creating a tribe.

That way of thinking positions a brand as not just a valuable asset, but the ultimate expression of purpose 1. It is the human personality (or personification) of a brand that faces the consumer, it is the spirit and energy behind the internal culture, it is shaping the relationship with suppliers and the environment, and is the essence of employee branding, providing both a reason to join and a reason to stay. This is vital, especially in a world that is driven by social media, and in which future employees are millennial.

When a brand becomes this important, and impacts on all departments of an organization, its care cannot be left to the marketing department alone. The brand is on the rise, and as such should be sitting at the table of the executive committee, next to the CEO, CFO, CIO, and COO. Hence the role: Chief Brand Officer.


Managing an absoulute brand is in its infancy


In a world that is driven by social media, the soul behind authenticity is the key to survival and success. Being truly social is all about people, human beings, so how does a brand have to behave? Yes, like a human and with the right intentions, and that goes much further than just branding and storytelling. It actually means living the brand, and that has to come from the inside, out.

There’s still a lot to be done. Marketing, communication, organizational and management professionals are still largely working alone, or on their islands and disconnected from each other.

Although it appears the brand is growing in influence, the question is: how can this transcend into a holistic approach that impacts on everything a company does? Answering this is a key step towards putting absoulute brands at the heart of organizations.

There are promising developments. There are organizations in which the brand has managed to transcend the communications department and become a more holistic entity. Done well, this will boost “purpose” in the way BrandZ defines it: “Making peoples’ lives better”. Look at the Indonesian Top 10 this year, see the brands that feature, and it becomes clear what the impact of elevating the role of brand in a business can be. This takes effort and commitment, and needs to be ingrained in a company’s culture. In general, however, the brand is still treated more like a business asset to be administered, rather than the sole – or soul – driver behind everything a company does.


Tough job, but someone’s got to do it

Absoulute branding paves the way for absoulute companies, with the brand as a guideline for all actions an organization takes. As the concept of a brand changes, so too must companies change the way brands are managed.

Delivering what you promise as an organization will remain one of a company’s key priorities in the coming years, but the organization itself is becoming more core to sustainable success. A relevant and distinctive communication message is one step, but moving the whole organization towards an absoulute brand is a discipline in itself, that requires a strong, holistic leader, seated at the table of the executive committee.

This calls for a Chief Brand Officer, and it’s a tough but rewarding job. It takes a “whole-brainer”, who is able to oversee all operations of the company and the impact they have on the entire ecosystem.

This requires a new way of working and thinking as an organization, and a new way of dealing with brands. She or he needs to use absoulute brand thinking to fulfil that brand promise to all customers of the company: employees, their families, suppliers, the community, the environment and even the world. Embracing absoulute branding means scoring significantly higher on net results, net sales, operational income and growth, and having happy, loyal employees3, 4. Think of brands such as Traveloka, Sariwangi and Pepsodent in Indonesia, or more globally Google, Patagonia and Zappos). Not bad. Time to do some soul searching.



This is an extract. To read the whole article go to link follows.



1.         Kantar Vermeer Millward Brown (2015) Brand Value Creation in a World of Accelerating Change

2.         Mats Urde (1999) Brand Orientation: A Mindset for Building Brands into Strategic Resources

3.         Label (2005) – Brand orientation index - A management tool for building strong brands