The four hats of the chief brand officer
They used to be, in effect, head of the brand police, and their role was mainly policing an organisation’s visual identity. But that’s all changing. The new CBO has four hats – none of them a police helmet.
In an era when attention spans have never been shorter, every organisation needs constant renewal. It needs constant creativity, imagination, ingenuity. As Bob Dylan says (and this was Steve Jobs’s favourite Dylan line) ‘he not busy being born is busy dying’.
This is renewal not just in products but also in meaning, raison d’etre, role in the world. The CBO’s job is no longer about defending a positioning, but constantly renewing a sense of purpose, using not an old-fashioned brand book, but something much more alive.
People believe not the messages an organisation delivers, but the experiences. A brand is built not identity but experience. The CBO can no longer be the custodian of an identity, but the enabler of an experience.
And because that experience depends on people across the organisation understanding what to do, the CBO must become the organisation’s coach, teacher, trainer, using an array of educational media and practical toolkits.
Brands exist outside their organisation – in the heads of thousands or millions of people out there in the world. That’s the source of their amazing power. You therefore can’t control them – but you can watch how that mass of perceptions (and misperceptions) change, and take action to nudge them in the right direction. The CBO therefore needs to be lookout, watching how the brand evolves out there, using the most sensitive kinds of brand metrics.
Finally, however important an organisation says its brand is, in reality a lot of other forces drive decision-making. Shareholder pressures, sudden threats, internal politics, all that kind of thing. Someone near the CEO needs to be allowed to say what no-one else can. Like: ‘are we trying to hit our short-term targets, or build a long-term brand?’ There’s never a right answer, but the long-term option needs a champion – not just to whisper in the ear of the CEO, but to create an organisation-wide climate of brand-led leadership.
Robert Jones, course director of the Msc Brand Leadership at the University of East Anglia Norwich Business School and head of new thinking at Wolff Olins