Survival of the Relevant: The Evolution of Brand Governance

Even at the risk of sounding somewhat polarizing, there is truth to the argument that brands are in a state of paradoxical crisis. The possibility of becoming irrelevant and disappearing is real in this competitive world. Many brands have already been negatively impacted. Some have seen their intrinsic value erode. Others have seen dwindling customers. Several have even folded. And while some manage to work their way back to success, they remain few and far between.

I talked to two of my senior brand professional colleagues on safeguarding brands from disappearing. Leif Seemann is Managing Director and Daniel Rosentreter is Head of Brand Strategy at MetaDesign Berlin. They are both intimately involved with brand governance and their experience can shed light on its future.

Rupali: Let’s start with a quick definition of brand governance. Tell us how you see it and what the most important challenges are when it comes to brand governance.

Daniel: Brand governance includes the organization, tools, and processes that allow for a systemic and controlled management of the brand or brands within companies. The biggest challenge I see in organizations today is that brand is not seen as an important enough asset that must have a robust organizational infrastructure so that it may grow and flourish. Many organizations have brands valued in the 100s of millions or even at billions of dollars, but the attention and the resources to maintain and manage it don’t match that value. And when I say resources, I don’t only mean financial resources. The internal brand management organization and structure, the use of digital tools and future strategy need a proportional investment.

Leif: I see that too. It’s important for organizations to strike the right balance between empowerment and control to achieve consistency, coherence, and the resulting overall relevance. Days of “policing the brand” are long over. Most companies that I work with are starting to understand that it is more about empowering the different stakeholders who work with the brand, internally and externally. The biggest challenge is typically getting HQ and global markets to collaborate better to understand common goals, and work through local challenges and cultural specificities.

Rupali: How do you typically start out your clients on a brand governance initiative? What prompts them to start this journey? I imagine that preparation is key because it’s important to take the long-term view, so what are the steps to get a program off the ground? What areas do you examine in the discovery phase of your process?

Daniel: It all starts with a proper understanding of the current situation. We ask questions such as how does the organization govern the brand today? What is the internal journey the marketeers have to go through before they create a branded piece? Where are pain points with the current tools and system? What resources are allocated to manage the brand? What is the status of internal brand communication and knowledge about brand matters? What are the culture nuances of the different markets that the brand operates in? Answers to all of this will determine the right solution for brand governance in the future. But not one size fits all. For every company, there is tailormade solutions to brand governance based on culture, organization structure, and business strategy.

Leif: Part of the discovery process that we employ as we start out our clients on this journey is devoted to understanding the organization, but also how the brand is deployed in the various channels and markets. We look at the training that is provided to brand stewards, whether they be a single person or a team. Assessing how they use tools such as brand guidelines or the assets stored on online brand management systems is important to us. Essentially what we are looking to determine, is the internal marketeers user journey and see what improvements are required for that to happen

Rupali: Do you find that organizations are well-equipped to manage the shifts required as a brand governance program gets underway? What changes, if any, need to happen from structural and process points of view?

Daniel: We encounter so many cases where the internal teams of organizations are struggling to manage all the demands of modern brand management. It is a case of team size and right skillsets. The expectation that three people can manage a global B2B brand successfully over the years is just plain wrong. It is critical to structure the brand management organization such that the team can define the future of the brand on the one hand and also support the organization in their daily marketing tasks on an ongoing basis.

Leif: It comes down to creating a system that allows for increasing brand recognition, improving brand reputation, and boosting brand relevance. Using technology towards these goals can help organize tasks in a systematic way. Automation is more important than ever for managing the brand. Tools like a digital brand hub, where all brand assets, guidelines, and brand information are managed, are increasingly being deployed in more sophisticated ways to manage workflows. The proper use of technology allows marketing processes to be standardized while digital enablement helps organizations realize marketing efficiencies and professional brand management.

Rupali: I suppose one can say that if brand coherence is increased through proper governance, brand relevance will increase too. And this dovetails into brand experience. So does this also mean that the excellence in brand governance will enhance brand experience? And how does that benefit organizations?

Daniel: Indeed. So many brands don’t survive because people either see no use for them as their lives change or because they don’t provide a compelling reason to stay with them in the face of competition. Then there are others who simply don’t offer their users or customers engaging experiences resulting in loss of revenues and relevance. Proper brand governance requires feedback loops about the health of the brand on a constant basis. This feedback mechanism allows management to react quickly to new customer demands or a challenge arising in a particular market.

Leif: I want to make the point that stringent brand governance in no way restricts creative freedom. Quite the opposite. A clear, precise, and easy-to-implement brand framework that underscores possibilities rather than limitations, enables marketeers to focus their energy on creative excellence. Our designers love to work on and for brands that allow for creative interpretation but within a flexible structure.

Daniel: Exactly. With a fluid and flexible approach to managing brands, organizations can create unique brand experiences that are authentic and meaningful thus helping brands to stay relevant. To my mind, organizations showcasing best practices in brand governance today are those that are learning and listening bodies. They are companies that are constantly examining, optimizing, evolving, and growing. They don’t preach consistency and restrictions but coherence and empowerment.

Rupali: A great deal of emphasis is placed on the individual employee these days. How do you empower employees to participate in positively pushing forward brand relevance as part of a brand governance initiative?

Daniel: Employees are key to creating lasting brand value. They are indeed valuable assets in this endeavor. In many cases they are the face to the customer and represent the brand in its core. Thus, is it of utmost importance to empower them through robust and comprehensive brand training and knowledge transfer programs. Many of our clients have put brand academies into place in their organization and made brand a key topic in onboarding programs for all employees. They are about creating pride and inspiring brand conformant behavior and actions.

Leif: We also use the power of storytelling to create compelling brand narratives that are authentic, credible and thus inspirational for employees. The more employees identify with the brands that they either represent or are part of, the more likely they are to be true brand ambassadors.

Rupali: What types of models or tools do you counsel your clients to adopt in their brand governance efforts? Are there some best practices that you could highlight?

Daniel: A tool we work more and more with is called the Marketing Blueprint. With the Marketing Blueprint we work with our clients to define the key steps of the journey marketeers need to take to create marketing solutions. Our strategic work involves preparing different internal personas and use-cases to determine current pain points and inefficiencies. We focus on internal approval processes, briefing procedures, training, and collaboration with external agency partners. The Marketing Blueprint helps identify how efficiently, or not, digital tools such as Digital Brand Assets Management Systems are used.

Leif: I’d like to add that in an agile process together with our clients, we identify future requirements and specify the role of technology and tools. Once we get to the optimal Marketing Blueprint we use build out models for modeling the future brand management infrastructure and to educate and enable all stakeholders about the future vision.

Rupali: Do you see a difference between governance and compliance? Or are they two sides of the same coin? Could you elaborate on this?

Daniel: The result of good brand governance is increased brand compliance. But it’s more important to focus on brand empowerment rather than just compliance. Having simple and easy-to-use digital tools, robust review processes and support, having all assets at your fingertips and getting the right training and brand education will empower employees to do excellent work and intuitively increase brand compliance.

Rupali: So once you’ve started a client out on a brand governance program, how do you measure its impact? How do you know it’s working? What KPIs do you typically look for?

Leif: It’s critical to remember that brand governance is a long-term term investment that does not pay off immediately. However, when taking the long-term view, efficient and inspiring brand governance can dramatically increase brand value and also turn the needle on other brand performance metrics. In addition, it will create internal cost-saving through the increase in efficiency and performance of the whole marketing organization.

Daniel: Typical KPIs that we look for, are brand valuation, revenues, sales, markets, performance, employee morale, talent hiring a retention, and reputation. Depending on our clients these KPIs might change and they are weighted differently.

Rupali: Are there any specific indicators that you’ve seen that serve as warning signals to get a brand governance program underway?

Leif: While this is very specific to each organization, a general checklist of indicators could include the following points:

  1. Brand value (downward changes in brand value or stagnation)

  2. Understanding of the brand (whether stakeholders and the market understand and live the brand strategy)

  3. Fragmentation (brand appears disjointed and does not follow a cohesive set of standards)

  4. Detachment (parts or regions of the organization take brand matters into their own hands)

  5. Frustration (complaints about branding tools, processes, lack of brand training and communication)

  6. Overload (brand management organization unable to handle workload)

Rupali: One last question in connection with managing global brands. Is it possible to ensure brand relevance through systematic brand governance?

Daniel: Absolutely. But it’s a team effort. Brand custodians are mentors and advocates. Their role is to guide and inspire. When an organization creates a framework for this to happen brand relevance will be the result of brand governance.

Leif: I’d like to add one last point here. It is important to recognize that a proactive approach to brand governance is the foundation for brand relevance and ultimately longevity.

Rupali: Thank you.

_Rupali Steinmeyer is Managing Director at MetaDesign and based in San Francisco.