Paul Galesloot
Nov 23, 2018

A brand cannot live by definition of purpose alone

While a recent resurgence of interest in the long-term sculpting of brands is welcome, brand definition by itself won’t drive growth. Here's what will, according to the Asia CEO of brand consultancy Cowan.

A brand cannot live by definition of purpose alone

More than 50% of CMOs will bring ‘brand’ back as a top priority in 2019, according to a Forrester predictions report, published by Keith Johnston earlier this month.

This comes as little surprise for many people who keep up with their knowledge building. Only yesterday Mark Ritson wrote: “We have been talking a lot in recent months about short-termism in marketing. The words of Les Binet and Peter Field have opened marketers’ eyes to the increasingly short-term, targeted tactics of most big brands. Nothing wrong with that, except that it comes at the cost of the longer-term, mass-targeted and more effective campaigns that accrue their impacts over time."

Many brands have sacrificed brand building to achieving quarterly sales objectives. When objectives are not met, “restructuring” has been regularly offered as a way of cutting costs and allowing the company to face today’s rapidly changing world. 

McKinsey estimates that 70 % of change programs fail to achieve their goals. Other studies come to similar findings according to Carsten Tams in Forbes.

What this shows us is a pressured environment where most people are worried about keeping their jobs for the next quarter(s). As such, the lack of job security and safety has led to a focus on short-term objectives in the marketing process by a large number of clients and agencies. 

One of the key challenges of the focus on brand amidst this climate is that of longevity. “[This] could be a double-edged sword, as some CMOs could be perceived as retreating to their comfort zone of brand building and avoiding the hard task of driving and orchestrating strategic and operational change,” the Forrester report says.

Our (biased) view is that a clear, well-defined brand purpose and brand equity, executed consistently with distinct brand assets across all touch points, across the consumer journey, drives mental availability. This allows brands to balance long-term and short-term objectives by allowing any piece of brand activation to also strengthen brand equity. 

Yes, a clear brand definition is a great start. However, if it is not closely linked to the consistent use of distinct brand assets to drive maximum mental availability, it is pretty ineffective.

The obvious danger is that businesses will redefine their brand purpose and equity and return to a “traditional creative process”. A well-known Ehrenberg-Bass research report, quoted in Professor Byron Sharp’s book How Brands Grow shows this means fewer than 20% of people can remember an advertisement and correctly attribute it to a brand. 

No matter how well your brand is defined, if only one in five people can recall your brand after seeing the creative, redefining the brand is not the solution.


Paul Galesloot is the CEO Asia for Cowan.

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