Brand Leadership in Troubled Times
by Lee Rafkin
Brand leadership in troubled times
During the darkest of times, when uncertainty and confusion reign, people yearn for leadership. Sometimes it comes from a President like Franklin Roosevelt, who famously said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Sometimes it comes from trusted institutions. And, sometimes, in business and popular culture, leadership comes from brands.
A brand is so much more than a clever name, a creative logo, or a memorable tag line. A brand is a promise. It’s a promise that your organization makes every day, to customers of course, but also to employees, partners, vendors, investors, regulators, and to the many markets and communities where you operate. A brand promise goes beyond products and services and includes an organization’s culture and purpose. Anheuser-‐Busch is making hand sanitizer. Louis Vuitton is making masks. Ford is making ventilators. Somehow, coming from these brands, it all feels right.
In times of crisis, when people question everything, a well-‐thought out brand promise can be a ‘north star’ that keeps your organization traveling in the right direction and focused on what matters most. Successful brands act as roadmap, guiding strategy and decision-‐making. Successful brands are a shared vision that rallies your customers and your team around a unified purpose, culture, and voice.
Our economy is at a near stand-‐still. The OOH industry is deeply impacted. Fewer Americans are driving on highways, riding public transportation, shopping in malls, or traveling through airports. Since normal business activity has slowed, it is the perfect time to look internally and invest in your brand. Now is the time to take a critical look at your customers, your culture, and your promise, and to refresh your brand, so when this crisis passes (as it surely will) you will be ready as a more focused, more relevant, and more essential organization.
What does the process of creating a stronger brand look like? It wouldn’t cost a lot. It can even be done remotely. Building a stronger brand involves thinking deeply about your business and answering five questions:
• Who is our customer?
• What business are we in?
• What do we stand for?
• What makes us different?
• Why should people care?
If you take the time now to invest in your brand, you can generate a real, measurable return. Research has shown time and again that companies with strong brands perform financially better and weather crises more successfully than companies with weak brands. There are many reasons why strong brands deliver strong ROI:
• Strong brands attract great employees. This is especially true for Millennials and Gen Z
(currently aged 24-‐39 and 5-‐23) who will soon make up the majority of the OOH workforce. 78% of Millennials say it is important to work at a company where their values align.
• Strong brands attract new customers. More than ever, consumers and customers want to transact with brands that they deeply identify with and believe in.
• Strong brands drive loyalty. ‘Sticky’ brands like Amazon consistently surprise and delight with service, selection, and innovation, while locking customers in for life so they could never conceive of going anyplace else.
• Strong brands increase enterprise value. The measure of a strong brand is the premium a buyer pays for a branded version versus a generic one. Strongly-‐branded organizations have higher valuations than weakly-‐branded ones (just look at Tesla’s P/E ratio compared to General Motors). For private companies, a strong brand can increase the multiple a buyer would pay in an acquisition. An increase of just 1% would provide an exceptional return on any brand investment.
The best companies know that brands are living, organic things that require care and feeding, in good times and bad. Starbuck’s brand promise is not just about coffee, but about the coffeehouse experience and the feeling of warmth and community it builds into every store. Nike’s promise is not just about sneakers or apparel, but about enabling the ‘inner athlete’ in all of us and enhancing peoples lives through sports and fitness. These companies deliver on their promises. They will continue to weather any storm, because their brand foundations are strong.
What is your brand promise, and why should people care? Now is the time to find out.
Lee Rafkin is a branding, marketing, and communications consultant who has worked in the OOH advertising industry since 2011. In addition to advising organizations like Bank of America, Johnson & Johnson, Starbucks, and OAAA, he has named and branded OUTFRONT, Geopath, and Boldsite Media. He can be reached at email@example.com.