The Catch-22 of Financing Brand Strategy Initiatives

Dream: A Breathtaking Brand.

Nightmare: Getting Your Company to Understand The Need, The Costs and The Timelines.

The Catch-22 of Financing Brand Strategy Initiatives

For innovative, progressive companies, it’s a relative no-brainer. The competitive need for curiosity, discovery and the path of exploration (R&D) are already in the bloodstream. And certainly, no business area presents as much potential than engineering the entire company to be a stronger engine of customer creation. But in an era of tactical, today-only thinking and historic corporate myopia (wherein CMO and agency tenure average under 4 years), what gets eighty-sixed or left in the dust? Strategy and planning. Shame, too, because these are the very things that would enable these companies to get off the incremental performance crack.

(Did you know that almost 40% of clients cite a lack of strategic direction as the primary reason they can their agencies? Doesn’t happen here. Not ever.)

Worse yet, how can you get a line-item approved for a brand assessment, brand discovery or brand strategy and brand development when it’s really only after commencing that we begin to realize both the true need and the enormity of the benefits? Tough nut.


Branding is the one marketing activity that influences everything else, both inside and outside your marketing budget.

Begin Before You’ve Begun!

Because genuine branding is something that benefits each and every department but its costs are typically borne by Marketing alone, it’s important for environmental leaders to do (at least) three things:

  1. You’ve got to make sure the organization isn’t still hanging onto old-school notions of branding as logos and other cosmetics… as if it didn’t strike directly at the heart of all of your company’s other business development opportunities and challenges.
  2. Beyond the cumulative impact, there are tangible benefits for every stakeholder – opening up a broader conversation about how the organization has come to define strategy, planning and branding helps create “lightbulb moments” even before you’ve begun the process. Go boldly, but don’t go it alone. Just as branding’s victories will be shared throughout the organization, the onus of making the sale needn’t rest on your shoulders alone. You can turn to your peers throughout the organization (and me!) to help you make the case. Beginning with a formal brand assessment (health check) can often be the best way to increase the entire organization’s understanding of its own brand, helping you create greater team buy-in.
  3. You may not be able to quantify missed opportunity costs (we are only human, after all), but you can certainly use brand strategy as both a catalyst to improved tactical results and a hedge against ineffective marketing spend. If your organization is slow to move or embrace new thinking, start with what you’re already doing and show them how working without a defined brand strategy in place is like working with one arm tied behind your back.


Brand is simply too important a thing, to the organization as a whole and to your marketing effectiveness, to be ignored. You may be wary of the costs and fees associated with genuine brand strategy. You may be nervous about treading into uncharted waters. You may have questions. You may be concerned about obtaining full buy-in. At the very least, the topic deserves a conversation. I invite you to have that conversation… with me. No commitment. No joke. (Okay, maybe one or two jokes, but then I’m drawing a line.)

Brands Use Storms to Show True Colors

Brands Use Storms to Show True Colors

Several brands have stepped up amidst these hurricanes and, in doing so, have reinforced their status as true leadership brands. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have undeniably brought tragedy and turmoil to those in their paths, but as I watched (too much of the) recent storm coverage, I was, of course, riveted by the scope of the disasters and found myself moved, almost surprisingly so, by the outpouring of corporate goodwill.

Now, obviously, the praise I’m about to lavish on these companies isn’t to diminish the work of the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, or the contributions of all of those everyday people, the family, friends and neighbors who simply put the welfare of others ahead of their own safety and comfort. Personal giving means more because, quite frankly, the sacrifice costs more and is felt more by the giver. Also, time and again, we’ve seen the “multiplier effect” – little financial gifts add up fast and in numbers that often dwarf the seemingly hefty single checks. But corporate giving speaks to me on another level. It takes quick decision-making and quick action in order to effect new and exceptional corporate policy, the eschewing of standard bureaucracy in favor of what is right and what is right now.

To me, this transcends even corporate philanthropy, however generous and needed. To me, this is more than strategic PR maneuvering. Could it be that we are actually beginning to listen to the Millennials when they say, essentially, “Less bullshit, more substantive action?”

Props for brands who let their values reign

Not that they need it from me, but I’d like to shine a spotlight on those companies that took action. I don’t doubt that many other companies have contributed in ways large and small, so let’s consider this a starter list:

>Airbnb offered evacuee support in the form of accommodations. I have no idea how they pulled this off, whether they, in turn, compensated the hosts or if it was an act of generosity by the property owners themselves. Either way, that is one vibrant culture of shared value buyers, sellers and broker. This has got to be one of the coolest companies on the landscape today.

>Perhaps most moving to me was to see the major cruise lines (Royal Caribbean, Norwegian) offer their vessels as evacuation vehicles in the Caribbean. Honestly, Friday was my first exposure to the tiny island of Barbuda (population: 1600) and to witness such a through devastation was truly heartbreaking. When all is lost, only hope remains. And those who salvage it and sew it are to be heartily congratulated. Putting their decked-out cruise ships into service, genuine human service, seems somehow, I don’t know, redemptive. Good for them.

>Delta and United both put a fare cap in place, hopefully making it just a little easier on those seeking to get out of harm’s way.

>Mattress Mack, a Houston retailer, put his showroom stock to good use turning his outlet into a evacuation shelter. Moreover, a CNN report recounted the story of an elderly woman’s daughter who, not knowing who else to call, phoned the store to tell them of her home and flood-bound mother. Not only did Mattress Mack put her up, he hired a crew to rip out the drenched drywall and prepare her home for its eventual re-building.

>Wi-fi providers Comcast, Spectrum and Verizon all stepped up, offering service to non-customers and unlimited data.

>Apple, a fairly consistent “good buddy” brand, has made donating easy via iTunes.

I don’t know about you, but moving forward I’m certainly going to have a different feeling about many of these companies. I’m positively predisposed to giving them by business. And isn’t that what every company wants from its prospects?

It doesn’t take a natural disaster, a catastrophic event or any other drama to figure out what we’re made of. Every day, companies who’ve taken the time to articulate what they stand for are able to demonstrate, via their employees and their actions, why they deserve our time, attention and money. Recently, I also saw a story about a returning vet who required the use of a service animal and was having a hard time finding an employer who’d accept the two of them. Lowe’s looked at the situation differently and hired him. Love you, Lowes.

Companies are not people. The only conscience they have is the one we imbue them with and codify. It was deeply gratifying to see these companies put their values into action with such diligence and confidence, and I look forward to seeing more companies follow suit.

On the other hand, personal giving is always good, too.

American Red Cross – text “Irma” or “Harvey” to 90999 to contribute $10.