Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Unappointed Brand Ambassadors

Generally brand managers believe they are responsible for directing the development of their brands and the programs to support them. This is mostly true - as they have the final say regarding branding.

But a whole new level of branding people and organizations has emerged recently. A number of these groups operate under the radar of the brand managers. They are the backdoor branding champions, whose branding efforts are not controlled, not directed by the brand managers. They are also reffered to as "back-door branders."

These are employees, consultants and research groups which the firm has hired to do a specific job. But they are capable and will influence the brand strategy of the firm.

Commonly, traditional brand consultants have focused on helping the organization understand its customers, consumers, distributors, and the like. Backdoor branders are groups that use
approaches and methodologies to influence the internal senior management of the branding firm. They influence how and in what ways brands are developed, evaluated, expanded, and managed— and most of all, funded from the inside.

Simply put, back-door branders influence the senior management level and also the consumer level. And they’re having ever more impact on how brands and branding are developed and managed.

Four types of back-door branders have emerged.

  1. Human resources (HR) and organizational development firms.
    These are consulting organizations ranging from major management consulting firms to the more specialized HR groups to public relations agencies. Their premise is that the brand starts inside the organization(i.e., the brand is what the organization is and what the people are).

    These consultants or HR groups have been either ignored or had no contact with the marketing department and/or most marketing & branding people.

    These new "brand consultants" work at the senior management level and marketing people may not even know they are involved until a pronouncement comes from senior management on how and in what way branding programs will be conducted from the inside-out.

  2. Procurement managers

    Internal procurement managers started initially in the advertising and promotion production areas as the firm tried to get a better grip on what seems to be ever-growing costs with limited controls. Then they moved into creative and media. Now procurement officers have discovered brands and branding. And with the multitude of brand consultants, brand management groups, and the like, they’re having a field day. They’ve discovered "brand costs" that can be reduced and expenditures that can be questioned.

    Procurement people, with their focus on reducing "hard costs" in "soft areas," are having a major impact on how brand programs are developed. While they may not get involved in positioning or imagery, they have a major impact on brand investment levels.

  3. Dashboard creators.

    One of the fastest growing areas of marketing management is developing "marketing dashboard" software. These computer programs identify, manage, and hopefully control and measure marketing investments and returns and, at some point, branding programs, too. The objective of a marketing dashboard is to convert all marketing activities into a series of dials and gauges management can quickly review to determine the status of marketing expenditures and effects. By simply "turning on the dashboard," senior management should know the status and the success or failure of various marketing initiatives and programs.

  4. Third party evaluators

    These consulting groups offer services somewhere between management consultants and internal procurement groups. They operate between the client and the agency or brand consultant. They evaluate the firm’s marketing and branding activities both in terms of investments and returns and creative efforts. Most bring substantial branding expertise, but with no commitment to either continuing or changing existing programs. Thus, they are essentially external procurement groups hired for specific projects.

    Third party evaluators are generally brought on board by senior management, trying to get answers to questions such as "How much should we invest?" and "What will we get back or what have we gotten back from our marketing and branding investments?" Their role is to bring expertise and an unbiased view.

While all these third party groups may not focus specifically on brand programs, clearly their evaluations and recommendations have much to do with the current focus and ongoing support the brand receives from senior management. Of course, there are a number of other back-door branding organizations such as market research firms, institutes, and even academicians. All have some impact on the development of brand programs. Most importantly, all work internally. They influence how senior management views, appreciates, and understands brands and branding.

Most back-door branders don’t look at consumers or even distribution channels. Few focus on traditional consumer attitudes and understanding. They often don’t even try to project their work to the external market. Yet they have increasing influence on how brand programs are funded and supported. These groups represent the "other side" of branding—the internal side. The side many marketing people and their agencies have either overlooked or ignored in their quest to become "customer- Focused."


Back-door branding is here to stay and will likely grow. Marketers who continue to ignore the internal side of branding do so at their peril.

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