To steer the ship, you must know how to motivate the crew

True brand building connects to what drives everyone in an organisation

There is such compelling evidence across so many categories about effective brand building that you’d be forgiven for wondering why more brands are not posting better results.

In the last twenty years, new learning has made our lives as marketers easier. We have put aside working out endless growth strategies in favour of penetration and premiumisation. We can focus our brands on being remarkable rather than rational thanks to the work of the late US-Israeli psychologist Daniel Kahneman and others on the importance of emotional, social, and other influences on behaviour, and we can predict more precisely the impact of our investment thanks to measurement.

Within our marketing bubble, however, the tone can be quite negative, even mocking – people piling on to critique work on LinkedIn incredulous that Brand X has done such and such, ignoring some well proven law of growth. Surely, we should empathise with fellow marketers over the challenges they face to consistently deliver excellence.

Volatility is the biggest challenge to marketers

But what are these challenges? The most obvious is volatility. We are currently into year four of the most disrupted period most marketers have experienced, with 2008-2012 a seeming cakewalk by comparison. Unpredictable consumer demand, the enemy of consistent brand budgets, is the tip of the iceberg. For the last two years, the impact of inflation in raw materials, logistics, overheads, and other indirect costs has been far from offset by price increases which has flattened volume growth, and profit. Yet still businesses have worked out how to prioritise that non-negotiable profit expectation.

It has become tough to design and execute a high reach, insightful, audience experience – budgets are squeezed, media inflation is double-digit, and there is a hard sell from media owners. According to 2022 data from Statista, the top 10 biggest media owners worldwide by revenue are search, social, and retail media platforms and sit outside your media planning, with retail media blurring the line between marketing and trade investment. 

Though the IPA/Brand Finance 2023 survey of financial analysts concluded that ‘strength of brand/marketing’ was the most significant factor cited by analysts when appraising companies, this is not reflected in the expectations of investors; businesses rarely promote brand and consumer measures in financial results reporting, and brand marketing is used as a wow factor at best.

Navigate system-based issues

The thorniest issues are within organisations, with marketers dealing with systems not adaptable enough to manage these tensions and where strategy, reward, decision-making, people, processes, and capability have been designed more to meet the short-term goals of public or private investors rather than the long-term consumer opportunity.

This means to be successful building brands, marketers must navigate many system-based issues to stack the cards in their favour.

Marketers must cultivate and encourage patience. Financial cycles and role tenures are often insufficient for the three to five years that brand and innovation programmes typically need to mature and deliver, and more use should be made of longer-term metrics that can be broken down by year to give a sense of progress and embolden the long view.

In most businesses, marketing is not central. Marketers must understand not only how the business creates value, its attitude to risk, and how it makes decisions, but what excites it and is celebrated in the organisation.

Andrew Geoghegan, Former Chief Marketing Transformation Officer, PZ Cussons, UK

Businesses celebrate a win with the trade more than they do with consumers, and also hitting monthly or daily sales figures – not the typical stuff the marketing industry discusses.  Unless brand work, especially true brand building work, is seen to connect to these drivers in the minds of everyone in the organisation, it can be at risk.

Marketers must strive to define or influence the total business’s strategy, and its annual and long-term plans – most often, the reality is that brand and innovation plans are developed off business planning targets rather than the other way around.

Build sustainable talent and capability

There has been a decline in time spent on training compared to a generation ago. Outside a handful of businesses, there is a lack of organisation-wide brand building language, frameworks, and tools connected to an integrated planning process. Marketers must address poor understanding of brand building in other functions.

Businesses get distracted by the next big thing – digital, big data, blockchain, the metaverse, AI, and so forth – and ask marketing for answers. Marketers must have the courage to say ‘no’ when this takes time away from driving growth and recognise when it’s enough to follow trends but not shape them.

Andrew Geoghegan, Former Chief Marketing Transformation Officer, PZ Cussons, UK

Balancing time between the now, next, and beyond

Measurement tools are incredible at enabling better investment decisions, but there is now so much data, much of it linked to short-term effects.  Marketers must avoid getting further into the weeds and balance time between the now, next, and beyond. 

With the ubiquity of data, marketers must retain control over the narrative of what’s working, and what their priorities for action should be, constructively navigating multiple stakeholder opinions about brand work. 

Marketers are resilient and resourceful – great work comes from applying marketing principles AND aligning an entire organisation behind work consistent with the brand and the business’s goals and culture.  Those who achieve this and tip the scales to devote just a wee bit more time to strategy, insights, and measurement are those who flourish. We should support and celebrate those marketers and their agencies who keep managing to move things forward, week by week.

Andrew Geoghegan, [email protected], is an experienced CMO and brand strategist and former IPA Effectiveness Awards Judge.  His book ‘Effective Brand Building’ will be published by Kogan Page at the end of 2024.


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and were submitted in accordance with the IPA terms and conditions regarding the uploading and contribution of content to the IPA newsletters, IPA website, or other IPA media, and should not be interpreted as representing the opinion of the IPA.

Last updated 29 May 2024