Why Not Operationalize Brands? Part 2

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In a post earlier this week, I started to address why some companies don’t operationalize their brands. I suggested that there are 3 kinds of business leaders who fail to leverage the full potential of their brands.

The first are Naives:  “Naives simply do not understand the full potential of their brand. That the brand is the core of the company is a foreign concept to these business leaders. They don’t know what they don’t know.

Then there are Aspirers: “These people are knowledgeable about brands and definitely interested in leveraging them more broadly and substantially, but they don’t know how or they’ve run into roadblocks in their efforts to do so.

Today we come to Emperors.

The last group of business leaders is comprised of people who think they are leveraging the full role and value of brands, but they really aren’t. Just as the emperor in the popular children’s tale foolishly wore clothes made of “invisible” cloth, these “Emperors” fool themselves and others into thinking that creative ads and clever marketing programs are enough to build a brand. They spend a lot of money and energy on promoting their brand externally, but they don’t consider or they even ignore the internal, operational changes needed to actually deliver their brands’ value.

Unlike Naives whose omission of a brand-driven management approach may be attributed to their lack of knowledge, Emperors’ resistance is the product of skepticism. They choose imperial nakedness out of distrust and cynicism about brands.

They think of operations and brand as two separate things. In Emperors’ minds, the operations of the company fulfill the purpose and objectives of the business – i.e., making a product, offering a service, etc. – while the brand is the icing on the cake. But when you operationalize the brand, there is no such distinction.

Emperors are often entrepreneurs who thrive on launching new ideas but who are less skilled at driving an operational system in a focused, integrated, consistent manner. In an effort to propel their new business, these entrepreneurial Emperors often develop creative ideas on a one-off basis and disregard the disconnect between their aspirational vision of the brand and the stark reality of a fledgling operation.

Leaders of image-oriented businesses such as fashion and automotive also tend to be Emperors. Because their customers’ purchase decisions seem to be based primarily on style and status, their focus tends to be on what the company says (the image it projects in advertising and marketing) vs. what it really does (the value it delivers in daily operations.)

And some retailers and restaurant leaders are Emperors because they are so preoccupied with pricing and promotions that they overlook many of the opportunities to build their brand through the in-store customer experience.

Really Emperors can be found in all sectors of business. Most company leaders don’t operationalize their brands because they are skeptical of the brand’s role as a business driver. They wrongly resist putting stock in something they consider to be too conceptual or qualitative to pass muster in an analytical or performance culture.

An intervention may be the only way to challenge an Emperor. Only when forced to be thoughtful and honest about the way they currently view and use their brand will they discover the gap between delusion and reality.


If you’re on the client side of the business, I’m curious to hear whether you see yourself in any of these 3 descriptions – Naives, Aspirers, or Emperors — or perhaps you’re someone who “gets it?!”  If you’re on the service provider side of the business, what kind of leaders do you most commonly encounter? Please let me know!

My intent in outlining these categorizations is not to judge or criticize people – in fact, it’s the opposite. I hope this might be a helpful step on everyone’s brand-building journey. If we clearly understand the challenges before us, there’s a greater likelihood of surmounting them.

Original Post: http://deniseleeyohn.com/bites/2010/08/12/why-not-operationalize-brands-part-2/