UK: Do You Need A ‘Brand Guard Dog’?

Last Updated: 2 January 2013
Article by Jack Trewin

Most Read Contributor in UK, August 2017

Banks' most valuable physical assets are kept in vaults. Reserves of cash, gold and other valuables are locked behind imposing metal and concrete walls, with state of the art locks and alarm systems. They are hard to break into and a great amount of money is spent in outthinking thieves' ways to break in. Compare this approach with protecting a brand – arguably, most companies' most valuable asset.  Like banks with their vaults, companies spend huge sums of money building their brands. Once banks have filled their vaults, they use security staff and sophisticated technology to protect their assets.  Companies sometimes forget how important this is: they invest in campaigns, but forget to hire 'guard dogs' and buy 'alarm systems' to protect their brand. This error can be costly – but to understand this cost we need to look at how brand value is calculated.

There are two common metrics used in measuring the effectiveness of marketing and branding campaigns. The first is monetary return on investment (ROI) for companies to evaluate the bang they get for their bucks. Money certainly talks but with social media and the phenomenal growth of speed of communication, a campaign can be far-reaching but also harder to measure its wider-impact. A recent article in Forbes highlights the importance of the softer metric of Return of Impression; measures of this include the number of people who see your ad, their engagement on social media sites and most importantly consumer perceptions of the brand.

Brands are emotional and are built by consumers' experience, thoughts and feelings towards a brand. If companies are not measuring these softer metrics, they will be in the near future and with direct advertising spend in the UK at £16 billion, marketing and branding represents a huge spend by companies, particularly those looking to engage a consumer base.

Yet despite this spend, many companies have seen their brand value slip, some more dramatically than others. While it has been environmental disasters, whistleblowers and employee scandals that have grabbed the headlines in recent years, there have been companies that have struggled with their brand identity as disjointed marketing campaigns and confused messages have affected their bottom line as consumers turn away from them.

Brands can take years to build, are expensive and high-maintenance but brand damage can in hours or days lay to waste the best-laid brands. With so much investment in advertising, PR and customer insight, the large majority of companies have very little provisions in place to protect their most expensive asset.

While they see the value in tracking the effectiveness of their marketing through the Return of Impressions, very few are taking care to track and prevent the threat of an unfavourable news report, viral video or product recall and its impression on current and potential customers and clients. Social media engagement is becoming increasingly popular amongst companies to engage with consumers.  This is a good example of brand defence, but it is just another Maginot Line if not incorporated into a wider brand risk and resilience strategy.

Largely, brand risks are outside of an organisation's direct control, even those from within the company. Attacks from outside sources are often purposeful and menacing but individuals within the company, who mean no intentional harm, may inflict just as much damage. A confidential email forwarded to the wrong person or a CEO's snide remark that's secretly recorded may damage brand equity just as much as dissatisfied customers.

Companies can implement strategies to mitigate the threat of brand damage: planning for worst case scenarios, being proactive in engaging employees to monitor both internal and external threats and learning and adapting from how organisations respond to brand threats to learn what works and what does not all will significantly increase a company's brand risk.

Marketing campaigns of global giants are frequently slickly executed, highly monitored with plenty of prior-planning. If this same focus was applied to protecting what companies have invested so much to build, companies would be able to spend more time cultivating their brands, rather than digging them out of the dirt of another PR disaster and having to expensively re-grow their brand's reputation.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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