What does the wild west have to do with modern communications?

It’s funny how the term “brand” has developed from its original use to today. The development of the concept from the brand mark given to livestock to denote ownership, to today’s rather more complicated and multi-faceted concept of branding has at its heart a conflict that many companies and organisations have to manage.

“Who owns a brand and what is its purpose?”

This question is particularly relevant when considering the split between corporate and consumer branding. Consumer brands and the campaigns that they help drive are all about the consumer; how the perception of the product can be positively enhanced by the perception of the brand. Corporate brands traditionally bear more resemblance to the mark of a cattle baron on a steer in Lincoln County. (Yes I am a fan of westerns). It’s about ownership and equity value.

The times however are a changing. The move to break down silos and integrate as much as possible between previously unbreachable walls is changing the way we communicate. The growing trend of integrating corporate branding into pre-existing and previously separate consumer brands has demonstrated significant value across a number of vertical industries. From FMCG to Financial Services and beyond, many industry leaders see this as the future.

If only it were that simple.

A bit of anecdotal evidence. A well-known UK consumer brand was acquired by a foreign conglomerate that had made the decision to integrate corporate and consumer branding. The product brand communications team argued that this would damage the value of their historic brand, and potentially diminish market share – thereby negating the rationale for the takeover. The result was that the corporate brand was integrated, but a lot of the product team found new employment as the argument became so heated that bridges were irretrievably burned.

Clearly this sort of issue needs very careful risk management, and with this case there were also post-merger communications issues in play as well. However it also brings up another management challenge and objective: ensuring global integration of operations and identity. A corporate brand can be used as a form of control, ensuring that subsidiaries of global corporations do not develop an identity that is so independent that their operations begin to develop a serious level of risk for the wider group – thereby preventing potentially major corporate scandal and value destruction.

Finally this leads us to the internal value of a brand. We are all contracted to our employers, but it’s not just a signature than binds us. We are passionate about the brands that work with. There is an emotional connection that binds us to the task just as strong as our contractual obligation. The integration of the corporate and consumer brands can leverage this passion for the brand as a positive motivation tool and create a real sense of belonging, of being part of something bigger than the individual – building something of value for the long term.

In the world that most people reading this will inhabit, the biggest challenge to maximising the combination of corporate and consumer brand is one of internal silos. Marketing doesn’t speak enough to corp comms, who don’t speak to investor relations – even though we all do a job that could be described as “enhance the external perception of the brand”.

Then there’s the disruptive role of social media that means we are all brand ambassadors, therefore bringing “internal communciations” into the sphere of external communications.

In short, we need to talk more. If possible, formal committees need to be set up to exchange information, techniques and best practice. If a structure is too rigid to allow this, what’s wrong with an informal chat over a cup or glass of something? Basically it’s an awful lot easier to stop a conflict before it starts, than someone having to put their blue peace keeping gear on.

Branding has come a long way from the Bar T ranch