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CMO Challenges in Building and Maintaining a Global Brand

Having created and shaped several successful brands during the past 15 years, including FrontBridge (acquired by Microsoft), FileNet (acquired by IBM), AST Computer (acquired by Samsung) and now Pegasystems, there are six keys challenges that must be addressed to successfully build and maintain a global brand:   charter; structure; development; system; alignment; and advocacy.

Brand charter is the first, and in many cases, the foremost challenge.  Brand charter for the CMO means having both explicit and implicit empowerment to be the chief brand steward for the company, to be the arbitrator that breaks all ties related to key branding decisions and to be the final authority.  Branding, just like advertising, can be very subjective, and  everyone has an opinion, so it’s critical that the CMO establishes early that he/she has the vision, the expertise and the mandate to drive branding building and management decisions companywide and globally.

Brand structure is about having a brand architecture firmly in place.  If the company is unsure whether to adopt a master brand strategy (e.g., Lexus), a house of brands (e.g., P&G), or an endorsed approach (e.g., Microsoft), building a brand will prove very daunting.  Architecture is a useful metaphor for a master brand because it requires some level of hierarchy to define the relationship between the master brand and all the sub brands and/or product lines and services brought to the market and supported by the master brand.  One key structural consideration is to not create too many levels in brand architecture.  Most people have difficulty keeping more than two or three levels in their heads, so it’s best to manage to a streamlined brand structure.

When I was at FileNet, our master brand structure was still somewhat in disarray, with five levels of brand architecture creating confusing and often overlapping messages to the marketplace.  In addition to product brand (e.g., FileNet Content Manager), the company was branding specific features (e.g., ZeroClick), technologies (e.g., Content Federation Services), even the GUI (FileNet Workplace). After careful examination, we streamlined our brand architecture to just two levels (FileNet + Product Brand Name), and relegated all other competing brand names to a purely descriptive level to better support and maintain a coherent brand architecture. This process resulted in better informed sales and channel personnel and, most importantly, increased customer understanding of what we offered to the marketplace.

The next key challenge for the CMO is brand development, and this aspect is typically centered on the brand building and investment philosophy the company or firm has in place.  Is brand building considered a strategic imperative, a competitive differentiator, or merely an outcome of marketing communications?  If it’s the latter, it will be difficult to get much attention or support around initiatives that require funding. As in life, companies invest in the things that are important to them, and having a brand development line item is the only way to ensure that brand building can be a strategic, rather than a tactical consideration.   At both FileNet, and now Pegasystems, the executive team and the board of directors have supported the need to invest in the brand.

The next key CMO challenge is about having a clearly articulated system in place to manage the brand.  Many companies create comprehensive brand management guidelines that define everything from brand architecture, to acceptable brand or visual expression, to collateral and editorial guidelines and more.  Adopting and promulgating a comprehensive brand system is an effective way to drive global consistency, especially if the brand guide clearly articulates all the do’s and don’ts of proper brand usage.  The more countries and languages in which a company markets their products and services, the more prone to local interpretation – or mis-interpretation – brand usage can be, so having the guide translated, as appropriate, is also helpful.  Ultimately, proper brand management requires some level of ongoing brand audits for compliance and a designated enforcement resource to ensure brand standards are adhered to and implemented in a proper and consistent manner.

Brand alignment means ensuring that all global regions that have some level of marketing autonomy are aligned to the need for global brand management.   I first encountered mis-alignment when I was at AST Computer in the 1990’s.  I conducted a global brand audit and discovered that our fast growing APAC region was using a distinct color palette, tagline, and visual style.  Getting remote regions to understand and buy into the need to have one corporate brand is often very challenging, especially when such regions are often run by pioneering leaders who want to do things their own way.  At AST, enlisting the APAC region to help define the new brand guidelines and incorporate some of their brand creativity to allow for local expression was a successfully avenue to get to alignment.  Simply dictating “this is how it should be done,” without participation and buy in, would have likely resulted in tacit agreement, but de facto defiance.

Finally, brand advocacy is the sixth key CMO challenge.  The larger an organization, the harder it is for the CMO to be everywhere and touch everything related to building, let alone maintaining, a global brand.   At Pega, we have created a simple brand personality acronym to help every employee get involved in brand building.  Our four brand attributes are Passionate, Engaging, Genuine and Adaptive, and we’ve created a video compilation entitled, “How PEGA are you?” in which employees from our US, European and Asia Pacific regions talk about how they embody the four key personality traits.  The video is available both on our intranet and on our main website under “careers” as a tool to communicate our unique character.   Getting brand advocates at corporate headquarters is rarely difficult; the bigger challenges are to find them, inspire and support them across the globe.  When brand advocacy becomes synonymous with company advocacy, the CMO can better ensure that the brand is being supported, online and off-line, in print and in person, and even while sleeping.


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A dynamic, senior-level technology executive with a proven track record building businesses on a global basis. As Chief Marketing Officer for Pegasystems in Cambridge, MA Johnson is responsible for worldwide marketing strategy and execution. He oversees corporate marketing, field marketing, industry marketing, product marketing, marketing programs, marketing communications, analyst and public relations, and global web strategy. Previously, Johnson was the Vice President of Marketing at Guidance Software (GUID) and Vice President of Marketing and served as an officer for FileNet Corp., a $400+ million enterprise software vendor acquired by IBM in 2006. Prior to that, he was Vice President of Marketing for FrontBridge, an email management vendor acquired by Microsoft. Johnson led the company’s re-naming and re-launch, built the marketing team and delivered integrated marketing programs to support significant and sustained revenue growth. He has also served as Director of Marketing for Symantec, with worldwide responsibility for the Norton brand, and as Senior Vice President of Marketing at Ethentica, an enterprise security vendor. Johnson received his bachelor of arts from the University of California, Santa Barbara and his master’s in business administration from Pepperdine University. He has also published several articles on best practices in high tech marketing and co-authored the book, PowerBranding™