Bringing Brand-Building Closer to the Core of the Business

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Advertising and communications have long been the home turf of brand-building. Creating awareness, driving consideration, changing attitudes –brand-building has traditionally been all about the top of the funnel, with more limited influence further down the customer journey.

But this may have to change now. There’s a growing consensus that “actions speak louder than words,” and that brand-building will need to become more intertwined with the actual product or service experience if it is to stay relevant amid rapid changes in consumer behavior triggered by the digital transformation. (e.g. Binder, C. & Hanssens, D.M. Harvard Business Review, April 2015)

That’s because today’s consumers are less easily influenced by traditional advertising and communications efforts. Instead, consumer attitudes are formed to a large extent through direct experience with the product or service, including others’ sharing of their experience online.

Brand marketers, therefore, cannot rely solely on traditional brand communications to craft desirable associations; they must also actively leverage the product or service experience to shape consumer perceptions and help grow brand equity. Brand-building, in other words, needs to broaden its reach beyond the top of the funnel to encompass the entire customer journey. It otherwise risks missing out on significant opportunities to drive brand equity growth and enhance enterprise value.

This is well understood and widely accepted, at least in theory. Really making it work in practice is more difficult: many businesses continue to struggle to adopt a more systematic approach to intertwining their brand-building activities with the actual product or service experience, and to bring brand-building closer to the core of the business.

Based on our experience working with a wide range of clients from different industries, we have identified three principal success factors for systematically extending the reach of brand-building:

1. Clarity about the purpose of brand-building

A general sense of confusion about the purpose of brand-building typically emerges among key internal stakeholders as integration deepens, leading to significant debate about roles and responsibilities, organizational structure and leadership.

It is, therefore, a definite must to communicate broadly and repeatedly that the larger purpose of brand-building does not change despite the transformation effort. The key focus of brand-building continues to be that of growing brand equity by creating desirable associations in consumers’ minds, albeit now also in a close connection to the actual product or service experience.

2. Clarity about the opportunities available for bringing brand-building closer to the core

In addition to a general sense of confusion about purpose, there is often an accompanying uncertainty surrounding the “how” of integration:

What are the different ways to leverage the product or service experience for brand-building? Which specific opportunities are available to brand marketers?

The answer to this question depends somewhat on the strength of the brand orientation of the particular organization, but there are typically five major areas of opportunity:

  • Ensure consistency: Ensure that the look and feel of the brand – and the desired associations they evoke – are correctly and consistently executed across all touch points.
  • Enrich: Enrich (or correct if need be) the existing experience with features which have the ability to drive brand equity. These are typically minor aspects at each individual touch point, but with a powerful effect overall (e.g. sensory activations). Key questions here include: Which existing experiences, moments or episodes provide an opportunity to strengthen brand equity? Are any existing experiences underleveraged?
  • Transform: Transform existing experiences to significantly drive brand equity. This is the more powerful variant of “Enrich,” and one which typically entails significant upfront and ongoing investments.
  • Guide: Systematically include brand equity as a complementary perspective when ideating around new product or service experiences. For any given idea or initiative, there tends to be a myriad of ways of executing against it – and some have the opportunity to build the brand more than others. Brand may also be the guiding criterion to decide in the face of trade-offs between different options.
  • Lead: Lead and initiate the development of radically new product or service experiences which have the potential to really drive brand equity and build favorable associations.

Overall, these five areas fall into three larger and somewhat more familiar categories: branding, customer experience management, and brand-driven innovation. Together they contribute to bringing brand-building closer to the core of the business.

3. Clarity about the internal change effort required

Depending on the type of industry and organization, tightening the link between brand-building and the product and service experience may require significant effort, investment, and stamina. It has major implications on structure, governance and processes, including planning, budgeting and performance measurement.

Most of all, it requires an organization-wide change in mindset and skills. Brand-building becomes a shared responsibility across separate units and departments, and it is the brand marketer’s job to ensure that everyone within the organization has the required training and skill set to work together and help move the brand forward.


The continuing importance and relevance of brand building’s home turf – advertising and communications – has come under increased scrutiny over the last years. Some of the claims made by critics are exaggerated, but there’s no denying that brand-building will have to adapt to keep up with profound changes in consumer behavior and to ensure selection of the most promising avenues for brand equity growth.

We believe that bringing brand-building closer to the core of the business may just be one of these most promising ones.