Interview with Françoise Bertrand* | Branding: a vital aspect of strategic alignment
In the spring of 2019, BrandBourg sat down with more than a dozen specialists to discuss the role of the brand in corporate strategic planning. That conversation served as the basis for our thinkpiece Five branding principles for effective governance.
To pursue the matter further, BrandBourg called upon Françoise Bertrand, an experienced business director who participated in our panel of expert. The interview was conducted by Christian Pichette, president at Brandbourg, in August 2019.
BB: What do you see as the role of branding and how important do you think it is for businesses?
FB: I see a close relationship between branding and a company’s raison d’être and its mission, vision and values.
To echo Jean-René Halde (see Five branding principles), I think it’s essential to incorporate a branding exercise into the strategic planning process. That’s how a company creates its unique signature, which will have an impact on every part of the company and shape its communication efforts.
Everything stems from a company’s mission and vision, including its approach to branding. Branding’s role is to ensure that we speak to customers, shareholders and other stakeholders in a coherent and consistent way.
Branding also enables us to align our offer with the real customer experience. So it’s not just talk, it’s practical!
BB: What are the dangers of weak branding? What do you think of recent concepts such as the “employer brand” and “customer-centric” companies?
FB: Your behaviour and your values must be aligned or reality will catch up with you.
For example, if your brand is associated with a specific approach to customer service and that approach doesn’t correspond to the values that your employer brand projects, you’ll have trouble rallying employees to deal with customers the way you want them to.
If you declare your company “customer-centric” and your team isn’t aligned to meet the standards that you want to set, you’ll miss the mark. A company has to deliver on its promise. If that promise is empty, sales might rise for a while, but sooner or later they’ll start to fall off.
You can’t invest in your brand only when you’re launching a new product or service; you have to invest on a continuous basis because your brand needs to keep working for your company at all times if you want to be able to meet the many challenges the company faces. You can improve performance in the short term with an ad campaign, but that’s just not a good way to ensure the health of a firm.
BB: Speaking of alignment, do you think Quebec companies have taken the concept sufficiently on board?
FB: A number of Quebec companies have a good handle on the idea of alignment and communicational direction, whether in connection with marketing or internal communications. However, some companies invest very little because they think of it as “nice to have” but expensive. They don’t understand the role of branding in the development and long-term sustainability of the firm. But even if you don’t need to advertise, branding is important – maybe even more so!
"Branding also enables us to align our offer with the real customer experience. So it’s not just talk, it’s practical!"
BB: IN YOUR EXPERIENCE, DOES THIS ISSUE GET THE ATTENTION IT DESERVES FROM CORPORATE STRATEGIC PLANNING COMMITTEES?
FB: Definitely not. The work is parcelled out rather than being handled by a specific department or group. Marketing does their thing, Human Resources does theirs, and so does Corporate Communications. And the same applies to senior management. At the end of the day, you’re left with a bunch of disparate messages. Maybe they’re not entirely contradictory, but they have no multiplier effect. If it were up to me, I’d start at the top level of the company, during the development of the strategic plan, and then work down through the individual departments.
If there were a sufficient degree of consistency in internal messaging, there would be less need to rally employees. I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen CEOs – probably including me! – deliver strong messages but without any unifying theme or any long-term impact. If you have a solid understanding of the company’s brand and vision, you will know how to use your position to communicate them in a relevant and accessible way. If you’ve never conducted a well-thought-out branding exercise, you’re going to run up against major obstacles and there will be a lack of coherence inside your organization.
"People carry the brand and the brand is carried by people."
« …If you’ve never conducted a well-thought-out branding exercise, you’re going to run up against major obstacles and there will be a lack of coherence inside your organization. »
People carry the brand and the brand is carried by people. The brand is the chicken and the egg. I see the brand as a point of convergence. It’s what lends cohesion to a company and steers it toward success. Some people may think this is just so much hot air, but to my mind the brand speaks to values and emotions; it gives meaning to what we do when we get up in the morning to go to work.