Sunday, May 24, 2009

Brand as the Key for the New CFO

Following on the heels of my discussion with Doug Rushkoff, Emma Gilding, head of Insite at Omnicom, gives her perspective on the key to a profitable business today.

Rather than changing economic models, Emma says that the most important alteration for any company is the attitude of the CFO. Rather than staring at balance sheets, the CFO should be reevaluating the company's brand in order to strengthen market positions.

What Makes an Effective Brand?

“Great brands,” says Emma, “are two way conversations in which there is satisfaction on both sides. The brand – or symbol – innately sets out rules and asks people for something. The symbol promises and delivers something in return.” Both participants must be satisfied for the brand to work.

How to Get From There To Here

Emma says that what a lot of CFOs aren't getting yet is that a focus on bean counting won't produce cost-effective results.

Echoing Doug, Emma adds the notion of “cost effective” for too many is based on economic models that have become dinosaurs.

Rather than focusing on balance sheets, CFOs need to think “what is the new financial value of this brand and how do I support it, both internally and externally?”

Emma is an anthropologist by training and sees business as only part of a much wider cultural landscape. This landscape is too diverse and complicated to measure strictly in numbers.

"Given what is happening sociologically in the economic downturns, the CFO has to be the bravest person in the company as he takes an entirely more strategic approach when it comes to brand."

What does a CFO do, for example, if the brand promises green practices, and the inexpensive supply chain refutes the claim? Or if the CEO is overpaid when the brand is all about tightening belts?

Everyone in the company must live the brand or it becomes an empty and ineffective symbol. This requires a new kind of thinking for those who have traditionally focused on cost rather than customers.


How do you take a symbol and make its meaning pervasive and true to all your stakeholders? How do you make a brand robust and flexible enough to hold real conversations with those who use the product? How do you stop hiding behind rigid monologues broadcast from the top with no chance for people to say whether or not they want or believe it?

More in the next post.

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