Brand Executives Have Four Faces

Brand Executives Have Four Faces

Brand executives have to adapt and pivot at a rapid rate to make sure that their brands are as relevant tomorrow as they are today. To do this they are constantly adjusting their focus from what is happening here and now, to what might be happening on a more distant time horizon.

Brand executives are fighting for their seat at the strategic table. Fighting, a lot of the time, to be seen as more than just the “brand police” trying to make sure that the integrity of a brand is maintained.

Arguably there are many more reasons why brand executives are still having to prove their input to the strategic direction of the business. (But that is another post altogether)

When we refer to brand executives, we are talking about the chief brand officer (CBO). The CBO is a relatively new executive-level position in a company. The CBO typically reports to the CEO or the board of directors and is responsible for a brand’s image, experience, and promise.

Within that thin definition there is a bigger problem. There are too many words that feel like their metrics are opinion-based and cannot be considered hard-hitting business metrics. Image. Experience. Promise. These cannot be easily quantified and are often dismissed as a metric on which to make decisions.

Here, we are focussed on brand executives having a seat on Exco. With that in mind we need to realise that when someone is promoted into the strategic arena of the business, they are not there just to maintain the status quo. For brand executives to have impact and a voice they need to behave in a very particular way.

Enter the Wall Street Journal, well more specifically Deloitte LLP, and their 2013 article entitled, “The Four Faces of the CIO“. In this article they postulate that:

The role of CIO is multifaceted and complex, requiring diverse capabilities to continually address the strategic and operational needs of the organization, and the demands of stakeholders.

The “Four Faces” theory for unpacking executives is one that cuts across every discipline. It just needs a little tweaking to make it more relevant for each position.

First we need to understand that each of the brand executives faces are equally important, but not always equally relevant. The trick is in understanding which one needs take the lead without completely overpowering the others. The balance of these faces is what builds the roadmap and guides the CBO through their role.

Let’s take a moment and unpack these faces for the brand executives, the CBO’s.


Typically brand executives are good at formulating brand strategy. This means: resonance, positioning, tone of voice and brand architecture. Brand strategy should always be seen as an extension (read activation) or the business strategy.

This face of the CBO has a primary goal of ensuring that maximum value is derived from all brand investments. Brand executives need to have deep business knowledge. It is paramount that they can engage as a credible partner, advising the business how the brand can help achieve business goals and unlock new value.

When a business is working to meet massive growth targets through M&A. Brand executives must drive the strategic agenda by navigating the best way forward for the new entity to integrate their brands; corporate cultures and new go to market strategy.

Brand executives must see the wood for the trees (or so to speak) ensuring that brand decisions are considered and made with the scientific long-term benefit of the business in mind.


Brand executives can have a reputation as being a roadblock. The brand police. This is a necessary evil as it is the consistency of a brand and its application that delivers part of its value. If Coke didn’t always looks like Coke, then people would not recognise it and reach for it from the fridge.

Brand executives need to act as catalysts. Moving from being a hinderance of progress to an enabler of it.

This means driving innovative and radically new ways of connecting the brand to its audience. Catalysts have an energy and charisma about them. This means that catalysts can find themselves with significant political capital able to enlist and align the executive stakeholders.

A catalysts relentless focus on disruptive innovation and cross-functional teaming allows them to lead brand centric transformational change across the business


The operator face of brand executives is concerned with “keeping the lights on”. Getting things done. Business as usual. This is the more traditional CBO function. Managing the department, hire, develop and lead the brand or marketing staff. CBOs are tasked with ensuring that the brand is relevant and that standards are adhered to and guidelines are followed.

Typically operator dominant CBOs struggle to move to being Catalyst or Strategist CBOs as there is naturally conflict in these outlooks. This is definitely the more reserved face of the brand executive.


This is more than likely shaky ground for brand executives. Technology is moving at a rapid rate and while the CBO is not responsible for providing a technical architecture they are responsible for helping to drive the technology agenda within the organisation.

Customers, suppliers and staff are all expecting your business to be digitally relevant and it is the brand executives job to ensure that the technology platforms are brand relevant.

By focusing on understanding how technology can extend and enhance the brand experience the brand executive can twin with the technology exec to build a fit for purpose technology stack that cuts across the business. But more importantly can add value to the various stakeholders.

Brand Executives Must Find The Right Mix

There is no winning formula. There is no perfect constant either. Brand executives need to find the right mix the works for them. Business objectives, operating environments and internal politics make each brand executives agenda different.

[Tweet “Continually striking the balance between these faces is mission critical for brand executives #4faces #brand”]

As schizophrenic as it sounds; executives move though each of those faces multiple times a day. But that’s the point. To be truly effective and be able to navigate the fast paced business environment brand executives need to turn up the volume on each face as and when it is required.

CBOs start and often default to being Operators. They need to prove themselves here before they are given the licence to operate more frequently with a different face. Most are going to find it difficult to win the hearts and minds of their executive teams, but that’s what sets apart average from excellent. Executive teams are looking for creative disruption. They are looking for growth and strategic positioning. They are looking for excellent.

Finding this balance is a dynamic process that requires conscious adjustments to answer changing conditions and frequent calibration of expectations with executive leaders and other key stakeholders.

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