Chief Brand Officer: Why Companies are Moving Beyond the Traditional Marketing Roles

Uber's hire of a Chief Brand Officer has given the designation name, fame and new responsibilities.

An ouster in the media, a controversy in the making or a customer review gone wrong, for a startup or a growing business, one wrong step could set them back. In today’s times, it is the WhatsApp forwards or tweets that break news and Facebook shares that determine your downfall or popularity. And while some believe any publicity is good publicity, with start-ups all it takes is one wrong news story to take away a consumer’s trust.

With an Uber struggling to combat the news of sexual harassment being ignored at the workplace or dealing with the pressure of having all its senior executives including its CEO Travis Kalanick quit one after the other, the global startup has turned to its Chief Brand Officer Bozoma Saint John. While the business side is being worked upon, it’s now up to John to revive the brand in not just its consumers but also its employee’s eyes.

Closer home, with the Snapdeal-Flipkart merger talks being officially off, and Snapdeal taking the plunge with Snapdeal 2.0, it will again need a strong brand expert who can turn things around for them and also do away with the impression of a dying company.

Understanding the role of a Chief Brand Officer

India’s booming start-up culture receives undivided attention from all walks of life and so it has become more and more important for founders to start realising the need to move beyond from marketing for just customer acquisition to building a whole brand.  

Uber’s Bozoma Saint John according to reports has been entrusted the responsibility to not just rebuild Uber’s brand outside of the company but also within, that is, with its employees.

There stands a thin line between a Chief Marketing Officer or a Chief Communications Officer and a Chief Brand Officer. The role of a CBO has come in of late, while some companies look at hiring a CBO right from the start so as to build the brand with a  vision, others bring in someone at a later stage or for a brand revival exercise.

“Chief Brand officer is a relatively a new designation but traditionally the role has always been played by a CEO, CMO, COO or CCO (Chief communication officer). By hiring and designating a Chief brand officer, the need and the value of a brand gets its accentuated importance,” said Pavan Padaki, Author, Brand Vinci and a Brand Practitioner.

Elaborating on what exactly the role of a CBO entails, he explained, “A Chief Brand officer is expected to play a multi-faceted role in today’s highly complex and dynamic world of brands with ever changing consumers and their beliefs. He/She needs to be alert and sensitive to consumer feedback and trends in the market to translate them into insights, bringing compelling brand stories to life, managing the image of the brand, increasing the value of the brand and building a unified culture around the brand.”

Not just a fancy designation

But it’s also important to understand that while the Chief Brand Officer brings in a fresh perspective, the idea is to take the vision of the company forward which could have been laid down by the CEO or the founder.

“Branding is about everything a company does, says, does not do or does not say. In a large organisation, the CEO is responsible for all of it. The CEO is the ultimate brand officer responsible for the brand. He might choose to hire a Chief Branding Officer on two fronts, either for want of strategic expertise or for the lack of operational bandwidth to manage the brand,” said Padaki.

While the tag definitely turns a few heads, the objective of the role is still one that creates a huge impact. “The role of a Chief Branding Officer shouldn’t be mistaken for merely broadcasting a brand, managing communication or as a trendy, glamorous designation to disguise a CMO’s role,” he concluded.

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