From “why” to “action”: Brand stewardship in large organizations
As marketers, we can only control so much.
We often do extensive work to build our vision and values into an easily digestible brand framework that is shared broadly across our organization. Our teams do what’s in our control—building communication platforms and activities to “land the brand” in market, winning the hearts and minds of consumers and employees who work for our organizations.
Yet, we have all experienced in our careers, rogue documents or activities driven outside of marketing aimed at achieving specific objectives for other teams or lines of business without fully understanding the brand or consulting with marketing. The result? A disconnect between what the brand is saying and how the brand acts.
Our first instinct is to take back control. “How could they? Our documents were so clear, and we worked so hard to make them jargon-free!” As marketers, we need to resist the urge of becoming the brand police. Besides, successful brand governance doesn’t manifest itself as a set of rules. It shows up as an ideology; a credo; an ethos that is visual, visceral, and repeatable throughout the entire organization. In other words, best-in-class brands have a clear and sticky “why” that is understood broadly throughout the organization. But they don’t stop there; they take a series of actions to further cement the brand in the everyday lives of their customers and employees.
One great example of a best-in-class brand that consistently lives up to its incredibly high standards is The Ritz-Carlton. We all know The Ritz-Carlton as a luxury hotel brand with some of the most prestigious hotel properties across the globe. But how does the brand deliver such a consistent experience across all of their 108 properties from NYC to Koh Samui? It starts with their brand statement, or as they call it, their motto—"Ladies and Gentlemen. Serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” A simple yet compelling proposition that memorably communicates and sets the brand expectations for all employees to rally behind. If you’re the bellhop or working the front desk, you immediately have a guiding light on how to deliver the brand. The Ritz doesn’t just communicate its brand internally and leave it up to the individual to find their way. They have a series of rituals that are repeated daily that reinforce the stated brand behaviour. They call it the “gold standard,” which consists of The Ritz-Carlton motto, the credo, the three steps to service, the employee promise and the twenty basics. At the start of every shift in every hotel around the world, employees gather via departmental “lineups” where the gold standard is practiced. This builds the habits necessary for employees to deliver against the high standard demanded from the Ritz.
The Ritz is a great example of a luxury brand living up to its stated values. And yes, it’s a super sexy brand from a high-interest category that one could argue has one hundred-plus years of embedded brand behaviour. So as an alternative, let’s look at a company from a lower interest category—one that recently transformed and modernized their business with brand playing a key factor in its success.
The Developmental Bank of Singapore (DBS) was the winner of the most innovative digital bank by the Financial Times publication, The Banker in 2022. But this wasn’t always the case. Only eight years ago, DBS operated with “legacy infrastructure” and in more traditional ways expected from a large financial institution. DBS leadership recognized the pace of digital innovation in Asia and the impact that fintech would have on their business, and began their journey to rewire the organization.
DBS invested heavily in technology and operations and undertook radical changes across the entire enterprise. But these changes were only one piece of the transformation—they needed to change the culture and signal to their employees that they were a different bank. DBS leadership wanted the organization to think of itself as a technology company rather than a bank. They adopted a new brand vision—"Make banking joyful”—by using digital innovation to remove banking pain points, making it easier, smarter, and faster for its customers. To live up to this bold vision, new rituals were created in the company's culture, from introducing hackathons to solve a customer pain point, to tying key brand metrics to compensation scorecards that unlocked bonuses. DBS clearly communicated their “why” and literally put their money where their mouth is, rewarding their employees who lived the new brand.
Both The Ritz-Carlton and DBS are excellent examples of brand governance not manifesting itself as a set of rules, but as an ideology that is embedded in the organization. Without a clear “why” that everyone understands, these companies risk having a disconnect between what they say and how they act. By connecting the dots between “why” and “action”, DBS was able to transform and become a Best Digital Bank award winner. As well, even after more than one hundred years, The Ritz-Carlton consistently wins the coveted J.D. Power Award for guest experience.
So next time you see a colleague in a different department building “off-brand” materials, resist the urge to police them, and work to address the foundational brand opportunities that exist.