I once worked for a client that had a CEO with a very – shall we say democratic? – style of leadership. I was leading a five-person team and the client had assembled a five-person team of their own. But only three of them had official voting duties over progress approvals and branding decisions. The other two were there to provide specialized expertise and guidance. The three voting members were the CEO, the CMO and one representative from the board of directors. We agreed in advance that all ten of us would attend every meeting over what was expected to be a six-month project. But at our first meeting, we had something of a shock. The client had very generously set up a buffet in the conference room where we met. During the course of the meeting, various employees of the client firm would walk in and help themselves to the food. These were people who were not on the client team and who were never introduced to us. That alone was no big deal. But these employees would then sit at the table to enjoy their meal. They would listen to whatever it was we were discussing and would chip in with their opinions and concerns. We often had to repeat discussions we had just completed prior to their arrival. Then, as abruptly as they came in, they’d leave, never to be heard from again. And that’s the way it went over the life of the project. From one meeting to the next, we never knew who would be in attendance. It seemed like we were presenting to a cast of thousands. The CEO was at most of the meetings, but not all as had been agreed. Same thing for the Board Rep. The CMO got fired midway through the project and was replaced. In spite of all this, the project was progressing nicely. And, in the end, it all worked out because the client did stick to the one rule that should govern all such client-side brand exploration committees.
That rule is: Either one person votes or three people vote. In this client’s case, the CEO wanted to know what everybody wanted in a new brand strategy. And, though it seemed they were influenced by anybody in the company who wanted to put in their two cents, in the end only three people voted, usually in consensus, and the project came to a timely and fruitful conclusion.
I had never really thought about the makeup of client committees. But this episode brought it front and center in my mind. As one goes through a brand strategy exploration, there are several key moments when the client has to approve completed work or make decisions as to how to proceed going forward. Usually, they form a committee to make those decisions.
I thought about all the other committees that I had sat across the table from. It was interesting to consider which ones worked and which did not. Gradually, there formed in my mind some best practices for establishing such a client-side committee.
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It starts with this. You can organize – or disorganize – your committee any way you want. Disorganization is discouraged but if that’s your thing, have at it. But you must follow the only real rule: Either one person votes or three people vote. In my experience, that’s the only way the projects will move forward in a timely journey to a successful outcome.
The one-person-votes model. This is the model used most often when there is a very strong-willed CEO at the helm. They may have several people on the committee to provide input and counsel. But in the end, the CEO alone makes all official approvals and decisions. Whatever this might say about the culture of the client company, from the branding consultant’s point of view, this model is very clean and efficient.
The three-people-vote model. Again, you can have as many as you want on the committee, but only three people get official votes. This is the model used when the CEO wants buy-in from important factors within the company.
There are good reasons these two models work. When you have an even number of people voting, as in just two partners voting, stalemates often occur. When you have more than three, even if you have an odd number like five, decision-making gets overly complex. You get to a decision-by-committee model and there’s no real leadership. The chances of making bold, innovative decisions are reduced drastically. And, obviously, both these scenarios can slow or even stop progress.
Our very democratic client had one thing right. The best people to be assigned voting power on a three-voter committee are the CEO, the CMO and a Board Representative. The CEO because they’re the one who led the (re)branding initiative. They’re the one who will have to live with the results. And they’re the one who, ultimately, will be judged on its success. The CMO should be on the committee because that’s the person who will have to work with the outcome. They will be using the resulting brand platform to launch all their future marketing campaigns. And they will be judged by the effectiveness of those campaigns. So it is in their interest to build the brand platform as sturdily as possible. Finally, the board representative should be on the committee to make sure the board’s interests are considered. That much is obvious. But, over the course of the project, the board rep will also be keeping the board up to date on the (re)branding committee’s progress. It’s wise to keep them informed and have their buy-in on such a transformative moment in the firm’s history.
Last week, we talked about getting employee input on the branding initiative. No need to repeat all that, but it should be reiterated that employee input is vital. The company will want a work force that understands and endorses the brand. Depending on the makeup of the company, you may want to appoint an employee representative to the branding committee. Ideally, that person would be someone who has been an employee for a long time and enjoys the respect and trust of fellow workers. Their role is to channel information from the committee to the workforce and back again, as the board rep does with the board. This person may or may not be a voting member. But, if they are, remember: Only three voters! Someone else would have to relinquish their vote.
The senior management of any organization that is engaging in a brand strategy exploration are to be commended. They have appraised their brand and found it wanting. They are taking a bold step to up their game and build an enduring, meaningful bond with their market. It is not an easy thing to do and most management teams of small- and middle-market businesses avoid doing it altogether. So those who are brave enough to make a change should be applauded.
And they should not go into the process without giving themselves the best chance to succeed. Organize your committee according to one of the two models described above. You’ll find yourself enthusiastically adopting a brand strategy that your senior management, your Board and your employees can all support with a passion.
BEST BRANDING READS – WEEK OF MAY 25, 2020
Nation-Branding Soft Power: The Case of Brand China
An engrossing, tragic case of China’s recent brandicide.
How to Build a $100 Million Brand People Love
A really good case study from about four years ago. Worth the short read.
Seeking Sustainability, Finding True Brand Mission
Best possible outcome today. Best possible outcome tomorrow.
Brand Relevance: The Strategy Behind “i’m lovin’ it”
A fascinating deep dive into a slogan with 15+ years of success.
Worst Logos Ever, Redesigned.
Italian designer fixes some really bad logos. Oh, they are so very bad!
Dieline Awards 2020
Best packaging of the year. You see? Something good has happened in 2020.
5 Reasons Empathy Drives Business Success
Hard facts about the soft skills.