Outlook for the Chief Branding Officer Role:

by Beverly Harvey

What You Need to Know Right Now to Level Up as a CBO

A Chief Branding (or Brand) Officer “is solely responsible for owning a brand or family of brands,” writes marketing expert Debbie Laskey. The lines between Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Communications Officer, and Chief Brand Officer (CBO), however, are said to be thin, with CBO as a relatively new C-Suite role. Why do some companies (most of the Fortune 100) have CBOs and others CMOs? The branding company Ideon sums up the difference as a focus on brand growth by the CBO: “The planning of the company’s image and direction is not in a CMO’s wheelhouse. Crafting and reinforcing your story and design requires a new or repositioned role focused solely around how the brand grows.” The scope of the CMO is inadequate for some firms, Ideon suggests: “While CMOs are well-equipped to propagate ideas, it is beyond the scope of the marketer to decide what these ideas should be.”

Robert Jones, author of Branding: A Very Short Introduction, notes that “the scope of branding in many organizations is much less clear-cut than it was 20 years ago.” Thus, Jones asserts, CBOs must keep reminding their CEOs of the value of investing in the brand. Jones identifies the roles a CBO plays as philosopher, coach, scientist, and creative director.

Others echo the theme of marketing’s limited scope. “The system of experiences that define brands and create value extend well beyond the limits of the typical marketing organization,” writes Paul Worthington on LinkedIn. Strategist Gerard Hoff notes that when a brand reaches a certain level of importance and impacts an organization across all departments, “its care cannot be left to the marketing department alone.”

Key Competencies for the CBO Role

A bachelor’s degree is the minimum educational requirement for Chief Branding Officer; an MBA can boost this qualification. Typical majors include business, advertising and marketing, economics, and engineering. Consulting experience is also helpful for would-be CBOs.

When preparing career-marketing communications to send to employers, those aspiring to the CBO role should emphasize these qualities:

  • Strong communication skills
  • Interpersonal and relationship-management skills
  • Brand awareness and brand passion
  • Results orientation
  • Business acumen
  • Analytical skills
  • Curiosity
  • Persuasive influence
  • Whole-brain thinking

Level-Up Tips

Here are a few suggestions for those seeking to break into the CBO role or expand their horizons in an existing CBO role:

  • Have a vision and ensure your team understands how that vision drives results. So advises Leanne Fremar, CBO at JP Morgan Chase. “A vision for where you and the organization are going is crucial,” Fremar says. “True leaders embody and define a brand vision and culture, which must be shared and cultivated to exist,” Lorraine Carter echoes, adding that the brand leader should be able to express the brand succinctly and authentically, communicate it to all stakeholders, and change it to adapt to changing times.
  • Cultivate brand advocacy. “Since all employees are brand advocates,” Laskey posits, “take the time to educate employees about your brand’s strengths during the onboarding phase and also re-train on a regular basis.” Such advocacy requires a consistent brand story across departments. Customers, of course, can also be relied on as advocates. In January 2020, Audible, the audiobook branch of Amazon, launched a members group on Facebook that took off immediately, with members singing Audible’s praises and recommending books to listen to that other members promptly purchased or placed on their wish lists.
  • Take ownership. “Take ownership of your role by delivering terrific results, building a strong network and being a great person to work with,” Fremar advises, adding that taking ownership means knowing the customer, the product, and the goal you seek to achieve. “These are qualities companies look for in their future leaders,” she states.

CBO Trends to Watch

  • Consumers embrace brands that give back, are socially responsible, and whose purpose/mission goes beyond profit. Studies show that consumers – especially millennials – will spend more on brands that are sustainable or that support charitable causes. “Modern-day customers care about and support mission-driven brands,” Jia Wertz writes for Forbes. In a collection of branding trends for 2020, market analyst Louie Andre concurs: “Consumers no longer see products as mere commodities – each one is now a statement. This is why purpose-driven brands have more appeal to modern shoppers.”
  • Brands get humanized. “If you want [consumers] to do business with you, you must humanize your brand,” exhorts Andre, who points to the Sprout Social Index’s findings that consumers like brands that are friendly, honest, and helpful – and to a lesser extent, brands that are funny, trendy, politically correct, or snarky. Andre cites Old Spice as a brand that has successfully humanized itself. Humanness is also seen as a counterpoint to algorithms. “The world still needs human curators and concierges to guide us,” writes Derrick Daye of Brand Strategy Insider. “This is why brands matter,” Daye says. “They are these curators and concierges.”
  • Branding is deployed to lure talent. “Companies need to begin thinking of branding as a way to not only attract customers, but also as a way to entice qualified job seekers to join their teams,” Wertz writes, pointing to research showing that companies with strong work cultures see revenue-growth increases.

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