Getting Executives to See the ROI of Brand Strategy

Branding ROI

Emotive Brand Expert #2: Matt Wolfrom

Continuing our Emotive Brand Experts series, we’re interviewing past and present Emotive Brand clients to discover what they do better than anybody else – and how that expertise can be used to embolden your brand today.

In this post, we speak with Matt Wolfrom, the Vice President of Corporate Marketing & Communications at Synacor. Before that, he worked in a VP role at both PubMatic and ShareThis.


Business Solutions vs. Branding Solutions

There are few things trickier than getting an executive to invest in brand strategy. It’s never the right time. The ROI seems hard to measure. Furthermore, most of an executive’s resources are spent looking for concrete business solutions, and most of their time is spent putting out internal fires.

What they may not know (or simply be too busy to hear) is that a strong brand strategy can solve these common problems before they even occur.

Matt Wolfrom has witnessed the power of brand strategy at multiple high-growth companies. In his opinion, it’s an essential ingredient if you truly want your organization and products to compete in the marketplace. So, why are CEOs apprehension about the investment?

Well, let’s pretend you’re the typical CEO. You’ve got board members calling you every day saying you’re not doing enough. Your talent is leaving. Your executives are warring, each one clamoring, “My way is better than his or her way.” You’re burning through cash. Two minutes before a call with a potential investor, you hear a knock on the door and someone comes up to you saying, “We need to reconsider the emotional impact of our brand.”

You’re not going to hear it. Not only is it the wrong time, it’s not even in the right language.

“In the tech industry, when executives hear the word ‘brand’ they think crayons and coloring books,” says Wolfrom. “The tech industry tends to be product driven. They say, ‘I’ve done the market research and I mathematically understand there is a product need here, I don’t need to spend money on ‘soft’ elements such as a brand strategy to drive growth.”

Metrics vs. Emotions

Executives value metrics, not emotions. And if they don’t see the value in something, they’re not going to invest the time and money into it. Wolfrom has made an entire career out of breaking through to executives, and he says that the easiest way to show the importance of brand strategy is to demonstrate its value in business terms.

“Executives will always believe success depends on driving sales, building best-of-breed solutions, and retaining the best talent in a very competitive labor market,” says Wolfrom.

Simply put, the typical executive is concerned with business solutions, not branding solutions. The thing is, the two fields are inextricably linked. Your brand is the foundation upon which your business is built. In Wolfrom’s case, his former company was starting to quickly lose talent. In an effort to slow the brain drain, his CEO reluctantly signed off on an employee branding effort.

“The campaign was incredibly successful and created a tangible, measurable difference in the company,” says Wolfrom. “For our CEO, the vague concept of ‘brand strategy’ turned into something tangible — keeping talent to help build and sell products that connect with the market and drive revenue. One he saw the proof of concept, he wanted to know how we could apply this approach to the corporate brand and positioning.”

Brand Strategy Has Real ROI

It’s not just the HR world, either. When a company has a clear strategy and distinct vision, it has a direct impact on sales. Telling Wall Street that your mission is to generate x amount of dollars by x amount of time isn’t a vision, it’s an end goal. In other words, metrics don’t mean anything without the right message. Stakeholders must understand why the company is the organization to bet on for the long term.

“When employees are engaged and know the brand story, they are going to perform better,” says Wolfrom. “That’s just a fact. Engaged employees outperform non-engaged employees by 147 percent in earnings per share, and 72 percent of purchasers make decisions based on vision.”

Especially at publicly traded companies, convincing executives to invest in brand strategy can be difficult. At the end of the day, publicly traded companies are growth minded. Hence, growth doesn’t mean spending money, it means making money and keeping costs low. The question on everyone’s tongue is, “Where are we from a spend perspective?”

But speaking from experience, Wolfrom believes the money spent on brand strategy can have truly exponential returns. “Every company wants to grow, but are you truly being valued for the business you’re building?” he asks. “The answer to that question becomes clear when you have a strong brand story guiding you.”

Trust the Numbers

According to a McKinsey & Company study, enterprise organizations now view a corporate narrative as a “central rather than marginal element of a supplier’s proposition.” The study revealed that companies with clear narratives perform 20% better than companies with weak narratives.

In addition, strong narratives influence enterprise buyers’ decisions. Decision-makers are 10% more likely to consider solutions from companies that the market understands and feels connected to. The top 10 connected companies studied demonstrated a 31% greater growth in revenue than the 10 least connected organizations.

So, next time you hear the phrase “brand strategy,” don’t think crayons – think culture, clarity, and cash.

Emotive Brand is a San Francisco brand strategy and design agency.

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