So, do your suppliers really care about (a) the direction and long term success of your brand? Or are they more interested in (b) selling you something that will benefit them directly? If you answered anything but “b,” you are very optimistic, trusting, and unfortunately naïve. Suppliers have budgets just like you do. Suppliers need to make certain profits each month to meet running costs.
Does this mean that all suppliers are just in it for the cash? Yes and no. Supplier welfare will always figure ahead of a client’s brand performance. However most suppliers understand that poor channel performance will result in a reallocation of resources away from them, so it is in everyone’s best interest for suppliers to perform well for their client’s brand.
Ok, so now that you realize that your channel suppliers are only your friends because you pay them, you also need to recognize that these friends often don’t play well with others. Particularly when these “others” have the potential to starve one another’s P&L statements. For example, if your PR firm sells you a wonderful media campaign for the next three months that is outside of the designated budget, then you will naturally move resources away from another channel. Your channel suppliers know this and, consciously or not, are always competing against one another for your resources.
The implications of subliminal faction infighting and competition can be seriously damaging for any brand. The damage is most readily experienced by customers receiving a disjointed brand experience. The better performing brands have the correct weightings on the correct communication channels, and all are based on the optimal market brand interaction and experience.
With so many parties naturally vested in their own interests, how can you safeguard the integrity of your brand?
Some years ago, Microsoft tackled this issue by introducing a marketing procedure called “OneBrief.” OneBrief was the name given to a regular meeting of marketing staff and suppliers to discuss brand decisions. This multi-supplier WIP ensured that all marketing stakeholders are aware of and agree on brand development pathways. "Problem solved," I hear you say… maybe, and maybe not.
The concept of OneBrief, or “OneWIP” (as named by some other brands that have followed Microsoft’s lead), has yielded some very positive brand consistency outcomes. The concept has also helped marketing and brand managers manage resources. However, the companies that are set to benefit most are those who have taken this concept one step further and have established what is known as a “Brand Council.”
A Brand Council is a group of people, all of whom have responsibility to a particular brand. The most effective Brand Councils are made up of the client-side marketing team along with representatives from the usual supplier arms: advertising, PR, interactive, environmental (marketing), HR and even L&D for the more intelligent brands.
Furthermore, the most efficient Brand Councils are facilitated by an independent brand custodian. This brand custodian is entrusted to work parallel with the marketing team in navigating a brand’s course. This independent must possess a unique blend of skills and knowledge all around: the brand in focus, the commercial interests of all parties, and the human negotiation process.
Brand custodians are impervious to supplier influence, imposed obligation through wine and dine tactics, and "new" inspiration from a change in staff at an appointed agency.
Holding the reins…
The fortune of a brand’s journey can often be told well before the wagon leaves town, by looking at who is holding the reins and who's riding shotgun.
Ask yourself, “Am I truly leading or just steering,” and have you chosen partners who are genuinely interested in your brand’s optimal passage, or are they more likely to shoot one another to gain greater spoils in the purse?
As cowboy folklore suggests “trust everybody, but make sure it’s you who cuts the deck, and whatever you do, never ask a barber if you need a haircut.”