A Path to Brand Leadership for 2021 and Beyond

By Ida Cheinman posted 03-11-2021 08:13


This article was first published on

In the executive summary for the Best Global Brands 2020 report, Interbrand identified three top brand leadership trends for the decade ahead and the ways in which brands can remain strong in the face of rapidly changing environments, technologies and customer expectations.

According to the study, all leading brands share the following characteristics: alignment, engagement and relevance.

Complete Brand Alignment

Most companies by now recognize that leading with purpose creates a competitive differentiation and helps attract customers and employees who are like-minded and see the value of doing business with a company as much more than just making a transaction. Leading with purpose results in much deeper customer relationships and customer and employee preference, loyalty and advocacy – in other words, a much stronger, more valued brand.

This is still true in 2021 and beyond. However, brand leadership for the decade ahead requires more than defining and articulating what a brand stands for. It requires the company to be fully aligned around the brand:

  • To bridge the gap between brand strategy and operational functions, including operations, finance, business development, marketing and human resources.
  • To use the brand to guide how the whole company operates and integrate the brand into systems, processes, corporate culture, behaviors and decision making.

“The whole organization [must be] pulling in the same direction, committed to the brand strategy and empowered by systems to execute it across the business.” – Interbrand

Complete brand alignment also calls for a different approach to brand governance – an agile approach designed for rapid decision-making about, and on behalf of, the brand.

Especially difficult to master for professional services brands, agility is the key to modern brand management and a brand’s ability to survive and thrive in a challenging environment. A balance of short-term agility and a long-term strategic focus is what enables a brand to adapt to circumstances without letting those circumstances change its core purpose.

Authentic Engagement

We’ve all heard this a million times: companies don’t do business with companies – people do business with people. What’s more, we all want to do business with people we like and trust. How many times in our professional career have you heard, “I like them, and I trust them to do the job”?

Branding with humans in mind is critical to cultivating internal and external brand champions, giving all stakeholders the vision, structure and motivation to turn a brand into action. It’s the essential ingredient in creating engaging, trusted brands that everyone wants to work with and to work for.

Having a purpose-driven brand inherently leads to marketing communications with greater emotional resonance, but your brand must act authentically. It must treat its stakeholders (internal and external) as partners – and as such, it must authentically engage in meaningful conversations, not “target” them with messaging campaigns.

Engagement is born from a deep understanding of your stakeholders’ needs and is rooted in empathy. Authentic brand engagement relies on a strong strategic core and an equally strong emotional connection with audiences.

Steadfast Relevance

In today’s volatile, hyperconnected, challenging B2B marketing environment where most companies sound alike, sales cycles take years, services become commoditized overnight, and customers act more and more like consumers, how can B2B brands keep up?

The answer is in what Prophet calls “relentless relevance.” Complete alignment and authentic engagement are essential for brands to remain relevant to their audiences, moving audiences from prospects to lifelong customers to outspoken advocates.

Relevance is about offering something of value, something that will help your customers do their job, achieve their goals and advance their personal agendas. In return, they will give you their time, attention, a piece of their business and, ultimately, their loyalty.

How can your brand achieve steadfast relevance?

Find shared purpose. Begin by building your brand on a strategic purpose that creates shared value for customers and employees. There’s no better way to demonstrate relevance than by making a difference in the lives of people you are trying to reach.

Live your brand. Put purpose into action through brand experiences that deliver on your brand purpose and promise with every interaction. By remaining authentically engaged, empathetic and agile, brands remain attuned and, therefore, relevant to their audiences, anticipating and addressing their evolving needs.

How are those who come in contact with our brand different and better as a result?

Connect brand and culture. Relevant brand experiences are delivered by employees. A gap between the brand and corporate culture results in a gap between the brand and the customer. In other words, when a company fails to connect its purpose with behaviors and actions – live its brand authentically inside and out – it results in lack of employee engagement and failure to deliver on the brand promise to customers.

From Insight to Action

What’s especially notable about this year’s Best Global Brands report is that despite the highly turbulent year, strong brands have become even stronger in the face of the global crisis. How do you ensure that your brand can continue to engage its audiences and stay strong and relevant?

  • Begin with a strong strategic brand foundation to inform the alignment between the desired brand perception, customer expectations and actual brand experience.
  • Develop a brand around your company’s unique differentiators while articulating them in terms that are relevant to your customers.
  • Activate your brand, mobilizing people around it and giving them the tools (and most importantly, the reason) to champion the brand inside and outside of the organization.
  • Manage your brand with agility to help it withstand the test of time and to give it the power to adapt to changes in the economy, business practices, culture, technology and more.