February 2013 | 

Brand Leadership: Current Challenges and Opportunities


The value of the world’s top 100 global brands topped $1.25 trillion last year, with the brands themselves often serving as their companies’ largest asset. The challenge to manage, protect, and grow your brand(s) in a multi-channel environment populated by fierce global competitors and increasingly empowered consumers is formidable. Wharton@Work recently spoke with marketing professor and faculty director of a new Wharton Executive Education program, Brand Leadership: Strategies for Driving Growth in a Global Marketplace, Barbara Kahn, who shared current brand management challenges and offered some ideas for addressing them.

Wharton@Work: What makes today’s environment more challenging for brand management?

Barbara Kahn: The global marketplace continues to evolve as a more competitive and complex terrain, and there is enormous pressure to leverage brands as a mechanism for growth. Brand leaders need to innovate and be a part of their firms’ growth strategy, but at the same time they need to protect the brand.

W@W: What does increased competition mean for brands?

BK: It’s always been important that a brand be a strong differentiator, but that need is even greater today. How do you make it stand out in a crowded field? Consumers increasingly expect a brand experience, so there must be a focus on helping them build a relationship with your brand.

W@W: In the new program Brand Leadership: Strategies for Driving Growth in a Global Marketplace there is a strong emphasis on measuring your brand. Does that extend beyond establishing a dollar value?

BK: Yes. Everyone knows that measurement matters. You need to be able to talk with Finance and Accounting about your brand as an investment, what the brand is bringing to your bottom line, and the price premium you can get for a strong brand. But you also need to be able to measure what your brand means to your customers. You know what you think your brand is, but a brand is ultimately what’s in the customer’s mind. Is there a disconnect between what you believe about the brand and what they believe? It’s not easy to get that information. In the program, we look at different measurement techniques to understand what customers really think. We also work on Brand Audits and a project using participants’ brands so every executive can better value and measure the effectiveness of their brand.

W@W: What are some of the issues involved in growing a brand globally?

BK: [Wharton marketing professor] Jerry Wind [one of the most cited marketing authors and an expert on global branding] stresses that today, a brand has to mean the same thing in all places. There is a possibility that every brand could become a global brand, so you need to consider a number of factors sooner than later. Should you translate your brand? Should your marketing strategy be more local? Making a brand that is truly global has to take into account these and many other issues.

W@W: What about staying competitive by keeping your brand modern? How can you deliver consistency for your customers and not get dated?

BK: There has to be a balance between the need to reposition and keep it fresh and the need for consistency. In Brand Leadership, we look at how to grow your brand while maintaining equity. That means looking at your brand’s meaning. Is it timeless? If it’s successful, you’re going to want to keep it for a long time. Can it transcend cultures? If it becomes a global brand, it will need wide appeal. Does it make sense to come up with different brands or extend the brand name into another category? You need to understand the considerations of becoming a branded house or a house of brands. It’s these kinds of decisions that can provide growth or destroy it. When you’re working with an asset as valuable as your brand, you need to make sure you understand these challenges in today’s context. The Wharton marketing faculty who teach in the program have been studying the science of branding for over 25 years. We have the cutting-edge research and tools to help participants better manage their brands in light of current challenges.