Catriona Henry, Global Brand Strategy Lead at OMD Worldwide, discusses integration, why having more touchpoints is complicating brand governance, and engaging Gen Z.

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Catriona Henry, Global Brand Strategy Lead, OMD Worldwide

Brand governance has become a lot more complex for global brands recently. In your view, what’s been driving this?

There are a number of major factors that have been driving this – globalisation, demographic changes, media fragmentation and COVID-19. These are all factors that don’t happen in isolation and therefore have overlapping impacts on brand governance. Firstly, Gen Z expects much more transparency from companies with a purpose. Brands need to be seen to do the right thing, and more importantly, be held to account by consumers and their staff.

I think the biggest issue really is in the changing landscape through the proliferation of social channels and the challenges of working across all of them.

There’s an issue for example with global brands who are very specific in not wanting to market to kids. Not because of regulations, but actually because of their own internal governance. We are seeing brands proactively engage with regulators in total transparency so that they get solutions that are practical and workable. As such they are adhering not just to the letter of their internal governance but the spirit as well. The complexity in working across numerous social channels then presents some challenges e.g. if age gating isn’t possible or flawed. Changes around regulations on the use of first-party data also have massive implications for brand governance. Your Head of Brand previously wouldn’t have thought about data, but they do now, because they're collecting it and using it in their content. And then there’s the whole media inflation issue. All our teams are having to do more with less so they want to get it right the first time.

And how has brand safety become more of a factor?

Brands are much more cognisant of the need to be responsible and to work with the platforms for their support in this. The real challenge is how to have freedom within a framework. Because one of the things about having speed and agility is that you can't suddenly create a bottleneck of brand approval. For brands that want to be in culture and use social a lag of 4 hours or more for approval is too long... you have to have much flatter structures, and more integrated teams – for example on the social side, bringing together paid media with the PR teams to really be able to act in real time and think what's right for their brands. As advertising becomes increasingly automated the right systems in place to ensure brand safety are critical.

Out of the models in use for global brand governance, which ones do you adhere to?

That really depends on the company structure that we are working with and whether we are talking about content, media or data. For example with; design its possible to have a a very centralised approach, and the design guidelines are probably the strictest in terms of global consistency.However things like tone of voice tend to be more nuanced because that's where the local markets need to really bring the brand to life. From a media point of view, we absolutely have to bring in the local perspective. The platforms all have different footprints in different markets, and they can have varying demographics and different protocols so its so important that we employ local governance to reflect what the overall global ambition might be. As communication experiences have become more integrated, nuanced and layered a proactive and transparent approach to governance is key to create the consistency of outcome desired.

Do certain sectors have different approaches to brand governance?

Every client has a very different structure, often based on their own culture and their own DNA, how the brands evolve. For the tech brands, it's much easier because they’re starting from scratch. Across different categories I see clients trying one thing and then moving back to more hierarchical structures. But the one thing that's consistent is that there has to be more integration across the global and local teams, both horizontally and vertically, to really deliver brand governance in a modern world. More proactivity, dialogue and transparency.

From your experience, tell us about how it actually works in practice?

The one thing is to accept that it's going to be fluid. You need to establish what are the absolute must haves – usually design oriented, and what are the key brand cues and behaviours that are non-negotiable. What will jeopardise brand integrity and impact the business. Then you need to help teams understand where they have latitude and where they very clearly don't; that they can take the decisions without having to go through six million checks. Its about having systems in place that are easily and almost intuitively understood so that teams understand not just the guidance and rules but the intent behind them so they can make the best decision.

How do you deal with any conflicts?

First, you need to have more open conversations right from the start, and make sure that you're all aligned on the same business objectives and measured and incentivised in the same way. If you've got a local team being measured on one incentive and the global team on something else, there will be a disconnect in terms of governance.

When you shift to a more centralised structure, what advice can you give to people?

Sending yet another playbook out does not get hearts and minds excited – you have to hit the road. You have to go out and spend time with people, talk to them, listen and really understand how and why they are so concerned about an issue. I applaud agility, but rushing to do things and just throwing money at a problem is not a solution.

Who are the people who are now responsible for global brand governance?

It's not just marketing people; it's very often increasingly handled at the CEO level. The CEO is charged with value creation, brand governance is therefore a crucial component of that.

Have you proven how valuable global brand governance is?

There's a Harvard Business Review describing how brand governance is now becoming a competitive driver for business. People are much more conscious of the fact that their brands are so multifaceted – there are so many different touch points, so many different data areas, too many opportunities for things to go brilliantly, but also, spectacularly wrong as well. So that's why it's really important to bring all of those different things together.

What's your experience with playbooks and how to make that process better?

You won’t believe the number of times a playbook just goes out into the ether, sometimes six months late from the global team, and then the local team completely ignore it. If you want hearts and minds you need to get everyone involved in it – consulting them when you're creating the content, so they're actually engaged in the process.

What future trends might affect global brand governance?

Gen Z wants to be part of and own their brands. They are expecting an increased focus on diversity, inclusion and ESG, with tangible results. These are key issues that will reflect on the brand and need to be considered in determining a governance structure. Another trend is the emergence of different types of platforms. How does the brand show up across them and will there be different ways across that experience? And how does technology live in service of the brand and the consumer experience? If you understand that, then you can create the right governance framework. Finally, there’s sustainability. It pains me to see so many assets created that never get used. We all need to work harder to deliver a more efficient ecosystem.