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A principle we are all familiar with exists in the corporate context as well as in the private sphere. And in a time of todays buzzwords like “fail fast, fail better”, it is still highly relevant when it comes to brand management: We know that we should actually do more sport, eat healthier, be less involved with our phones and be more involved with our human counterparts. Knowledge alone does not lead to better action. Recently observed this summer – the ice cream parlours are well frequented, not all of us want to swim for hours at the pool and prefer to hang out on the lounger, and the myriad of holiday photos in social media speak volumes.

The “knowing – doing problem” is not new.

Some years ago I came across a book with the title “The knowing Doing Gap. How smart companies turn knowledge into action. “The two authors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton vividly describe how most companies suffer from such gaps between existing knowledge and active implementation. According to their findings, the inability to execute is worse than not knowing what to do in the first place. Whereby we should not confuse the number of meetings and meeting documentation with actual action. It just seems equally hard to execute all these insights today as it was back then. Because the authors wrote their book 20 years ago – and if you look at current research, it has lost nothing of its truth.

Companies know that brands are strong assets.

That the findings are still up to date can also be seen in marketing. When it comes to brands, there is obviously a gap between knowledge and action, as a recent study by the British Financial Times shows: the gap between knowledge about the power of the brand – and the corresponding communicative action that follows from it is huge.

Corporate leaders see brands as key drivers of success for a wide variety of business objectives. These include above all new revenue sources and general corporate growth. Strong brands also contribute to increasing profitability and optimizing profits for at least more than half of those surveyed.

Marketing just does not act accordingly.

This may also be due to one’s own level of knowledge about brand management and brand potential. On the one hand, business goals and what is attributed to brands are sometimes far apart. Because at the top of the corporate agenda, besides cash flow, resilience and risk reduction, are above all profitability and margins – and from the company’s point of view, the brand is interestingly enough only a possible lever to a seemingly limited extent.

The knowledge about brand development, maintenance and management is decreasing rather than increasing. Only a portion of those surveyed feel sufficiently competent: More than half rate their own knowledge of brand development as average to poor. Less than half of the organizations with little knowledge at board level see the balance between short-term and long-term marketing goals as a lever for better results. By comparison, 83% of those with more comprehensive brand building knowledge see this as a key lever for success.

This also creates a gap on the commercial side – because communicative action shows that the full brand potential is not used and cultivated. The lack of implementation competence, which Sutton and Pfeffer have so aptly described, is therefore not only widespread – it is becoming greater.

Short-term action is the killer for any long-term marketing success.

One aspect that helps to build the bridge between knowledge and action is a review of what is defined as KPIs in the company. And here too, Sutton and Pepper point out the importance of not just, or too much, looking at short-term performance.

In recent years, there has been an increasing trend towards more short term activism and less long-term thinking, especially in the case of advertising spendings – which would also benefit brand development. The long-term analyses in the Fields and Binet studies successfully demonstrate how effective long-term thinking and action in brand building also requires communication. The most recent study shows, however, how much a pure focus on short-term effects prevails here despite all available knowledge.

Those who know their gap can overcome it.

The authors of the “Knowing Doing Gap” saw one reason for the lack of activity in the training of modern managers – and that in today’s business world “smart talk” is rewarded above all – not implementation. According to the study results above, this still seems to be the case. So how can we overcome the gap – and get started?

The basic lever to get into action in organizations was already clear for the authors at their time – and is today more important than ever: overcoming fear and mistrust in the organization. Instead, they should strengthen the motivation to take action, strengthen the courage to take risks, and measure and reward the implementation of knowledge. Wherever rivalry and competition prevail within a company, however, people will continue to be hesitant to take risks that are part of every action.

Fortunately, the Financial Times study also shows that the group of respondents instinctively know that there is a need for action. Two-thirds are aware of the need for a stronger balance between short-term and long-term action. And 62% are already optimizing here: in the form of simpler, better brand KPIs, higher board involvement in branding, but also through external support in integrating data and insights. After the summer break should therefore be the ideal time to define better goals and implement them before the end of the year.

First published in Absatzwirtschaft (08/2019) with the following link:


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