Why You Need a Chief Branding Officer in 2010


When we formed Outspoken Media last January there was a point when Rae looked at me and asked, “So, what do you want to be called?” Rae was CEO. Rhea was COO. We had to find the corporate sounding title that described what I did. Otherwise, Rae feared people would assume that I was an employee and I may grow to resent Rhea and Rae. And while both of these things have already happened, we eventually settled on the term Chief Branding Officer. It seemed to encapsulate everything I planned to do with Outspoken. It was either that or The One Constantly Kicked.

I stumbled across a Forbes article yesterday entitled ”Chief Reputation Officer: Whose Job Is It?”. The article is written by Anthony Johndrow and discusses the importance of a Chief Reputation Officer to any organization. And though Anthony uses the term Reputation, while I use Branding and others have longed used Chief Listening Officer or Community Manager, the position we’re all talking about is really the same. It’s mine. And it’s going to become more important over the next year.

Here’s why I think your company needs a Lisa in 2010. I know it’s a scary thought.


Earlier today, Seth Godin wrote about the importance of putting a name on it as a way of ending the era of faceless bureaucracy where “important people” do “important things” with absolutely no accountability for how stupid they are. The days where you can get away with that are ending. In today’s environment, people want accountability. They like doing business with small companies because they know that Ed, the owner, is the one that decided to turn the WiFi off between 12-3 or that Mary is the one who just raised the prices by 10 percent. Electing a Chief Branding Officer who can be accountable for any changes your company makes, good and bad, is an important step in customer relations. Without it, people just stay angry. Your Chief Branding Officer is your resident fire fighter.  Reward them with combat pay.


You know what sucks? When you have a question about a product and have nothing but an 800 number to find a resolution. That’s a turn off for people. They want to know that if they have a problem, there’s someone, with a real name and face that they can go to for help. And while you may work from 8am-6pm, your community never sleeps. They want someone who’s going to be around the moment they have a problem. Rhea may be the perceived nicer one of the Outspoken organization, but I am the approachable one. I’m the one you know you can always get a hold of. If you have a question about Outspoken, even if it’s meant for Rhea or Rae, you’re going to email me because you know I’ll respond back, probably within minutes. If you want to know what Rae’s latest Twitter rant was about, you’re going to DM me to find out. I’m always popping into Twitter when people mention me or Outspoken. I have my email address directly on my Twitter profile. I’m really easy to find and there’s a trust indicator in that. You know that if you have a problem, I’m here to help. That’s what the Chief Branding Officer brings – they’re the go-to person for the community.

A Focused Brand

a young Lisa

It makes sense that there should be someone in charge of building your brand, right? I mean, the complete brand you create will be affected by many things, but someone needs to be in charge of shaping it and creating something that resonates with customers. Your Chief Branding Officer is this person. Your CBO should be consulted on not only what to say, but how to say it, when to say it, where to say it and who to say it to [waves to Rae]. This person is the anchor for all those conversations. While brand and reputation are not the same, you need to be developing both, not just leaving them to chance. Your CBO is responsible for helping to plot the course.

A Louder Voice

Dedicating someone to listening in to the conversations happening around means you’re left better able to respond to them and direct where things go. It gives you a platform to get your side of things out and to keep everyone on track if things start going astray. Being part of the conversation gives you a chance to shape it. Your brand is already being talked about whether you realize it or not. At least put someone in charge of direction that conversation. Because ignoring that it’s happening doesn’t make you invisible, it makes you mute. The person you assign with your CBO duties is going to have to find the line between “having a voice” and “annoying people with spam”. Make sure you bring someone on who knows how to talk to people and will be able to tell the difference.

A New Company Culture

That sounds horribly cheesy, doesn’t it? I know, I’m sorry. But I think that’s what social media is really about. It’s not about creating a Twitter account and using scripts to grab followers. It’s about making listening and transparency part of your company so that you bleed it out. That’s where companies find great success. And by electing a Chief Branding Officer to be those ears and the voice behind you, you bring that feeling and spirit inside and change the way the company works from the core out. The Chief Branding Officer is responsible for everything listed above, but they’re really responsible for bringing everyone – customers, clients and stakeholders – together so that everyone’s on the same page and standing behind the same core values. Tony Hsieh of Zappos mentioned this idea a lot during his kickoff keynote in Vegas. It’s something that really stuck with me.

Whether you find an unofficial Chief Branding Officer in your company or hire someone to do it full time, someone has to be in charge of creating the voice and brand of your company. Your Chief Branding Officer should be someone that embodies the company culture, that people will relate to and that genuinely enjoys reaching out and engaging with people. Without assigning someone the role, you leave it up to chance. And as the article in Forbes concludes, in 2010 that’s just a recipe for disaster.

Your Comments

  • Todd Heim

    I won’t lie, I did giggle when I first saw your title, Lisa. That doesn’t mean it isn’t just as important to have as a CEO, though. Just something I’ve never heard of before.

    Honestly, I think some CEO’s should change their title to CBO to do 2 things:
    1. get them off the high horse of their “title”.
    2. Remind them that they should be involved in the voice of their company (as its “leader”).

    • Lisa Barone

      You just implied that Rae is more important that me, didn’t you? I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE! [Okay, not really. But I know people who know people.]

      I don’t know that CEOs should change their title. In most situations, I’m not sure I’d trust many CEOs as being the full brands and voices of your company. Perhaps its because, as you said, most are too high on their horse to even hear the conversation. That’s kind of like why your CEO shouldn’t blog. :p

  • David Zemens

    Great job title for someone who knows what it’s all about. Plus it sounds cool.

    am not suggesting that this applies in your case, Lisa, but sometimes it’s equally as important to simply be identified in a professional way. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck … well, you know the rest of that story.

    Seriously, though, when one operates and produces in a manner deserving of respect that’s what they generally will get. It doesn’t hurt to have a cool title, either. I

  • Scott Polk

    We all need a Lisa in our company .. I laughed at the title at first, but this was well researched and written … Good Job!

    ~ scott polk

  • Jill Whalen

    Lisa, you mentioned that companies can hire someone to be the CBO, but then what happens when they leave (ala you @ BC)?

    For something this important that is going to be ongoing and really shape who and what the company is, I almost think it really should be a stakeholder.

    Interested in more thoughts on this.

    • Scott Polk

      @Jill – a CBO would more than likely be a stakeholder at that level .. and honestly, that is an issue with any position, anywhere with any company

    • Lisa Barone

      Yeah, I think that’s always going to be an issue when you hire someone to be the face/voice of your company. Ideally, as Scott mentions below, the person in charge of sculpting your brand and voice should be someone you trust will be there for awhile (ie they have a stake somehow). That said, it doesn’t matter WHO’S doing it – you run the risk of that person leaving. As emo as it sounds, people always leave. :p

      As I’ve mentioned before, I think it’s something needs to be ironed out way in advance. I’d also argue companies should be building their brand/voice off the culture of the company as much as possible, not a single face – though that does tend to happen by accident (me at Bruce Clay, for example). If Tony ever left Zappos, it’s be a hit, but I think the company culture has been so defined that they’d be able to get someone in there to at least partially fill in his shoes. Zappos developed a book for internal use detailing their culture and what Zappos means. You have to think that would be an incredible road map for whoever took over.

      • frustratedCM

        This is a GREAT article Lisa. I’ve actually found myself in a company (currently) where I am the ‘Community Manager’ and the ‘liason’ between our users and the rest of the company (since none of my 15 other co-workers use the service they are building) – yet can’t get any direction from my CEO or Directors on where the community and website is headed.

        The company is completely lacking in culture and despite my best attempts to put a positive spin on blog posts, faq sections, and general interaction with users – all my efforts are squashed. This is all AMAZING to me, considering I live/work in the ‘tech bubble’ of San Francisco.

        While I do believe in the service we are building for businesses, I also wonder if I’m wasting time being the ‘CBO’ for a company that doesn’t really give a shit about it’s users. In fact, I know I am. I could never get away with a blog post like this, they’d shoot me right on the spot. Thanks again!

  • Michael Martin


    Doesn’t your position also include agitator of controversy?

    PS You should sprinkle some Red Sox / Patriots posts in to cause some real debate here :)

    ,Michael Martin

    • Lisa Barone

      I think my job also includes starting conversations and debate, yes. But that’s more as part of my role as blogger, not Chief Brand Officer.

      I talked about the red sox yesterday.

      • Michael Martin

        Exactly you should elaborate on that Tweet w a post explaining if you are saying bloggers are like the Red Sox since they were on top in the beginning like the Sawx were with 5 championships to the Yankees none and then a long dry spell before coming out on top again … but then the Yanks/SEOs won the lastest championship.

        Is Rea Babe Ruth? R u like Manny leaving the Red Sox a la Bruce Clay?

        Needs a long post explaining the parallels :)

        ,Michael Martin

  • victor kippes

    Ok, I have read your last two post and I’m getting a complex. As an over 40 year old CEO all I can say is this, I am not a twitter stalker and am trying my best not to bullshit, lie and conceal on my blog. Perhaps I need to find a a CBO. Great post as always.

  • Lisa Barone

    I both giggled and felt guilty over your comment. Oh, dear. :)

    You don’t have to be a Twitter stalker to know what’s going on and what people are saying. If you did, then no one would be able to do it. I believe you already have a job, yes? You probably don’t need another.

    The easiest way to start and jump in is to create a listening station. You don’t even have to hit everything mentioned in that post. Start with some Google Alerts. You can get them via RSS or email. Maybe set up some Twitter RSS feeds. You’re already reading blogs, so RSS shouldn’t be too foreign. They’re two very small things but they’ll help you to hear what people are saying while you’re going about your day. And if you find something that’s relevant you can hop in. I know all this sounds like a lot sometimes, but there are ways to make it manageable. And that’s the idea.

  • Jeff Esposito

    This is a great post that shows some forward looking. There’s no question that these positions will become the new “it”job, the only question is who is best suited for it. Is it someone who is a greybeard or someone younger who is more in tune with the social space?

  • Jim "Genuine" Turner

    What happens Lisa when Lisa’s brand and reputation and personality becomes more well known than Outspoken? You are pushing your company and in doing so you become more well known than the company you are representing?

    Shouldn’t Chief Branding Officer be written into each principals job description and a fiduciary duty among them? I realize that you have dedicated more resources towards this accomplishment than perhaps the other partners and that may be a function of delegation.

    The other thing I wanted to question is how does this job make you less of an employee? Each employee is also representing the brand.

    • Lisa Barone

      Lots of good questions.

      I’m not really sure how to answer that first question in regard to Outspoken. Any brand or reputation that I earn for myself personally, I believe, gets carried right on over to Outspoken as its the company that I’ve helped form. The same with the other girls. I think this was something I dealt with more when I worked for other people. For example, people often asked whether I was “tainting” the Bruce Clay brand because Lisa and BCI are obviously very different entities with different personalities. When I was an employee at BCI I tried to be aware of that a bit more.

      I do agree that Brand Officer duties should be integrated into everyone’s role. Absolutely. And I think we’ve definitely done that at Outspoken. Everyone is responsible for maintaining and strengthening the brand with their work and words…however, the responsibility to create it falls a bit more on me. Everything here is collaborated on, however, when it comes to brand or content, I get final say.

      It doesn’t make me more or less of anything. In the beginning, I think we just wanted to make it clear that Rhea, Rae and myself were all equal partners in the company so we tried to title ourselves appropriately. At the end of the day, though, the title doesn’t matter.

  • Sonny Gill

    Great post and thoughts here [per usual], Lisa – and glad you touched upon shifting company culture. One thing I’ll say though is that it can be a CBO or SM Manager or XYZ. Whatever the title, the person has to have a vision of the future of the business and the strategies that help integrate this (social) shift within the current biz model. It could be a CBO, but I think the title is less important than the person who will be helping in this shift and getting all parts of the organization on board.

    Nevertheless, 2010 will definitely be an interesting year for corporations and to see how they shift (or not) with these trends.

    Happy New Year, Lisa – glad I came across Outspoken Media’s blog and you smart ladies this year! :)

  • kelvin newman

    The personality behind the face of the company leaving is always going to be a worry, but as long as that person is having a positive influence in the mean time it’s going to make sense

  • Leon Williams

    Nice Lisa – about bloomin time!

  • Jim Rudnick

    As always, Lisa…spot-on! Will be back every day in the future to read this blog…you and OM have definitely earned a spot on my morning blog reading list!

    Best to you and Rae too and do have a happy new year!



  • kimmi

    just out of curiosity, but does branding tie into Public Relations and most companies have a Public Relations go-to person for that? or how is it different?

    love your articles, btw! enlightening and inspiring…