In our work with mission-based leaders, there is one factor above all others that leads to successful brand differentiation.

That factor doesn’t involve SEO or PPC.

It’s not the best ad campaign. Nor even the best product. 

It is spiritual and strategic alignment between the CEO and the CMO.

Particularly when the CEO has been thinking for a while: “There’s something missing from how we’re telling our story. We’re not standing out like we could be.”

And when the CMO has been thinking for a while: “We need to do something bold. We need to rise above our competitors by inviting the market into a new story, a new discussion.”

From a branding perspective, when the two most inherently powerful ambassadors for the brand agree on what exists in the brand, why it is remarkable and what is missing, they are primed to solve the mystery their combined thinking revealed. 

When this alignment of the chief brand ambassadors occurs, the work of intrinsic branding can begin in earnest. Intrinsic branding is the practice of expressing your brand through your mission, beliefs and culture. Intrinsic brands are known for consistent language, immersive experiences and legendary storytelling. Intrinsic brands earn an enduring reputation for sincerity, authenticity and innovation.

Before a brand can express its mission, beliefs and culture fully to the market, it must do the deep work to uncover and articulate those elements in a way that is first genuine, second conversational and third, strategic. 

Many brand strategists begin the work of rebranding by focusing on strategy. But true differentiation does not begin with a survey of strategic desires. Brand differentiation begins with a collective acknowledgment and an honest assessment of what your brand must express to reflect why you are working to shift your industry or change the world. 

Since shifting an industry or changing the world are no small endeavors, the stronger the alignment of the CEO and CMO, the stronger the brand will be. Even if the CEO and CMO are the only bold leaders in the company, a vibrant, enduring brand can still emerge. When this duo is in strategic and spiritual harmony, the rest of the company (and your change-resistant customers) will eventually get on board. 

We have observed a few consistent and essential markers of this alignment in our work with our clients. 

First, the duo shares a mutual eagerness to be daring. A bold CEO with a play-it-safe CMO doesn’t work: nor does a bold CMO and a play-it-safe CEO. In both scenarios, the duo will continually butt heads and the brand runs the risk of stagnating while they duke it out. When both are daring, they receive the benefit of both speed and patience. They are able to execute quickly but also understand the long game of building a brand. 

Second, they have a mutual obsession with human experience. When both people in the CEO/CMO relationship are truly committed to the humans that touch the brand, it deeply informs how the brand is communicated. When you have a product-focused CEO and a human-focused CMO (or vice versa), this creates mixed messages and contributes to the already existing identity crisis within the brand. 

Third, the pair share alignment on outcomes and performance metrics. We’ve witnessed conflicting priorities between a CEO and a CMO, particularly when it comes to the setting and holding of standards connected to performance metrics or KPIs. Great branding will show up in your numbers, and those numbers ought to be tracked. Conflicts over the goals and the breadcrumb trail of metrics that help get you there will begin to erode trust. It will also damage the dynamic, which inevitably shows up in lack of execution and dearth of enrollment.  

We often say companies don’t buy anything or sell anything. People do. 

The same is true of branding. Companies don’t brand anything. People do. 

To earn a reputation as an intrinsic brand that is sincere, authentic and innovative, you must first be in sincere, authentic alignment with the people who make up the brand. 

If you are a CEO or CMO who already enjoys that dynamic, you’re primed to uncover the kismet that is your brand. 


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