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Remote CCO: How Small Companies Future-Proof Their Brand

We work in a world of disruption. Startups seem to be birthed every day and swallow up hundreds of small companies in the process. What allows these businesses to grow to such proportions? Valuing innovation and providing their company access to these tools and ideas. Some smaller enterprises imagine innovation to be reserved for fortune 500 companies or startups with million-dollar seed rounds. Access to creative thinking can be obtained by any sized company, given they recognize the value and give it a prominent place in their company.

In-House Design and The Agile World We Live In.

If you take a look at well know branding agencies and thought leaders in the field, you’ll see a recurring theme: Agility. Some use different words to describe it, but they are all aiming for the same thing– being able to adapt in a fast-paced world. Agile isn’t a buzzword being used to simply sell books or a new way to market the same old services. This is a response to what is happening in the market and is one of the most relevant attributes of businesses today.

We live in an agile world. So we create agile brands because our customers, competition, and even employees are agile. They all move, think, and act quickly. If our brand is tied down by yesterday’s tactics, it will be another dead business name on some government list of trademarks.

The Agile Customer

Customers move, think, and act quickly and are all equipped with a megaphone called “reviews” who are looking at brands differently than they did 15 years ago.

They move on to different brands quickly because there are plenty of options. Rarely do they find an industry where there is only one option. They want the best product and to be a part of the best story, and despite what your company thinks, that story is not your brand’s story. The best story they want to be a part of is their own story. How you enrich their lives and what values your company stands for effects their story. If it has an adverse impact, they’ll move on to the next, if it resonates with their values, they’ll be a loyal customer. 

Product authenticity has always been important to consumers, whether it was pottery in ancient Greece or a purse with a Louis Vuitton emblem on it. Brand authenticity has become just as important for many consumers. 

But what is authenticity? Authenticity is a reaction sourced from core values. Without core values, your business will struggle to communicate authenticity.

The Agile Competition 

Big brands are local brands. The #supportlocalbusiness and #smallbusinesssaturday trends are responses that show just how much times have changed. Big city corporations are in every rural market. Big brands are now local brands, at least in regards to accessibility and competition.

Big corporations are not the bad guy in this scenario. They were agile and innovative. These big companies were built from small ideas that were infused with innovation. Airbnb and Uber were both simple concepts which disrupted entire marketplaces. Letting someone crash at your house or giving someone a ride has been around since the dawn of housing and transportation. The monetization of these concepts, hotels, and taxis are an everyday occurrence. Airbnb and Uber were simply able to see the gap in the marketplace and implement a successful strategy.

Have you noticed how many of these disruptive companies come from the same area–the most popular being silicone valley? The simple answer is culture. There is access to innovation all around them. This access allowed the start of a culture where we now regularly see giants being made.

Innovation in the workplace happens most when there is a creative culture. 

The Agile Employee

Your workplace is a product. The culture, layout, and features are the products you are selling to your employees. Just like customers, more employees are caring about the purpose of your business and how the company enriches their lives.

The retention rate of employees is a constant frustration for many businesses. Employee loyalties have shifted. Some have mislabeled it as workers being lazy. I’m not saying there aren’t idle workers in the modern workplace, but laziness has been around in every generation. This new issue being faced is not laziness but rather fulfillment. 

Studies show the top reason employees leave their job is, you guessed it, money. That’s not surprising. Being challenged in the workplace, and being valued by their leaders, were near the top of the list.  

The number one reason for employees quitting (pay) should not be the number 1 focus for trying to fix the problem. The second reason for not being challenged should be the focus. When companies do not value creative thinking and innovative culture, the employee gets bored and unfulfilled at work. They end up dreading work. This kind of employee negatively impacts your bottom line. 

This approach begins to answer the other issues. Innovative companies make more profit than they would otherwise. This profit can be used for pay raises you thought you were unable to provide. (The number one reason why employees leave companies.)

Sometimes leaders don’t give their employees the appreciation they deserve. And, sometimes, employees don’t provide their leaders anything to really applaud. Being an innovative company allows team members to shine. It is hard for managers and leadership to give meaningful praise to someone who is just doing the same thing over and over again with a half-hearted approach. With purpose-based strategies and innovative culture, there will be more opportunities to give legitimate praise.

But the greatest pitfall I see between leaders and employees today is a leader’s inability to value and develop the potential of their employees. They somehow think, with a headhunter and getting a new person to fill the role, everything will be fixed. There are some key positions where this will be true, but for the majority of your staff, this is wrong. Most people are similar. The leadership of a company will be the defining quality in the development of productive teams.

Something is Broken With the Freelance for Brand Development

For companies wanting to consistently grow their brand, the freelance model for brand development is broken. You cannot take on an agile world with a set of broken tools, yet that is what happens daily in small companies. It’s not working and, in some cases, has made matters worse. 

The majority of small companies are advised to turn to freelance graphic designers for their brand development and visual identity.

1) The In-House Secretary Route

Most companies don’t make it as far as hiring a freelance graphic designer because the CEO is unclear about how to find an excellent graphic designer. Instead, Kate, the youngest secretary who has an artistic flair and owns a creative program, will make the visual identity for their company. If the value of the company’s reputation, strategy, and product is equal to Kate’s Canva skills, they’re in luck. But if the product, company reputation, and marketing strategy are of more importance, then they are losing value every single day.

2) Freelance Graphic Designer Route

Taking a look at the other businesses that were able to hire a competent freelance graphic designer, we’ll find their chances of success marginally improves. A good graphic designer will know how to use their design tools, make aesthetically pleasing designs, and provide you with the relevant file formats needed. 

One small snag, the average graphic designer, isn’t a brand strategist. Most likely, they picked up on some brand strategy along the way but aren’t experts in what marketing will look like for your business, or in specific demographics of your target audience, or how to position your brand. So, the business owner will be responsible for being an expert in all of these things and know how to communicate it clearly to their freelance designer, who will have to interpret it correctly into a visual design. There’s quite a bit of margin for error.

3) The Brand Strategist Route

The final option is to hire a freelance brand strategist and visual designer. They will know brand strategy and be experts in visual design, thus creating a great plan and visual identity for your business. Check! You did it! Done! The brand is launched!

Except, a problem arises. What usually happens 3-6 months down the road? The spectacular launch in June turns into a business in August, which is stuck in an unchanging cryogenic state. The brand identity floats aimlessly through space, hoping nothing breaks in their brand because there is no expert on board who can fix anything, let alone maintain it.

You may think you can just hire a brand strategist on retainer. And I would say you are absolutely right. But if you are going to be paying them a monthly salary, don’t you want that money to go toward someone invested in your business? Someone who will work for the gains of your business without you having to ask them. It takes someone at the executive level.

4) The Remote CCO Route

The most logical and profitable option for companies wanting to develop their brand is to hire a CCO (Chief Creative Officer). At this point, business owners start thinking their budget cannot accommodate this, or that their company doesn’t need a full-time CCO. That’s where the remote model of a CCO comes in.

What is a remote CCO (Chief Creative Officer)

Remote is an asset not a liability. The Pandemic taught us in-house design teams, or in-house anything is a fluid subject.

 Let’s first tackle the remote part. The attributes of remote work are part of the solution for most small companies. It allows access which most smaller companies couldn’t otherwise acquire due to location and budget constraints. The same technology that has allowed big corporations to access local markets is the same tech enabling smaller companies to innovate.

A new approach to office engagement also allows for a new approach to payment, which impacts time and money. A remote CCO isn’t typically a full-time employee. This opens negotiations of salary, expected hours, and responsibilities to be handled in a way that is beneficial to both parties. The creative worker values the freedom remote work offers, while business owners welcome the opportunity to work with highly qualified personal at a fraction of the cost.

This article focuses on remote workers, but all the responsibilities and innovative benefits of a remote CCO would apply to a typical CCO who works in your office. The main take away is to incorporate creative strategies and brand development at the executive level of your company. 

Their Responsibilities

At its most basic measure, a remote CCO or Chief Creative Officer is responsible for brand development and direction. What makes the CCO different from a brand strategist is their role in developing an innovative culture from an executive standpoint. They do so by introducing creative frameworks that elevate a typical “brainstorming” session. They act in an advisory role for leadership and implement the solutions needed to reinvigorate the brand. Therefore, CCOs are leaders in the company, strategists at the table, and creative in communications.

Being an executive-level employee, the CCO should be involved in any meetings regarding business strategy or brand development. The CCO works closely with other leadership roles in the company and benefits the business by offering a creative and strategic set of eyes.

The remote CCO in The Workplace

How a remote CCO might work with your team in the office is by utilizing video conference calls for executive meetings, emails, calls and messaging for communication with staff, and utilizing a secretary who is involved with the various parts of projects. For example, the secretary might correspond with freelance photographers, relay staff needs to the remote CCO, or interact with local print shops. 

 An effective CCO marries the aspect of business strategy and brand development and integrates it within the company’s culture. 

How The Remote CCO Answers the Call of an Agile World

Having a creative mind structured in the business allows for innovation, which works toward the profit and longevity of your business. Enterprises are complex organisms with multifaceted possibilities and interconnected relationships. The expert in this field will see the gold hidden in the hills of your business.

The first thing a remote CCO will do is run diagnostics on your business and brand. This allows them to start developing the strategy of your brand. After generating your brand strategy, they will translate it into a visual identity, touch-points, marketing layout, and brand activation. From there, the CCO continues her role in developing the brand in response to the company’s goals and strategies, their customers, competition, and employees. This can take effect through staff meetings, in-company correspondence, social media, branded materials, and incubating innovative ideas. 

Responding to the Agile Customer:

The CCO is always learning to understand the customer better. Brands are not built solely by businesses anymore but with their customers. With an ear to the ground in real-time customer reactions, the CCO is ever adjusting the brand’s touch-points to better relate to its customers. With every rotation, this circular cycle of building your brand develops a stronger relationship between the business and the customer. As Marty Neumeier illustrates, “The customer creates the brand, the brand sustains the company, and the company produces the customer.” This changes your business-based products into customer-based products, thus delighting your audience and promoting repeat buyers as well as brand advocacy.

 Having a CCO allows your business to be more authentic. A company cannot be genuine without having core values. Authenticity is a reaction that is sourced from core values.

Since the remote CCO begins his work by drawing out and clearly defining the purpose of your business, they develop the values and DNA of the brand. Your brand’s core values will be sourced from the purpose statement. Authenticity is a reaction. Making plans, writing drafts, and delivering a response are needed for brand development. The type of response that elevates your brand is made in the moment. Without core values, your brand will feel lost; you can never hit your target if it isn’t defined.

Responding to the Agile Competition:

Having a CCO gives you and your team access to innovation. The same kinds of innovative strategies and thought frameworks that are being used by the big guys will be accessible to your own team. Not only that, but your small group can be faster at implementing change than the red tape big corporations have to go through.

One of the ways this increases efficiency is you no longer have to spend all the time you usually would in bringing an outsider up to speed. When I consult a new business or create a brand identity, more than half my time is spent gathering data to understand the company that hires me. This is a good business practice, but it isn’t the most efficient long term workflow. What small businesses might lack in the strength when compared to a big corporate giant, it makes up in agility. Use your small team to a competitive advantage.

A remote CCO allows innovative culture to be created in your workplace. Successful companies who have lasted with the times aren’t successful because they simply threw money at their problems. They succeeded because they threw their budgets at innovation. They gave it the priority and position it deserves. You can never be a leader when your following others from the rear.

Responding to the Agile Employee:

The remote CCO restructures the direction of the company based on purpose and values. Having a value statement isn’t enough for an employee. They must know what it is, have permission to pursue it, and be appreciated for their efforts.

Having a purpose-based business sets up a clear target to aim at for your entire team. This begins to unravel the boredom and feelings of being trapped by the employee. And for the leadership, you’ll start to have more and more employees who are energized and understand more clearly how the team operates.

This can lead to financial gains for the company, which can work toward building your team further through continued learning, raises, bonuses, or adding more access to tools or thinking for your employees. 

From small business to mid-sized companies, it is time to prioritize creative culture in the workplace and the role a CCO plays in your company. 

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