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Wendy’s CEO lectures on brand relevance

| Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Wendy’s Company President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Emil Brolick spoke Friday in the first installment of the annual “Boardroom Insights” lecture series sponsored by the Mendoza College of Business.

With nearly three decades of experience, Brolick has done work that includes marketing, brand leadership and product development in companies such as Yum, A&W, Long John Silver’s, Taco Bell and The Wendy’s Company. His lecture Friday explored the idea of “brand relevance” and ways in which the actions of brand leaders affect a brand’s ability to obtain and maintain relevance in a changing world.

Consumers are exposed to thousands of brands, Brolick said. There often is a stark dichotomy between well-positioned and poorly positioned brands. In order for a brand to qualify as well positioned, Brolick said it must have particular characteristics.

“First of all, it ought to be unique,” he said. “Secondly, it ought to be defensible from the competition, and thirdly, it ought to be profitable.”

Brolick said brand leaders should act conscientiously in positioning their brand by considering the effects of everything they do and by striving to create and uphold a good brand name.

“One of the things you are going to want to think about as an individual is, is your brand something that is being actively positioned and thought about in a very constructive and authentic kind of way, or are you kind of being positioned by default?” Brolick said.

To illustrate the difference between well-positioned brands and brands positioned by default, Brolick discussed the personal brands of Warren Buffett, Barack Obama, Lou Holtz, Steve Jobs and Brian Kelly. While Warren Buffett conscientiously formed his personal brand, Brolick said Steve Jobs likely was positioned by default, as evidenced by his reputed aggressive personality.

Once a company or individual commits to a focus on brand relevance, Brolick said they must keep themselves open to change and adaptation and avoid the “tyranny of incrementalism.” Brand leaders must be willing to set new and different goals for themselves, Brolick said.

“Change is inevitable,” he said. “There is no doubt. And today, it is going faster and faster, but you have to somehow figure out how to change, how to evolve, how to grow, but still be grounded and be the same person. Brands have to do this all the time.”

Although Blockbuster failed to adapt to the changes that occurred when Netflix started up, Brolick said the Disney brand has changed tremendously since the creation of Disneyland. ABC News, Marvel Comics, Touchstone pictures, Disney Cruiselines and Pixar are evidence of the growth of Disney as a brand, he said.

“Did [the Disney] brand change, or did the leadership in the people behind this brand change?” he said. “… This is a key thing: People are the difference in organizations.”

Brolick said he credits the people within organization as the ultimate source of differentiation between brands. The “journey of growth” for brands and individuals depends on the personal experiences, personal education and personal observations of brand leaders, Brolick said. The power or weakness of a brand depends on individuals’ abilities to take advantage of these three steps in their journey.

“Have as many fabulous experiences as you can in your life and your career,” he said. “All the time when someone says ‘Emil, we’re thinking about this for you,’ I say ‘I am in.’ It is a new experience; I can get excited about this; I want to do this; I want to demonstrate that I can make a difference. I am in.”

Brolick closed the lecture with a Michelangelo quote: “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark.”

“We are all very fortunate to have been somehow part of a university like this,” he said. “And I truly believe that God expects the most from those that he has given the most, and He has given all of us an awful lot.”

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