Corporate Eye

Can a Brand Get Too Big?

I read an interesting post today on the Branding Strategy Insider blog that made the case that bigger brands don’t necessarily have better marketers behind them than smaller brands do.  Mark Ritson wrote in his post about how his consulting experience over the years has proven that smaller brands are just as likely to have marketers of similar capabilities and knowledge as bigger brands.  I have to agree with Mark but from a slightly different perspective.

My experience in Corporate America, working for some of the largest companies in the world, and in working with smaller companies through my own marketing company has shown me that marketing and branding talent can be found behind brands of all sizes.  The difference typically comes from the support behind those people.

Large brands in large companies are guilty of not being able to get out of their own way.  Completing even the simplest marketing initiative requires the marketing team to move mountains in terms of getting leadership buy-in, technical support, resource allocation, budget approval, and so on. 

On the other hand, smaller companies can make decisions on the fly and implement marketing initiatives in a more timely and efficient manner.  As large corporations grew bigger and bigger over the course of the past decade with one merger and acquisition after another, the “can’t get out of their own way” syndrome multiplied exponentially at large companies.  There is a reason why small start-ups are able to steal market share and succeed – innovation and streamlined processes.  It’s easier to get approval and buy-in from a handful of people than it is to get sign-off from a never-ending list of executives, managers, and so on.

Unfortunately, this is a problem that all big brands that have grown into big corporations have to face.  There is no way around it.  Making mountains out of molehills is how the corporate machine works.  Even the most talented marketers work with their hands tied when they’re part of a huge organization.  It’s frustrating and can be challenging to navigate even in the best of times.  With stockholders demanding double-digit growth after years of inflated performance by most public companies, marketers often find themselves scrambling to boost ROI with little support behind them.  Unfortunately, until stockholder growth demands lower to reasonable expectations, that’s not going to change. 

What do you think?  Can a brand get too big and become a victim of its own success?

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.

This is the truth, I believe firmly that processes are methodical and creativity is immense in the small business houses inspite of tight budgets tied hands.

I also agree about corporate size impeding their flexibility. I also think a large factor is risk. Smaller companies and startups know they have to take risks if they want to challenge larger competitors. In large companies I’m sure many business initiatives end up dying in committee because no one wants to take the risk of being wrong.

Corporate America can talk up innovation all they want, but until they’re willing to NOT penalize people who try, but fail, it’s the same old recycling of crappy ideas.

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