Brand leadership is ultimately business leadership. But it doesn’t necessarily work the other way around. In a recent blog we talked about brand ROI and how one powerful quotient of that is the leadership brand ROI. Great leaders recognize the intangibles that contribute to high performance throughout any type of organization. Through the pursuit and development of a culture of respect, mutual admiration, and common purpose, the CEO is also able to forge a culture of brand. But to do this, you must possess the inherent traits yourself. For brand to become culture, you must own it, lead it, and live it. Fidelity of your brand begins with you.
Think of companies where you believe brand is culture. It’s highly likely that you will find that belief and commitment, passion and conviction for the brand resides at the top. Conversely, when you think of companies that have lost their way, or have been diminished by market dynamics, it is very probable that you will find the founder of the business has gone, or there’s been a change in management or an acquisition. Thus, an absence or void of brand culture is created.
Now, keep in mind your greatest ambassadors and champions of brand are (and should be) those within the ranks of your company and leadership. But they take their cue from you. You set forth the overarching foundational elements of brand—purpose, pillars, positioning, personality, and proposition. These establish the guard rails between which the brand runs. Creating the relationship and alignment between business goals and brand strategy will define the trajectory you want the brand to have, and provide the intangible elements with which brand experiences will be created both internally and externally.
Apple, Inc. still remains one of the best examples of this paradigm playing out before our eyes. For those of us who can remember, Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple in 1985, just a year after launching Macintosh, the computer and operating system that would change personal computing forever. The company pretty quickly abandoned Jobs’ trajectory, and crashed through its brand guard rails toward me-too devices and open architecture ideology. In 1997, on the brink of bankruptcy, Steve Jobs reemerged at Apple when the company bought NeXT, the business Jobs had founded when he left Apple. Soon Jobs reinvigorated the brand and culture with an ideology to “think different,” promising never to be me-too again. iMac, iTunes, iPods, and iPhones followed, and Apple is today the world’s highest valued brand. Tim Cook and Jony Ive believed in Steve Jobs’ vision, his passion, and his commitment to building a brand culture like no other. And have continued the trajectory set forth by Jobs.
So how does all this relate to your business? And your brand? Very simply, in every way imaginable. This model is scalable. And it is not unique to Apple. Or Virgin. Or Starbucks. It is a process. It is about understanding the why and how of your business, and the relationship your brand needs to have with your business. And then projecting that to your team in a way that is truthful, transparent, authentic, simple, and clear. You do that by owning it, leading it, and living it. Then they will too. And so will your customers.