Brand Leadership: Navigating the Changing Landscape of Silicon Valley

Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer
[photo credit: jdlasica via photo pin cc]

Last month, two Silicon Valley stalwarts saw leadership changes, reinforcing the reality that in times of change, those at the top must inspire excitement for the brands they lead.  Marissa Mayer, a longtime public figure at Google and responsible for some of the company’s most recognizable products, took on a new role as CEO at rival Yahoo!, while Paul Maritz, the CEO of VMware, who led a small virtualization startup to become a $5B leader in data center transformation and IT-as-a-Service, will move on to take a broader role at parent company EMC. In both cases, people are watching closely to see how effectively these new leaders can establish a clear brand vision for their companies.

Mayer has her work cut out for her. As the fifth CEO in the last five years at Yahoo!’s helm, she must define a vision and set a clear path for the company to follow – a feat that her predecessors failed to accomplish. Yahoo! has not evolved with technological changes in advertising and the rising influence of social media, and continues to struggle to define itself. Until Mayer can steer the Yahoo! brand in a clear direction, the company will not attract and retain the talent, advertisers, and investors it needs to return to its former powerhouse status. Not surprisingly, this week several top Yahoo! executives left the company.

In contrast, Maritz is leaving VMware well-positioned to expand its role as an industry leader (full disclosure: VMware is a client of ours). The brand vision and direction he instilled at VMware over the last four years set a foundation the company should be able to build from in the coming years.

Change is a constant in the dynamic business environment of Silicon Valley.  As top leaders swap companies and titles, however, they must be able to build, sustain and enhance the brands they lead. The success of any company depends heavily on leadership’s ability to instill confidence in what lies ahead, by clearly articulating their brand vision, generating enthusiasm internally and externally, and navigating the company forward in single direction.


Establishing Your Vision, Mission, and Strategy

How do you establish a strong and distinctive mission, and why should it matter?

Vision, Mission and Strategy are critical to a company’s uniqueness and vital to success. We have a very simple way to think about Vision, Mission and Strategy that can help you develop a unique, compelling, and clear way to differentiate your company, inspire your employees, and guide your company forward.

In this video, we define these elements and use the example of IBM to illustrate each one.

Contact us to learn more:


IBM Adds Dimension to its Brand Promise through Social Responsibility Initiatives

Building a Smarter Planet is at the core of IBM’s brand promise. Yes, the brand platform is smart and the campaigns it inspires are compelling, but at IBM the promise runs deeper than that. A brand promise should drive how an organization behaves, and IBM shows its commitment to “Smarter Planet” through socially responsible initiatives and partnerships.


Take one of the IBM’s latest programs, Smarter Education Solution, which is part of the company’s broader Smarter Cities initiative. This is a partnership with Desire2Learn, a learning solutions company, to provide improved learning and teaching experiences in school systems. IBM provides advanced analytics software for use in conjunction with Desire2Learn’s educational platform to improve the learning environment for students. “Today, technology is redefining learning,” said Michael D. King, Vice President of IBM Global Education. “Curriculum can be delivered on a mobile device to follow the student home after school, and intervention strategies can help identify potential problems before they occur. By applying IBM’s advanced analytics technology to the cause of improving education, we hope to help every child succeed.”*

Partnerships like this show that IBM is delivering on its Smarter Planet brand promise. It goes beyond corporate objectives, advertising, and business strategies to actions that are real and meaningful. Social responsibility initiatives, when tied to a corporate brand strategy, can be a powerful differentiator in the marketplace.  Corporations with a compelling brand promise can affect the behaviors not only of their employees, but of the people and communities they touch as well. By partnering with Desire2Learn and other organizations and government agencies to highlight and address the shortcomings of the educational system, IBM shows how a company’s brand promise can make a meaningful difference in the world.



University of California

The University of California has recently unveiled a statewide promotional and advertising campaign, to improve awareness and appreciation of its unique and critical value to the state of California, the nation and the world. The campaign, and the ideas it promotes, are all based on a positioning strategy we developed for the University’s Office of the President, to help internal and external audiences understand the University’s true scope and commitment to the future.

To counter the concerns and criticisms that have come with reduced state funding and attention-getting political controversy, we helped UC articulate a larger vision for California, and its role in the state’s future. Identifying UC as “Boldly Californian” and articulating its role as “embodying the spirit of California, and igniting the potential of its people”, we were able to focus attention on a largest idea that transcends short term concerns and puts difficult decisions in a grand context. This idea enables UC to continue to develop its role as both creation and catalyst ofCalifornia’s importance in the world. With its current investments in advertising and awareness building, we anticipate that its role in the world will be better understood, and appreciated as it adapts to new realities.