March 21, 2012
Brand Identity Personality
Last year’s loss of Steve Jobs was a real-world test of the effect an iconic personality can have on a brand’s identity. Many people wondered if the Apple brand would be as valuable without him. There is already strong evidence that Apple’s strong organizational culture and focus on insanely great products will continue after Steve. If Apple can stay true to its promises, it remains a valuable brand, vs. a brand dependent on one man’s personality.
It’s not unusual for an emerging company’s brand identity to be connected to a charismatic or visionary leader. Tony Hsieh with Zappos, Jeff Bezos with Amazon, Mark Zuckerberg with Facebook, and Richard Branson with Virgin are all great examples of such brands. The real challenge for a brand, however, is to be recognizable, relevant and meaningful over time regardless of who is in charge. Corporate identity should be built through shared organizational philosophy, not solely on a leader’s personality.
For a brand to survive in the long term, its leaders must embody the values of the company, not the other way around. Any company whose identity is linked solely to an individual should move away from being a personality-driven brand and move toward being a behavior-driven brand. Behavior-driven brands reflect how the company, its product, and its people, fulfill their promises. These behaviors can be inspired, or introduced by a strong leader, but must also be deeply embedded within the culture of the company to be sustainable over time.
Many companies have proven that they are fully capable of maintaining a strong brand without always having high-visibility leadership. Richard Branson is instilling sustainable differentiation for the Virgin Brand—building the “Virgin Experience” into a variety of existing products and services. Nike adopted 11 core principles based on the vision and leadership of Bill Bowerman, but not dependent on his personal stewardship. As a result, both brands are associated with delivery of a clear promise, and not solely with the constant public presence of their founders.
Brands achieve greatness when people—customers, employees, and investors alike—feel an affinity to the product and want to be associated with it – not just with its founder or leader. Companies with highly-visible leaders need to clearly show that the company as a whole embraces a singular vision, and doesn’t just rely on the cult of one personality.
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