If you’re like me, then you love reading online articles, opinion pieces and general books on the topics that you find interesting. It’s one of the ways that you can ensure that you keep your interest piqued and stay abreast of what’s going on in your industry. One of the topics that gets me thinking has always been the concept of branding.
It’s why I studied an undergraduate degree in marketing and I completed honours in brand management at Vega, the Brand Leadership School. I’ve always been curious to find out more. But one aspect of branding that hasn’t been given enough thought I believe is the relationship between the brand and the CEO of that brand.
Who should be more prominent?
It’s a straightforward question: Should the brand of the CEO or the brand of the business be more prominent?
What are the implications of the CEO’s brand being more prominent than the business’s brand? Similarly, what are the consequences of an unknown CEO where the business’s brand is the hero in the relationship?
Let’s perhaps start answering that question by talking about what a brand is. At university, you’ll be taught by your lecturer that Philip Kotler says a brand is a ‘name, term, sign, symbol (or a combination of these) that identifies the maker or seller of the product’. That’s technically correct. However, I’ve always believed that at the heart of branding lies perception. A brand is a perception. As marketers, we’re ultimately in the game of shaping positive perceptions, because perception sells.
I believe perceptions are shaped by three factors. What the brand tells us about itself (including what Philip Kotler mentions), what our acquaintances and friends tell us about the brand and what our personal experiences are with that brand.
Then there are the secondary factors that include where you were born, your cultural nuances, your history and so on. I’m sure it’s becoming clear that no two people can have the same perception. Nevertheless, perception matters and the art and science behind branding matters in shaping those perceptions.
So, then what’s more important? The brand of the CEO leading the business or the business’s brand? Depending on who you ask you’ll receive different answers.
CEO vs business brand
Let’s introduce two well-known South African brands into the conversation. Discovery and First National Bank. Both operate in the financial services industry, both are healthy brands — but chances are most of you can only name the CEO of one of them, and I’m guessing its Discovery.
That’s a typical example of CEO brand vs business brand. Adrian Gore, Discovery’s CEO, is an influential leader with a strong personal brand that works hand-in-hand with Discovery’s overarching brand. FNB’s CEO is Jacques Celliers, and in this instance, he’s mostly unknown to the general public. So, which then is more important? I spoke to a few thought leaders about this, and the general sentiment is mixed. Some believe a strong CEO brand does well for the business, others think the company comes first, and it’s first about the brand of the business. Personally, I believe it depends on the company and the health of the brand.
Let’s look at other examples; Apple and Steve jobs, Amazon and Jeff Bezos, Tesla and Elon Musk. All of these businesses, we can agree, are a success mainly because of the value that the CEO’s personal brand brings to the table. On the other hand, we have Coca-Cola, BMW and Microsoft. I bet most of you couldn’t name the CEOs of those companies off the cuff.
People do business with people
I believe that fundamentally people buy into people, not brands. That’s why I think there’s a strong case for a CEO with a solid brand. However, there are cons that exist. What happens when the CEO leaves? Has this CEO become so large that the business fails without them? After all, leadership is about passing the baton. In my opinion, Steve Jobs is the ultimate reason for Apple’s success, however he did a poor job of passing the baton. Luckily, Apple’s brand is strong enough to withstand uncertainty, but I think we can all agree that under Tim Cook, Apple has started to decline.
I used the example of FNB earlier because one of my favourite CEOs is Michael Jordaan. Under his leadership, FNB had what I like to call it’s ‘glory years’. They were simply unstoppable and every other bank in South Africa was struggling to keep up. Or at least that was the perception from the outside. Remember perceptions? Michael’s brand is strong, so much so that since his departure FNB has lost its story-telling innovative mojo.
Enter Bank Zero. An app-driven bank opening in South Africa in the fourth quarter of 2018. Why is anyone even paying attention? Because it’s Michael Jordaan. His personal brand is strong enough to grab attention. If it was a no-name would we care as much? Would there be nearly as much hype?
We therefore have two sides to the coin. A CEO’s personal brand is incredibly important when the business’s brand needs an injection of credibility. But the CEO must be careful that he doesn’t become too big when credibility is formed or restored. After all, great leadership is about passing the baton and leaving a sustainable legacy. Which means the CEO has built a brand that the customers buy into. I think Coca-Cola, Microsoft and BMW have done brilliantly at this. Their brands are sustainable because it’s about the brand, not the CEO’s brand. I also think there’s a strong case for choosing the next CEO from within the current pool of employees of that business.
The elements of a strong CEO brand
- A fearless leader who motivates his/her employees into action
- A leader whose vision is simple and easy to follow
- A leader who rallies not only his employees but customers and clients too
- A leader who isn’t afraid to be in the media and on social media.
On the business side, here is what you should keep top of mind when building your corporate brand:
- Create a strong corporate identity. That doesn’t mean doing it yourself, get the professionals to do it. It’ll include your logo, collateral and how your brand lives online.
- Create your experience. It’s incredibly important that what you say is also experienced by your potential and current clients. This includes user experience offline and online.
- Run online thought leadership and PR. This is what builds credibility. It’s one thing for you to talk about yourself, but when others talk about you it builds your brand in a way that adds much needed credibility. This also increases your SEO because any online thought leader should be linking back to your website.
- Lastly, drive brand integration through your value-chain. When your audience and stakeholders see your brand they know you and what to expect.
The Real Value Of Building A Brand
Young people today are likely to join or stay with a company, even if the pay is less, if they feel they belong and are part of the team.
What is your company’s brand? That may sound like a strange question and the answer could range from thinking about your logo or colour scheme, or the values you frame and put on the wall in your reception area. But that is not what your brand is.
Let me ask you another question: what do customers and employees think when your company’s name is mentioned? Do they think you are a great bunch of people who go the extra mile to deliver on your promises, or do they think you’re a bunch of incompetents who always deliver late and below standard? Do employees think their company is money driven and couldn’t care about people?
What do these people feel when your company is mentioned or when they see your logo? Do they have positive feelings about the company and certain employees they deal with, or do they cringe and hope not to have to deal with you again?
The answers to those questions is your brand. It’s the ability to articulate and deliver on the promise your company makes to the market. It is the integrated result of the values the company leaders hold and the values they inculcate into their employees through their actions. It’s the quality and usefulness of your products or services, and how you deal with customers. And it’s how you promote and operate the company. All these things are your brand.
While the company’s executives are key to developing the brand and all it stands for, the brand promise is the who, what, where, when and how of all you do; the sum of all the company’s interactions with the market and internally with each other. Gartner indicates that companies that prioritise the customer experience generate 60% higher profits than their competitors.
Who you are and what you stand for is critical to companies in today’s market where trust is a rare commodity (86% of US and European customers says their trust in corporations has declined over the last five years). Your promise to the market and your ability to fulfil it again and again engenders that trust, which puts you at the top of the pile when it comes to competition.
Related: Are You A Commodity Or A Brand?
When it comes to your product or service, are you the first name that comes to mind because you are a trusted partner? Do your employees deliver on time and to or above the standard expected as far as is possible? Do your employees represent the company in a natural, proactive manner because they are invested in the company and its culture? Or do they do the minimum to get by and collect their pay at the end of the month?
There’s much talk about company culture in the media, but most of these articles miss the most important aspects of culture, buy-in and commitment. When your employees value the culture they are part of, when they feel they belong and are valued, it shows in their commitment to the company, each other and to their customers. Did you know that between 60% and 75%of customers will do business with a company again if it deals with a customer service issue fairly, even if the result is not in their favour?
In fact, young people today are likely to join or stay with a company, even if the pay is less, if they feel they belong and are part of the team.
Customers are the same. While everyone wants to pay the least possible for a product or service, your brand and the associated value (and positive feelings) customers associate with you means you don’t have to cut margins to the bone to get the job. Customers will pay a bit more (within reason) to ensure they get the full package – product, service, support etc.
So your brand, its value and standing in the minds of people includes the marketing and brand building you do, but the promise you make (sometimes unknowingly) to each customer and each employee is what is critical to success. That promise is made up of the products and services you have on offer, if you are meeting the real needs of the customer. It depends on your culture and how valued and appreciated your employees feel, which extends to how they value and treat your customers. And finally, all that impacts customer service, how you react when there is a problem and what you do to keep your promise and develop and maintain their trust in good times and bad.
Brand enthusiasts are welcome to follow Kyle Rolfe’s latest thoughts on brand building in South Africa and his analysis on relevant global trends and issues via Twitter @kylerolfeSA or on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/kyle-rolfe-brand-engineer.
Why You Should Prioritise Brand Image
Just because you’re a start-up doesn’t mean you can ignore the importance — and power — of brand image. Here are four simple and cost-effective ways to get noticed in a competitive space.
It’s surprising how many entrepreneurs pay very little attention to their brand image even though the image is the first thing that customers see.
For most start-ups, the focus is the quality of their product or service — as it should be.
However, awareness is critical during the start-up phase of a business. Awareness is made possible through marketing that focuses on the brand image of the company. During the start-phase, entrepreneurs often exclude the marketing function because they perceive it to be a luxury expense only enjoyed by medium and large enterprises.
The problem is that many entrepreneurs have a limited view of marketing and believe that it must include extravagant television, radio and print campaigns. This is especially true for companies that provide more scientific products or services; those operating in accounting, IT, engineering or similar practical fields. Owners in these fields are usually not familiar with the benefits of marketing or how to effectively critique and implement their marketing plan.
On the other side of the coin, marketing or public relations firms tend to neglect their brand image despite it being their core function. Often, marketing specialists are so focused on the work they are doing for their clients, they forget that how they market their own company is the billboard for what they can offer clients.
Here’s how to get started.
A good quality logo is the starting point for the marketing of any business. Entrepreneurs often tend to put the logo on the back burner.
Your first logo will not be your logo forever. Throughout the lifespan of a business, the logo will probably go through multiple amendments.
A good quality logo is worth investing in. It’s your business signature, and will be used across all marketing collateral. The logo should be visually appealing, versatile and memorable. The best logos are clear, simple, easily recognisable, and unique to the business.
Once the logo is developed, the other basic marketing collateral can be designed, including the e-signature, business card, letterhead, social media graphics with a cover photo and profile photo for all social media accounts, as well as website graphics. These are the only items required in the start-up phase to launch the business with a professional and cohesive look and feel across all public platforms.
2. Social Media
Social media is an opportunity for businesses to become part of their audience’s lives by engaging with them. Business owners know their company needs to be on social media, but simply having a profile and cover photo on multiple social media platforms is not effective.
There must be a social media plan that details the platforms that will be used, the objectives for each profile, the type of content that will be shared on each platform, and how often and when content will be shared.
Business owners often make the mistake of being on every social media platform — this is not necessary. It’s important to select platforms that are used by the company’s target audience and which complement the company’s brand personality.
For example, there is probably not much benefit for an insurance company to be on Instagram, which targets a younger market, but it would make sense for a clothing company to be on Instagram as their product is visual and fashion is of interest to the youth market.
Social media should help the company achieve one or more of its overall business objectives. For example, if the business goal is to reach a new audience, then the social media content must be of interest to this audience.
Social media can be time-consuming, and once the platforms have been selected, companies will have to create tailored content for each platform and have a consistent weekly schedule. Business social media profiles that are rarely and inconsistently updated can do more harm to a brand than no profile. There are many free and affordable social media management tools that can help entrepreneurs easily manage their accounts.
3. Personal branding
When a new business is launched, trust will drive the business forward. With few or no employees in the start-up phase, the entire business is run by the founder and the founder automatically becomes the face of the business. The credibility of the business is therefore initially determined by the credibility of the founder. Many entrepreneurs grapple with the task of marketing themselves and focus solely on marketing the business.
Below are some cost-effective techniques that you can use to boost your personal brand:
Optimise personal social media accounts
Share your constructive opinion on your personal social media accounts. Some people find it difficult to publicly share their opinion, especially with the legal liability that comes with using social media. Courage and responsibility are required to publicly share thoughts and ideas. Both are sought-after characteristics of entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs can educate their target audience and peers by contributing to their industry as guest bloggers, speakers, vlogging, contributing to academic research and blogging on their company website. By sharing your unique insights, you can prove that you are knowledgeable about your products or services.
Seek organic word-of-mouth
All client projects must be treated like gold — word-of-mouth about a start-up’s work is invaluable. Be bold and ask for recommendations after the completion of a project.
Ensure that the projects you say yes to complement your brand image, and be willing to say no to projects that don’t, despite the financial loss. There is power in the word no. Saying no can help to differentiate your company from your competitors.
4. Direct marketing
Nothing can replace the value of face-to-face communication. List the companies you want to work with and where you have identified a need that your company can address. Contact them, set up a meeting and tell them about your business. Even if the companies visited don’t signup, awareness has been increased and it will help you to become comfortable marketing yourself and your business.
Pulling it all together
These are just a few of the cost-effective marketing tactics you can use to increase awareness about your business. When meticulously executed, these marketing basics can help a start-up enjoy growth and success.
Smart and free
The truth is that marketing does not need to be an expensive exercise. Here are four marketing basics that can be implemented by every entrepreneur to give their business a solid foundation from which to grow, and which require limited or no funding.
The 3 Biggest Mistakes CEOs Make With Their Personal Brand (And How To Turn Those Mistakes Around)
Don’t wait until you’re managing a crisis to decide who you want to be and what values you want your company to espouse.
The term “personal brand” denotes the phenomenon of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands. I know, because I’ve spent a number of years perfecting mine.
I wear jeans and cowboy boots at every event I go to, for example – no matter how fancy the occasion. That wardrobe choice is just another way I present my brand, the C-Suite Network, as being brash and bold – like me – and refusing to do things a certain way just because they’ve ways been done that way in the past.
But what about other CEOs? Do they “own” their own brand? Should a CEO cultivate his or her own brand, separate from the company? The short answer is … yes!
There are good reasons why: A study by Burson-Marsteller concluded that 48 percent of a company’s reputation can be attributed to the standing of its CEO.
These leaders represent their company’s vision, so both should exemplify the same traits and values. However, a CEO won’t stay CEO forever of that same company. That’s why it’s essential to create a brand identity CEOs can own – a parallel brand of sorts.
A personal brand will travel, in other words. And while the public may have a fascination with a particular company, it’s the people in that company they feel the biggest connection to.
So, why do as many as 61 percent of CEOs, according to CEO.com, lack a personal brand because they have no social media presence? Because they don’t think that move will have an impact, personally or professionally. They couldn’t be more wrong.
A study by Weber Shandwick and KRC Research estimated that 44 percent of a company’s market value can be directly linked to the CEO’s reputation. The same study highlighted other benefits when CEOs have a positive brand reputation, including: Attracting investors (87 percent), positive media attention (83 percent), crisis protection (83 percent) and [the ability to] attract prospective employees (77 percent) and retain employees (70 percent).
The takeaway here, of course, is that more CEOs need to own their brand. So the next question has to do with personal branding mistakes.
Here are three common ones:
1. Thinking you don’t need a personal brand
If this phrase describes how a CEO thinks about his or her personal brand, that person has no business being CEO of anything. This isn’t about “I don’t want to” or “I hate talking about myself.” This needs to be about what defines you as a leader and what defines you outside of your day job. What are your beliefs and values? How do you want to drive growth and innovation? Basically, this is anything that makes you, you.
Dave Newman, founder of Do It! Marketing, told me once that when a CEO “doesn’t own their brand, they lose control of the company’s story.” Therefore, “no story, no distinction.”
I stated before that your personal brand is forever yours, so it’s your responsibility to create one that blends your leadership style, ideals and values with your company’s brand. Together, these two brands should comprise the perfect complement, but should also be able to exist separately. Remember, you won’t always be the CEO of that company.
2. Thinking you can delegate your brand
I get it: As CEOs, we’re busy people, but that doesn’t mean you can tell your PR or marketing team to “create” a brand for you. There’s no shame in using your PR or marketing team to help you craft aspects of your brand, such as talking points, content or a new, improved bio. It’s just that shaping and creating are two different things.
Many executives believe that the hardest part about building a brand is not knowing what to write about and that that’s something your team can help you with. However, if you don’t know who you are by now and or what you stand for, no PR team can help you.
Sure, they can create a persona for you, but what comes through won’t be authentic, and it will cause irreparable damage, not just to your personal reputation, but to your company’s, too. Creating a brand persona shouldn’t be transactional; it should be (and feel) incredibly personal.
3. Thinking you don’t need a social media presence
Again, wrong! A 2016 report by BRANDfog said that 75 percent of those surveyed believed the executive leadership of a company is improved by those leaders being active on social media. If you’re a leader yourself, you don’t have be present on all platforms, but you should be highly present where most of your target audience lives; and you must use that platform well.
If you’re a strong writer, think about writing a blog – either on your company’s website or for a magazine that covers your industry. Also share the published article on your company’s platforms, including LinkedIn. The content you write doesn’t have to be lengthy or overly technical. It has to be accurate, thoughtful (or thought-provoking), entertaining and educational.
Think of the different social platforms as TV channels; you don’t have to watch all of them, but you do need to present in several mediums to get your message across.
Here’s the good news, then: It’s never too late to turn the ship around. Here are some steps you can take to do that.
Think about claiming your URL. Sounds simple enough, but we still sometimes forget to do it. I have my very own – which includes a small bio, social media information, TV interviews I’ve done, a link to my podcast, listings of my books and more. That’s mine and mine alone. No one can claim to be me (as they do on other platforms).
It is also through my social channels that I get more “personal” with my followers. Dave Farrow, CEO and founder of Farrow Communications, told me, “Your brand is just an image of who you actually are. Today, any difference between the two is seen as a betrayal.”
The message here is that people make connections with people. So, give them an insight about your thoughts, opinions and style. Everyone I do business with knows what I’m about. I live my brand 24/7. Everyone should.
As Hall of Fame speaker Mikki Williams said, “Don’t be different; be unique. Anyone can be different, but no one can copy ‘unique.’”
Get in front of the media. This is the part where your team comes in handy. Its members should have the connections to get you in front of a camera. I have been a frequent guest on several national shows and networks. One thing I used to do at one of those networks was have my team look at the “news of the day” and then pitch me to the show.
The producers knew I could be ready in a pinch, so it was a quick turnaround between prepping and going on air. In short, staying on top of the news is critical to getting yourself out there. CEOs need to be topical and, according to Linda Popky, president of Leverage2Market Associates, “use situations as they arise as an opportunity to reinforce the brand and tie the brand to what’s happening on a day-to-day basis.”
Related: They’re Your Rules, Break Them
Write a book: I’m now writing my fourth book, The Hero Factor: How Great Leaders Transform Organizations and Create Winning Cultures. As any author can tell you, books are a long, drawn-out process, but one that should help establish you as a knowledgeable and credible source.
In short, we live in a world that’s connected all the time. One simple click of a button can tell people nearly anything they need to know about you. So, in that kind of world, having a strong CEO brand is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity. That’s why you should get on this.
Don’t wait until you’re managing a crisis to decide who you want to be and what values you want your company to espouse.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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