So how do we start to work on the concept of our own Leadership Brand? Using some of the core concepts from corporate marketing, a leadership brand can be developed in several ways.
The Logo versus The Brand?
Firstly, it’s important to differentiate between your logo and brand. If we think of Shell as a business it has a logo that is globally recognised. However, if you were to ask people to talk about Shell in detail many would struggle to say much more beyond “energy or oil company”. In contrast if you were to show the same people the Apple logo, we all know that it would be as instantly recognisable as Shell. Then ask those people to talk about Apple and they would endlessly wax lyrical in terms of it “being cool, expensive, design led, innovative, desirable, losing its coolness, overpriced etc. etc.” That is because Apple has both a very strong logo but an equally powerful brand whereas Shell has a strong logo but a relatively weak brand. This same exact concept can be applied to a leadership brand.
For an individual our logo is our job title – VP of Sales, HR Director, Sales Director, Financial Controller, Partner. Your title gives you power and benefits; you can get people to listen to you and you can allocate tasks. In contrast your brand is what people associate and identify you with – being smart, commercially astute, professional, remote, quiet, challenging, difficult, aggressive, direct, a team builder, etc.
It’s not uncommon in organisations for some leaders to have a strong logo but a weak brand. You know your boss is the IT Director but beyond that you don’t know them or understand what they stand for. They may appear very competent and professional but somewhat remote by choosing not to engage fully with others or revealing too much about what they think or believe in.
In other situations, you can find people who have a weak logo but a very powerful brand. Typically, these are the kinds of people who might be associated with comments such as: “Why aren’t they the boss?” “She/ he should be running the show!” “They clearly have the right ideas,” “I don’t understand why they’ve not been given the project to run!” So, it’s important to reflect on your own leadership logo and brand and ask yourself how aligned are they and to what extent do they work for you?
Leadership Brand - The Features v Benefits?
In further exploring this theme you can also focus on your brand features and benefits. This is another classic marketing approach that provides many interesting perspectives and insights when applied to the notion of a leadership brand.
Typically features consist of your skills, attributes and career track record. Again, it’s important when describing your experiences to be truthful and draw a clear distinction between making the best of what you have, with “proven” outcomes, rather than engaging in mistruths or deceptions. In my own coaching experience I have often worked with people who clearly under-value their past roles and capabilities. When you’ve been doing a role for a certain amount of time you can easily lose sight of the skills and experiences that have been acquired and developed.
Your brand benefits are about the value you bring to a role and in turn an organisation. Typically, your benefits emerge from your stated features. For example, someone whose features include being a “skilled linguist, who has worked in many different countries and cultures around the world,” might bring strong benefits in terms of their proven ability to integrate fast and work easily and successfully in complex multicultural environments. Conversely someone who’s brand features might include being “a tough, task focused leader who is comfortable in dealing with conflict” would potentially bring benefits in terms of “strong execution and implementation skills in tough and challenging project/business environments.” This linking of brand features and benefits should help you start to evolve a clearer understanding of your overall brand equity. You may find it will take several iterations before you start to sharpen your brand in this way. All sales and marketing professionals will emphasise the need to differentiate between the two and to stress the benefits, as that is ultimately what customers buy.
Your brand does not have to work for everyone
Remember also that a brand does not have to work for everyone. My work as a leadership coach indicates that many people think their brand should appeal to everyone in their organisation. Such an approach is unrealistic. If we think about corporate brands we know for example that not everyone likes certain car companies. To many people, the BMW brand is consistently associated with engineering excellence, innovation, quality, luxury and being the “ultimate driving machine.” Yet others will see the brand as overpriced and driven by a certain type of irresponsible driver! The fact is that not everyone likes BMW yet this doesn’t pose a threat to BMW as in their markets they’re able to generate a very large number of customers who clearly see strong value in their products and services. It’s why BMW remains a highly successful business. Contrast this with the recent demise of Nokia; it had a great logo and for a long time a great brand but sadly it became associated with being old fashioned and out of date. In the end Nokia products no longer offered customers the benefits they wanted so they migrated to other brands.
So it’s important to recognise that a leadership brand does not need to appeal to everyone. There may be some aspects of your brand that will simply not work for certain people. Being a very demanding, assertive, and even in some cases aggressive project manager may not work for those who are failing to deliver but it might be essential to your success in a stereotypically tough industry such as oil and gas or construction. In some situations brand attributes that others may not like such as being highly competitive, charming, pushy, understanding, critical or perfectionist might prove to be essential to your success. Of course, over doing too much aggression or being too perfectionist is likely to create problems with others in the long term. But get the balance right and such attributes can be essential to your brand equity and strength.
Reflections on my Leadership Brand – The choices I make?
Another powerful way to think about your brand involves reflecting on the following questions:
- What are the areas I focus on and prioritise in my daily work? - Results, Ideas, People, Processes, Customers, Numbers, Communications, Detail, Big Picture?
- What don’t I focus on? - Building my network, Developing myself, My team, Quality, Customers etc. etc.
- What is the sound of my brand? – Helpful, co-operative, quiet, demanding, friendly, aggressive, impatient, irritable?
- Who do I choose to associate and network with at work?
- What is my leadership purpose and mission?
Cumulatively, your answers to these types of questions will help further shape an understanding of your brand? It’s important, of course, to consider how others might interpret your answers to the above and how by making different choices you can alter a brand over time. For example, displaying very different behaviours across many different meetings may result in an inconsistent brand. During one meeting, you might appear very engaged and dynamic whilst in another you display total boredom and disinterest. Whilst there is nothing wrong with this type of behaviour; we can all show despair in some meetings we attend, it’s important to be aware of how others might be interpreting your behaviours.
Consistency in the behaviour choices we make
If we think about the kinds of corporate brands that we buy, we all tend to like “consistency.” We don’t return to restaurants where one week the food is great and the next it’s awful. We don’t return to hotels where it’s a lottery in terms of the kind of service we might receive. The same is true for a leadership brand. We don’t like leaders who are inconsistent; one day very open and engaging and the next remote, moody and irritable. Is it better to be seen in all meetings as informed, engaged, interested and challenging as opposed to “He/ she didn’t seem that interested today?” So being aware of how consistent we are in the choices we make is critical to developing a strong leadership brand.
Your leadership brand is very real
In conclusion, a leadership brand is not a soft, intangible concept. A leadership brand is very real and it’s consumed by the people around you every working day, whether you are aware of it or not. During every meeting, conference call, presentation, one and one meeting and received email, colleagues and customers consume and then formulate a view of your brand. If we are to grow and prosper in today’s tough and highly competitive world we all need to be thinking about how we can continually develop and manage our brand equity.
Finally, one of the simplest and most powerful questions you can ask someone about their brand is what kind of memories do they leave people with?
So, at the end of today ask yourself “What memories did I leave my people with?”
To find out more about how PPI Executive Development helps leaders think about and build their leadership brands contact Gerry Buckley at firstname.lastname@example.org