December 12th, 2015
A colleague from New York City runs an executive roundtable, through which CEOs meet monthly to discuss their corporate challenges and exchange ideas for resolving them.
Their biggest challenge? Joining the roundtable. It takes my colleague almost a year to recruit each CEO, who, typically, is loath to discuss openly his flaws, foibles, and failures.
Believe it or not, these CEOs need a safe space.
Such fear of publicly admitting mistakes explains why so many CEOs dismiss branding: the unsafe, public declaration of a value proposition, to which all other corporate functions are subordinate. To quote Andy Warhol: “The moment you label something you take a step — I mean, you can never go back again to seeing it unlabeled.” Translation: no place to hide.
Let me repeat what I wrote in the previous paragraph, in case you missed — or dismissed — it: All other corporate functions are subordinate to the brand. If you’re a retail CEO, here’s some insight: such a statement is heresy in product-centric precincts like Silicon Valley.
Speaking of Silicon Valley. In this insular techdom, there exists a pivot culture, promulgated by VCs (venture capitalists): If the companies that startup CEOs found hit brick walls, they can “pivot” them to totally new companies, with different reasons for being. Just like that. Why, then, would any startup CEO in Silicon Valley not dismiss branding?
Product Fiefdoms and Messages
A brand is akin to the input to a GPS system: without it, the enterprise has no destination and floats aimlessly in space. I coined entroprise to characterize an enterprise on a chaotic journey; Yahoo, which is imploding, is a perfect example.
Inevitably, CEOs fill their brand vacuums with hailstorms of new products and technologies, hoping something will stick. Alas, this chaotic scheme renders each product a fiefdom unto itself, with its own messsaging. An obvious disaster such as the one Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Mayer, created.
Your company must have a single brand — a customer-validated value proposition — not multiple product fiefdoms and messages; customers, investors, and reporters must be able to react to, remember, and repeat this brand in 15 seconds. Yes, this means putting all your eggs in one basket, without the comfort of hedging and waffling. Think risky. Think unsafe.
Elizabeth Bernstein wrote a perceptive piece in the Wall Street Journal about the different styles of introverted vs. extroverted CEOs — save one component: no explanation of the effect of personality on branding. No surprise: most people don’t understand branding — and its significance to sustainable corporate success.
One can hear brand tossed about carelessly and incorrectly to mean product, company, and logo. In medicine and law, terms are never interchanged. Varicose arteries? Never. Opening argument? Never. Yet, in business, such lack of respect for terminology occurs all the time — to the point that words mean nothing. In branding, though, words mean everything.
Bernstein made the following personality observations:
Introverts err by not seeking outside events to validate their plans. Sheer hubris. Without external validation, there is no brand. Self-validation, on the other hand, is pure narcissism and meaningless to branding — and that’s where extroverts go sideways.
Newsflash: Branding is about customers: not products, companies, technologies, or egos.
Parting Advice to CEOs
CEOs dismiss branding for one of two reasons: they don’t understand it, or it makes them uncomfortable. No excuse in either case.
Whether extrovert or introvert, jettison your safe space and your hubris. Branding requires your company to make a bold, unique, public promise to customers, and then live up to it.
Mandate the discipline of branding throughout the ranks of your company. Every employee must recite your brand, easily and reflexively. Otherwise, you’re running an entroprise.
Choose to embrace branding and grow. Or, dismiss it and ultimately implode.
POSTSCRIPT #1: Employees of Brandless, Imploding Yahoo Call CEO Marissa Mayer “Evita”
About the Author
Marc Rudov is a branding advisor to CEOs,
producer of MarcRudovTV, and author of the book,
Be Unique or Be Ignored: The CEO’s Guide to Branding.
© 2015 Marc H. Rudov. All Rights Reserved.