In the ever increasingly complex world in which we live, where we are now bombarded with brand messages of every type in every medium online and off, many of which we choose to have delivered to our PCs, cell phones and other devices regularly, a key challenge is getting beyond all those messages to understand a company's ability to actually deliver on their promises. Your customers, our customers, everyone who encounters a touch point with a brand, ultimately decide whether to interact with that brand, engage with it in some manner, perhaps make a purchase, and perhaps tell their friends.
So, what is it that drives one brand to become and maintain its status as a true market leader? What keeps the Fed-Ex reputation for fast, reliable delivery alive, or continues the innovation and elegant user interface design coming from Apple, or fuels the Disney organization to continue to delight millions with every form of entertainment? It's leadership, and not just the CEO of the organization, but a top down reputation enhancement strategy that not only helps companies differentiate themselves from the competition, but enables them to stay prepared to continue to eclipse them.
While personal experience is the best way to learn how much leadership matters, a new book by Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood, Leadership Brand: Developing Customer-Focused Leaders to Drive Performance and Build Lasting Value, leverages numerous case studies to illustrate how leading brands have implemented these six core strategies:
- Build a case for leadership brand. "Leadership helps make strategy happen. Without the right leaders at all levels, an organization can't deliver on its brand promise to customers, its financial promise to investors, its social promises to community stakeholders, or its cultural promise to employees."
- Create a leadership brand statement. "Leadership brand becomes the process whereby the identity of the external customer translates to the behavior of the internal employee and organization processes. When this connection of the outside and inside is made real (in terms of both rhetoric and action), we call that a statement of leadership brand."
- Assess leaders against the brand. "When assessments are a part of a thoughtful development process, there is great likelihood that the leadership brand is realized with leaders who have the right stuff...at the right leadership stage...that delivers the right results in the right way."
- Invest in leadership brand. "Identify and support the training, developmental opportunities and life experiences needed to encourage the specific practices that instill your company's leadership brand in executives and managers throughout the organization."
- Measure leadership brand investment. "Over the past 15 years, the measurement of leadership effectiveness has been characterized by two divergent approaches. One is the competency approach; the other looks for a concrete return on the training investment."
- Build leadership brand awareness for key stakeholders. "Build a long-term reputation by communicating the efficacy of your company's leadership brand to interested stakeholders — customers, employees, investors, suppliers."
All of the above reminds one of the old adage that it is not only what you do, but how you do it, that matters. When it comes to building and maintaining a strong brand that fosters true loyalty and referral and long-term value, it does come down to the people behind the brand, and the leadership demonstrated at all levels.