Leading is Branding

The following post was written by Karli Enriquez, summer marketing intern from St Edwards University in Austin, Texas, for Justin Foster

Inevitably, there are countless elements that go into creating and executing an effective brand. Some are very easily recognized and understood, but others, not so much. One element easily overlooked as a tool for branding is leadership. With that said, Justin Foster shares his thoughts on where he thinks the relationship between leadership and branding lies and how one may be essential for the success of the other.

When did branding become a leadership trait?

Branding has probably always been a leadership trait but has risen to prominence as a result of the Social Age. The Social Age amplifies personality of both individuals and cultures, so the way that someone leads is also amplified. On the negative side, leaders that are abusive are exposed. On the positive side, leaders that are kind are elevated. In either case, there is a significant impact on the brand. Another consideration for how branding became a leadership trait is a shift from systematic thinking and process-centric decisions to the “always on” aspect of modern branding. A leader must understand that every strategic decision, every interaction with a human, and every output ultimately contributes to the overall perception of a brand. This is why emotional intelligence is such a critical 21st century leadership requirement.

How can you tell when a leader gets branding and doesn’t?
Leaders that understand modern branding organize their cultures and offerings around a set of values and standards. They understand that modern branding is not chasing what you wish you were, it is amplifying who you really are. Leaders that do not get modern branding have three traits. First, they try to build a brand through advertising that is disconnected from the culture. Second, they have a suspicious and/or systemic approach to social branding. Lastly, they obsess over slogans as a method for communicating value.
How can a leader in a non-marketing role contribute to their Organization’s brand?
Leaders in a non-marketing or branding role have a tremendous influence on the overall brand. This starts with how they treat people and their worldview of the customer experience. An empathic leader will see everything through the lens of adding value and promoting the ideals of the organization regardless of their role. Finally, they will embrace their role as a Face of the Brand by creating content, participating in social media, presenting, mentoring, etc.

How does leadership style influence a brand?

Leaders that have a systemic style often struggle the most with modern branding. They tend to have a process oriented, linear approach, which is at odds with the people-centric, spherical aspect of modern branding. Extrinsic leaders can struggle with modern branding because of their over concern for managing perception and message control. They are predisposed to sameness, which is the enemy of differentiation. Intrinsic driven leaders have a mindset or style most in line with modern branding. They tend to be very mission driven, have a set of values they adhere to, and are comfortable in their own skin both personally and organizationally.

How can leadership become a brand’s differentiator?

Differentiation has always been a critical branding element. Traditionally, differentiation came from product features, advertising methods, and distribution models.  Leadership becomes the ultimate differentiator because it drives the two most critical elements of modern branding: innovation and experience. In addition, great leaders will organize a brand around its values, beliefs, and culture, all three of which cannot be copied by competitors. This provides a perpetual differentiator as long as new leaders are developed and cultural standards adhere to it.