The world’s leading brands — the companies that amass large market caps and appear on “most admired” lists each year — do a lot of things right. They create products that consumers love, differentiate themselves and manage their operations well. They have something else in common, too: Their CEOs play an active role in defining and articulating their companies’ brand values or the attributes and principles a business believes in and stands for.
As I noted in my last article, brand values are an asset that can pay dividends when managed well. And they do need to be managed well at a time when consumers, investors and job seekers want to align themselves with businesses that share their values. Brand values must be a CEO-level responsibility.
The Steve Jobs Example
One of the all-time great owners of a company’s brand values was Steve Jobs. He famously said: “Marketing is about values. It’s a complicated and noisy world, and we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us. No company is. So we have to be really clear about what we want them to know about us.”
He took responsibility for living and sharing values, such as a commitment to designing simple, user-friendly technology and empowering people to change the world through innovation. Although he did not design Apple’s products, he closely oversaw their development. Time and again, he challenged design teams to keep going back to the drawing board until Apple devices upheld the values of simple, user-friendly design.
The results speak for themselves. Apple products have changed the world.
Jeff Bezos And Amazon
Today, successful CEOs have learned from Steve Jobs to take responsibility for their brand values. Jeff Bezos is perhaps the most celebrated example, and rightly so. Amazon consistently ranks high or at the top of just about every measurement of a brand’s value, such as customer service and relevance.
When you hear Bezos speak or you read his words, you can understand why. His annual letters to shareholders rally customers, employees and investors around the core value of relentless customer service, as he did in his first-ever letter in the 1990s. As a result, his annual letters often get dissected and analyzed by marketing and business writers.
In his most recent shareholder letter, Bezos articulated the notion of the “divinely discontent” customer: “Their expectations are never static — they go up. It’s human nature. We didn’t ascend from our hunter-gatherer days by being satisfied. People have a voracious appetite for a better way, and yesterday’s ‘wow’ quickly becomes today’s ‘ordinary.'” He then went on to describe, in great detail, how the divinely discontent customer sets the standard for Amazon, and how Bezos has personally succeeded in — and fallen short of — delivering.
When you get a package delivered from Amazon reliably or Amazon manages a customer service issue professionally and quickly, you know where that famous commitment to service comes from: straight from the top.
Bezos is not the only CEO who embodies a company’s brand values. Many other names stand out, such as Marc Benioff of Salesforce, Rose Marcario of Patagonia, and Tristan Walker 0f Walker & Co. For example, Marcario hammers home Patagonia’s commitment to sustainability in her actions and words. Benioff has become a public champion of Salesforce’s corporate values of trust, customer success, innovation and equality. Walker represents his company’s commitment to authenticity and cultural relevance for people of color. I am inspired by these CEOs every day. By taking responsibility for their firms’ brand values, they:
• Humanize corporate brands
• Legitimize brand values from the highest level of authority
• Elevate brand values and make them more visible
• Permeate brand values throughout the organization
If you aspire to be a stronger steward of your firm’s brand values, here are some tips:
• This sounds obvious, but do you know what your firm’s brand values are? Make sure you do.
• Personally review your firm’s brand values with your team. Are they the right ones to lead your company forward? If not, what needs to change?
• Create a strategy for incorporating brand values in everything your company does — from how it hires to how it measures success. Only you have the authority to do so.
• Work with marketing to figure out how to share your brand values. This is where personal branding comes into play.
• Hold yourself accountable in your actions and words. And hold your entire company accountable.
Finally, a caveat: Learn from the greats. But don’t try to emulate them. Don’t try to be the next Steve Jobs. Understand the interplay between your company’s brand values and your own style, and own that interplay to succeed.