Five key characteristics of great brand leaders.

Brand leadershipWhat is the defining characteristic of great brands – large or small? It is brand leadership. They have strong, committed and unwavering direction.

Great brand leaders come in all shapes and sizes from Henry Ford to Richard Branson or Steve Jobs. But they all share some key qualities.

(1) Vision

A clear view ahead and ambition for the brand is vital. Vision is not to be confused with strategic objectives: it is a more amorphous thing and often difficult to articulate, but we all recognise when people have vision.

Vision is not about what a brand will do, but of the brand itself. I’m sure in the early days of Virgin, that Branson had no idea he would be selling financial products or space travel. And Steve Jobs did not see himself in the mobile phone business. Vision is not necessarily about the product or service – these will change over time under market or technology pressures. It is about the brand and its values that should be steady and enduring.

(2) Communication

There is little point having vision if you are unable to share it. Great brand leaders are good at communicating their vision – but not necessarily verbally. Often they communicate by example, by their actions, by the way they go about their business. Branson is not the greatest verbal communicator, but his vision is clear in his operation, manner and approach to business.

(3) Empathy

Great brand leaders have a good deal of empathy for their audience. This is different from understanding – the stuff you get from research. It is an emotional quality. It is relating to the aims and aspirations of your brand stakeholders. It takes exceptional people to still be able to empathise with consumers or junior employees as they themselves climb the greasy pole of success.

(4) Consistency of values

One of the reasons we choose brands is for consistency – when I select brand ‘A’, I know what to expect. So long as my expectations are met, I am happy and loyal. It’s not just about product performance or service, it’s about the way the brand goes about its business.

Consistency is a function of leadership. It is not to say a leader can’t surprise or even shock – but they operate within a clear framework of values.

(5) Brand guardians

Organisations grow. To ensure that the vision is clear, the consistent values are understood and empathy is fostered, the leader needs to recruit brand guardians – trusted lieutenants who will carry his or her values through the organisation.

We see this with great football managers – once the match is in progress, there is little they can do to affect the outcome of the game. But usually they have one or two key players who understand and share their views and wishes. These players ensure things are kept on track and don’t drift.

As brands grow to global stature and complexity, these guardians are vital and should exist at all levels and in all disciplines within the organisation. Once recognised they need to be fostered and nurtured.

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