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How can leaders model the importance of brand?

Lindsay Says

Show me an enduring business, and I’ll show you a leader who uses brand as the business’s North Star.

When brand is your own North Star, your team will follow it anywhere. Demonstrate with your words and actions – formally and informally, with colleagues of all levels – that brand is the priority. Let your brand strategy guide you, and let your people see that it guides you. This gives them permission and encouragement to use brand as their North Star too.

When you and your employees use brand to filter decisions, the brand will guide the business with integrity, engage your people, and draw customer love.

This does not happen passively. As the business’s leader, you need to demonstrate overtly the degree to which the brand is guiding you. Find opportunities to model brand’s importance in small ways and in big splashy ways. Here are a couple of examples of leaders who have modeled brand’s importance publicly.

A Better Cup of Coffee

 “We’re taking time to perfect our espresso. Great espresso requires practice. That’s why we’re dedicating ourselves to honing our craft.” 
– Note posted on 7,100 U.S. Starbucks stores on February 26, 2008

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz had recently taken back the reins after an eight-year hiatus, and observed a decline in the quality of Starbucks coffee. This presented a widening gap between what Starbucks promised and what Starbucks delivered: the drinks simply were not as good. Customers noticed and were defecting.

Investigating this further, Schultz learned some of the shortcuts that had crept into the sacred coffee-making process and pushed Starbucks coffee toward mediocrity. For example, baristas were routinely reheating milk, watering down the primary ingredient of the café latte. Seeking to reassert Starbucks ability to deliver on its promise, and to regain customer trust, Schultz modeled the importance of the Starbucks brand in a sweeping, expensive way: he closed all U.S. Starbucks stores for an afternoon to retrain baristas in the art of espresso.

Closing the stores for training was a public demonstration of the brand’s sacredness. Though expensive in the short-term – there was an estimated loss of $6 million that day – the move was invaluable in the long-term. Within the year, the brand was flourishing once again, despite the Great Recession.

Schultz’s bold move did improve the quality of Starbucks’ espresso beverages, and this modeling of brand deepened customer love. It signaled to employees, customers, and investors that Schultz and his team meant to nourish the Starbucks brand, prioritizing the fulfillment of the brand promise above a day’s sales.

Desirable Software

Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, the leading cloud-based customer-relationship management (CRM) platform, models brand in a B2B environment. Enterprise software is known for being complex and clunky. Benioff made Salesforce the CRM solution that is as intuitive to use as Amazon has become in e-commerce. Benioff uses the brand-as-North-Star approach throughout his leadership. For example, he guided engineers to produce new products like Chatter, an in-house messaging tool that looks and feels intuitive to users. Benioff knows and reflects that people purchasing and using B2B software are still people. This ethos has built Salesforce into an $87 billion market cap business.

Add Brand to Your Toolbelt

These are power moves, which I offer to be crystal clear about how leaders model brand. But within and around the big examples are the everyday little ones that together add up to something bold: your brand, infused into everything you do.

What’s something that’s been scratching at you, like lesser-quality drinks did Schultz, that you could address by following your North Star? Like Benioff, how can you use your brand to push against your category, to zig where your competitors zag? Amp up your leadership toolbelt and start answering these questions today.

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