Your CEO Brand: What Is It and Why You MUST Have One- Suzanne Bates?

Author: Suzanne Bates
Author: Suzanne Bates


By:Amarendra Bhushan

Posted: Oct. 2011

What exactly is a “CEO brand” and why do you need one? This question is answered by Suzanne Bates in her new book Discover Your CEO Brand: Secrets to Embracing and Maximizing Your Unique Value as a Leader, just published by McGraw-Hill. She explains her thinking in this article:

Like many leaders, you are probably curious about discovering your own CEO brand.  Perhaps you’re also just a little skeptical.  After all, if you are a leader you put your organization first.  Your job is to lead. Having your own brand may seem, well, indulgent, so you may not have placed brand-building at the top of your list.

But developing a strong personal “leader brand” is not just essential to your own success but critical for your company’s future too. Here’s why:

So what is your CEO Brand?

Your brand is in essence your reputation, which is the most important asset you have in business.  To be sure, that reputation is the perception about who you are, as a leader, and a person.  Your reputation isn’t who you are, but rather, what others believe about you.

Your brand, or reputation, cannot be manufactured.  A successful brand is built on what is real and authentic about you.  Authenticity is critical.  People know an authentic brand when they see one.  It gives you enormous influence, and enhances your company’s reputation.

The first step to discovering your brand is to embrace the idea that you have a brand, that it has power, and that you can harness it for the good of the enterprise.  Let’s start with an example of a leader who has discovered and built his own leadership brand.

What is the Value of a CEO Brand? Steve Jobs Was the Perfect Example.

Prior to his untimely death, Steve Jobs was one CEO whose brand shaped and drove a company to unprecedented heights. How do we know his brand had intrinsic value?  Look at what happened in January 2011, when Jobs announced that he would be taking a third medical leave of absence.  Although U.S. stock markets were closed when the announcement broke, in Frankfurt, Apple’s shares immediately plunged by 6.4%.  The fallout was even greater when Jobs took a leave in 2009; shares dropped 12%.   Think you can’t measure the value of a leader’s brand? It’s as tangible as that.

We can not all be Steve Jobs.  We aren’t all going to run iconic, multi-billion dollar enterprises.  However, we can all take a page out of his book and others’. Each of us can have a commensurate impact on the value of our companies.

Whether you are the CEO or hope to be someday, you need to understand that you are part of the brand package.  The leader’s reputation is an increasingly significant part of the corporate brand equation.

Leader Brands are Made, Not Born

Jobs wasn’t born with a brand, rather, his brand developed as he became a great leader, and grew stronger over time.  Similarly, as you mature as a leader and discover what you stand for, you build a stronger, more durable and valuable brand.

Look at Job’s story: When he was fired in 1985 from the company he founded, his brand actually took a major hit.  However, when he returned in the late 1990’s after a 12-year hiatus, he was savvy and committed.  His passion and drive had been rekindled.  He came back and used the power of his newfound enthusiasm and love for innovation to rescue Apple from financial ruin, making it the iconic brand it is today, and driving the stock price up over 9000% in the process.

How do you define the Steve Job’s brand?  It is elegant, useful, intuitive technological innovation.  He symbolized the aesthetic sense that became Apple’s DNA.   His values became those of Apple in many ways.  It was those values that attracted the right people to the company, and built it into the powerhouse it is today.

Anyone who ever saw Steve Jobs on stage recognized that he personifies Apple.  He walked across the stage and engaged his audience, commanding the room with passion and excitement about Apple’s new products.  Jobs was not just any chief executive- he created, embodied and was the keeper of the Apple brand. In essence, He was a brand — driving a brand.

Brand is for Every Leader

In that sense, building a brand is for any leader who wants to be successful. Your brand will help you attract the right people to your team, align them around common purpose, mediate issues, get things done across the matrix of the organization, influence your CEO, board and executive committee, and help you create a more dynamic and high functioning organization.  It can also help you win trust, create legions of fans, attract new opportunities and advance in your career.
One common thread among the hundreds of outstanding leaders I have coached, interviewed and researched, is that they have thought about their brands (even if they didn’t call themselves a “brand”) and they have figured out how to use that brand as a valuable asset in establishing and advancing their careers.   They understand, consciously or unconsciously, the immense value that their personal brand brings to their companies.

Brand Alignment

As you might imagine, it doesn’t work if your brand’s values contradict those of your company.  There has to be alignment.  Every leader must assess the connection between his or her brand and the company brand.  When your brand and the company brand are out of sync, you may not feel you are in a role that suits you.

Just read the Wall Street Journal on any given day, and you will find examples of leaders and companies whose brands are out of sync.  If a leader’s brand becomes tarnished, or toxic, it hurts the company, almost always causing the two to part ways.   Conversely, when a company’s brand is toxic, or out of alignment, the CEO or leader faces a struggle to bring it back.  If he or she has a strong enough brand and is influential enough, their brand can revive and replenish the company brand.

When there is alignment, and the leaders’ brand is totally in sync with that of the company, there is tremendous harmony in the organization.  This harmony drives real, tangible value. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that your brand attracts people to you.  It generates amazing energy.  If your brand resonates with others, they want to be around you, work with you, do business with you, and be a part of what you’re doing in any way they can.  They are inspired by you, excited by your ideas, and want to be a part of your organization.

Brand Image

Great company brands generally leave a strong and lasting impression.  You make associations that are both logical and emotional.  For example, a picture of a Ritz Carlton hotel, a Harley Davidson motorcycle, a can of Budweiser, or a Mercedes Benz parked in a grand circular driveway, invoke an instant reaction.  With little effort you can think of three words that sum them up.  If I say Richard Branson (Virgin), Howard Schultz (Starbucks) or Jack Welch (General Electric), you again may find it fairly easy to think of three words.

Now, think of a boss you know and admire -someone who was influential in your life.  Jot down three words that you would say defined him or her.  It isn’t difficult, is it?  A Brand in 3 Words:

Harley Davison Motorcycles:

–       Speed

–       Freedom

–       Community

Richard Branson

–       Daring

–       Risk taker

–       Adventurer

A leader you’ve known (3 words)

Name __________________

1. __________________

2. __________________

3. __________________

You are a lot more than three words.  I’m not suggesting that’s the purpose here.  This exercise simply acknowledges that, as human beings, we create shortcuts.  Our brains are programmed to build circuits so we can recall people or products and make sense of them.

A brand is not a first impression, rather it is built over time.  It is the relationship people develop with you based on a many experiences.  It is the product of moments that leave an impression in other’s minds.

That’s why it is important to understand yourself and be able to communicate your brand.  Over time your brand will become known and it will have an impact.  People will file away experiences and filter them into an impression, which they will recall each time they think of you.

What Makes Your Brand Valuable?

When it comes to great companies, there’s no question that brand value is a tangible asset.  For example, according to the BrandZ Top 100 Report (published by Millward-Brown, in conjunction with the Financial Times, Bloomberg and Datamonitor) the most valuable brand in 2010 was Google.  The ranking is based on company valuation as well as positive consumer feedback from survey data, product sales, top line growth, and/or bottom line profit.  In other words, Google’s value goes beyond its assets, and even its balance sheet.  A significant part of Google’s value is the impression people have formed based on their experience with it.  There is intrinsic value in Google’s name and reputation that transcend its tangible assets.

Similarly, there is intrinsic value in your name and reputation.  How do you measure the value of your own brand?  It may be easier to answer that question by reverse engineering and reviewing famous examples of brand disasters.  Sadly, some leaders and celebrities are best known for throwing away their stellar brands.

Tiger Woods did tremendous damage to his reputation in the scandal around his personal life, and it cost him dearly.  Woods wasn’t just on his way to becoming the best golfer of all time; he was also the wealthiest, best-known athlete in the world.  The scandal cost him tournament winnings and $35 million in endorsements from various companies who no longer wanted to be associated with him.  Beyond those losses, the future value of his brand would never be the same, even if he came back and played like the champion he was in years prior.

But back to the main issue which is the value of your brand.  It’s only logical that your brand can add value, in real dollars, and so many other measures of success.   GE would have been a successful company under any leader, but it was wildly successful under Jack Welch.  The intrinsic value of the Jack Welch brand added more value.  Who he was and what he stood for began to live in the company and that drove additional value.

What’s the Current and Future Value of Your Brand?

When marketing experts talk about brand equity and value, they often are referring to a set of attributes that define that brand.  These may include brand awareness, perceived quality, brand loyalty, or other things associated with it, such as people who endorse it.  All of these attributes add to and create a brand’s value.

Brand attributes can not only add to the value of a company or product, but can also reside in a leader who commands a high level of respect and influence in his or her company or industry.  When people know you, believe you represent certain qualities, and resonate with those qualities or attributes, the value of your brand is high.  You attract great employees, new clients, opportunities, business partnerships, referral relationships, endorsements, testimonials, networks of leaders, all of which you will.

So the present value of your brand is how valuable it is at any point in time; the future value is what you will make it down the road.

It stands to reason that having a brand isn’t enough; raising your profile is what is necessary to make your brand more powerful.  High brand awareness ultimately builds brand equity.   The more you know your brand, live it, share it, and widen your circle of influence, the greater asset your brand becomes to your organization.

The way to build a great leader brand is to understand the values and principles that have shaped you and made you who you are as a leader, and to communicate those ideals to a wider and more important audiences.  Your current brand value will grow as you understand it and learn to communicate it effectively.

Suzanne Bates is author of the new book “Discover Your CEO Brand:  Secrets to Embracing and Maximizing Your Unique Brand as a Leader,” just out from McGraw-Hill.