CEO Brand Leadership: How Does Your Leadership Impact Your Brand?

Branding is the dominant decider for competing successfully in today’s business world. Organisations with the strongest brands are able to achieve far greater market share, higher profits, and long-term viability and sustainability. Whilst most companies focus their branding efforts on marketing, platform and brand collateral, many neglect one of the most important drivers of their brand – their chief executive’s or managing director’s brand leadership.


Particularly in a small, medium or large businesses (SMEs), the company leader is the single most powerful influencer on branding, the visionary behind the brand. Downplaying or ignoring your role in shaping your company’s brand often weakens your potential success and dilutes the potential impact of your brand. Whereas on the other hand, embracing your brand potential as the leader and visionary behind your brand provides the additional direction and focus much needed to help your brand grow and flourish.


We work with a lot of SME owner managers, helping them by adding distinction, structure, substance and more compelling meaning (from a customers perspective) to their vision of their brand. This is a key part of our work and ultimately critical to our clients brand success and the work we do in supporting them in their businesses.






Why Strong Leadership has a Powerful Brand Influence

A business brand is so much more than a name and logo. It’s the total brand experience from the moment a customer first interacts with anything that represents your brand. This could be an employee, a referral or conversation about your business, an article in the media, a person or an indirect affiliation which represents your business. It involves every piece of brand collateral, from your business cards to your website and product packaging, the look of your retail location or business interior, and every visual representation across all customer touch points. What’s more, your brand encompasses all the intangible aspects of your business – it’s reflected in your employees behaviour, your customer service, your pricing policies, the internal culture of your organisation and your total customer experience offered.


All of these elements together shape customer perceptions of a brand. In an SME business, the leader has the final say on every ingredient that goes into creating, developing, directing, growing and maintaining the brand. Each decision you make has the potential to impact your brand, for better or worse. Branding begins from the inside out – as a leader, you set the tone that resonates throughout your company and extends to your customer-facing brand experience, all of which is critical to your businesses survival, growing profitability and long term success.


One of the most familiar examples of this concept in action exists in chains and franchises. For instance, most people have been to more than one McDonalds, or Starbucks, or KFC. You’ve probably noticed that while they are the same stores, selling the same products in the same way, they can be quite different in brand experience. One chain location may be clean and well-lit, with a fast and friendly service, while another may be unkempt and slow, with terrible service and miserable employees.


This sometimes striking difference is the result of indifferent leadership, typically the store manager or franchise owner. If the leader of a franchise store is disengaged and out of touch, the brand suffers even with the backing of a national or global brand name behind it.



CEO Brand Vision: How Influential Leaders Shape Brands

In contrast, to the leader who pays little or no attention to their influence on their branding, some leaders carry a company’s brand and drive it with incredible success. Having a strong brand vision as a leader creates a powerful ripple effect that starts with the internal company culture, and extends into customer interactions and overall brand perceptions. Apple CEO Steve Jobs is a well-known example of this. The brand floundered and nearly went into bankruptcy when Jobs left in 1985, but bounced back stronger than ever with his return in 1997.


   Phil Knight Nike

  Image via



Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike and CEO of the company until 2004, when he resigned but remained involved as chairman of the board, has continuously served the Nike brand through a powerful brand vision. Knight’s leadership ensured that the company maintained an internal culture that lives and breathes sports. Employees at Nike are highly competitive, careers are envisioned as extended sports seasons, and committees are quarterbacked rather than led. This pervasive dedication to the industry, to fans, and to players has cemented Nike as a global leader in the sports sector. Customers respond to the passion behind the company with a strong brand loyalty that mirrors the internal culture.


  Richard Branson Virgin

 Image via


Among iconic brand visionaries, Sir Richard Branson is another standout example with a powerful personal brand that unifies more than 400 companies under the Virgin umbrella. Branson himself understands the supreme importance of branding, and knows exactly how he wants the Virgin brand to be perceived. He is a great living example of the visionary behind the brand. In an interview with Inc. magazine, Branson says, “I think people see the Virgin brand as not taking itself too seriously. It’s a fun brand, an adventurous brand. It generally offers great quality at great value…It’s a people brand.” Fun and adventurous certainly describe Branson himself, who’s attempted several outrageous stunts, such as flying around the world in a hot air balloon and trying to break the trans-Atlantic sailing record.





CEO Brand Leadership: Driving the Customer Brand Experience

Visionary leaders understand exactly how they want their brand to be perceived, and take steps to ensure that the brand is represented consistently throughout all channels and at every touch point. A consistently strong brand strategy creates powerful customer experiences that engenders strong loyalty.


  Maxine Clark And Staff

  Image via



Maxine Clark is the visionary leader of Build-a-Bear Workshop, a retail toy outlet that creates a highly personalized experience for its customers, the young and the young at heart. Clark’s official title is Chief Executive Bear (CEB), which is just the beginning of the consistent branded experiences she brings to the company.



Build A Bear Workshop Store Front 

   Image via



Build-a-Bear is a completely customer-centric organisation. This unique toy retail model allows customers to design their own stuffed toys, and then watch the personalized toy made right in the store. The Build-a-Bear brand stands for whimsy, love, and the magic of childhood, and every aspect of the company is designed around amplifying that brand story, its values and promise.


  Build A Bear Workshop Founder Maxine Clark

  Image via



In addition to hiring employees and managers based on customer-focused personality and the ability to see themselves through the eyes of a child, Build-a-Bear engages their young customers at every opportunity. The company website lets children create virtual versions of themselves and their stuffed creations, and interact with other bear owners online. They provide each bear with a built-in barcode and a “birth certificate” so that lost bears can be returned to any store and matched with their owner. The company also recruits and maintains a team of kids called “Cub Advisors” who provide feedback, ideas for new animals, and thoughts on other Build-a-Bear products and services.

  Build A Bear Workshop Logo



In an interview with TeleTech, Maxine Clark said, You don’t have to have all the ideas. Let customers give you ideas. It’s not about being psychic. We are just really good listeners.” The customer-focused brand has achieved tremendous success, with more than 400 retail outlets around the world and nearly $400 million in annual revenue.







CEO Brand Leadership: Influencing Brand Originality

Distinctive brands truly thrive, standing head and shoulders above their competitors, and visionary brand leadership typically is the secret catalyst behind driving that brand success.


  Johnny Cupcakes Packaging

  Image via



Such is the case with Johnny Cupcakes, a unique apparel company that sells branded t-shirts and more with a baking theme. The company’s ironic shirts are packaged in baking styles like frosting cans and donut boxes, and the stores display merchandise on oven racks and baker’s shelves, with decorations like industrial mixers.


  Johnny Cupcakes Store

  Image via



This unique brand is highly successful with thousands of fans, some of which are dedicated and loyal enough to have tattoos of the Johnny Cupcakes’ cupcake-and-crossbones logo!

  Johnny Earle Founder Johnnycupcakes

 Image via 



Johnny Earle, the founder of the company, started Johnny Cupcakes when he was in his early 20s. Earle committed himself fully to developing the distinctiveness of the brand, investing almost nothing in advertising in favour of creating an incomparable brand experience in his retail locations, from the displays and shelving right down to the smells of a bakery, achieved with frosting-scented air fresheners.




CEO Brand Leadership: Connecting Your CEO Brand to Your Company Brand

Sir Richard Branson is highly conscious of the Virgin brand and treats it as not just as a company, but as a lifestyle. Throughout every piece of brand messaging that bears Branson’s name or participation, he repeatedly reinstates and lives the Virgin culture and core values, ensuring a clear vision, mission, and direction that is echoed through the vast Virgin empire.


As a leader, you have the opportunity to exert a powerful influence on your brand, from all the internal processes and details to external customer and stakeholder perceptions and experiences.


“Living the brand” is a very effective strategy for any leader, regardless of the size of your company. When you channel your leadership skills into directing and building both your company brand, while ensuring your personal brand is fully aligned to those product or service brand values, you ensure both internal and external brand consistency. This relentless focus to constantly deliver on your brand promise to both your employees and customers alike is what ultimately makes brands successful, gives them longevity and helps grow your company’s long term profitability.


What do you think?


• Does your current leadership style reflect your company brand?


• What is the internal perception of your brand at your company?


• How many brand elements do you have direct control over within your company?


• Do you have a strong brand vision that guides your leadership actions?


• What changes can you make in your day-to-day leadership to encompass and support more of your brand’s core values?


• Are you “living the brand” and leading by example in living the brand? Are your employees living the brand?


Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.