Thursday 23rd June 2005


The role of the CEO in building the brand

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By Jai Leladharsingh

“It is not the strongest of species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

Charles Darwin

“Conventional wisdom says branding is for external communications: it aims to influence current and prospective customers. But this view of branding is too narrow, especially when an organisation is redefining its strategy. Branding can serve a powerful internal purpose to redefine strategy and motivate people to be focused on shared goals.”

European Forum for Management Development (EFMD)

While there is notable interest in how employee behaviour can be aligned with the defined brand promise, business research has crystallised one of the most influential drivers that support internal brand building: it is the CEO.

Chief executive officers are, as all other members of staff, either enabled or constrained by corporate structures.

However, CEOs have access to more corporate rules and resources due to their social position. They can initiate and facilitate change along the defined brand values. CEOs can do this in two ways—by formulating the brand vision and by facilitating social interaction within the organisation.

The CEO’s strongest influence during the process of internal brand building is the development of a convincing and inspiring brand vision.

The leadership literature shows the importance of long-term perspective of the brand promise as it provides guidelines for daily decisions. Employees may better identify with the brand if they are aware of the brand vision. Organisational transparency creates a greater sense of security for staff.

Let us examine energy giant bpTT. The letters bp stands for beyond petroleum. This demonstrates that the organisation maintains a distinct organisational vision, which is communicated to all stakeholders through its brand.

BP Global maintains very strict standards of operations, procurement, human resource development, and environmental standards.

It is through operating at these standards, and observing the highest benchmarks that the organisation has built an enormous amount of goodwill and trust amongst its employees. As a result, the employees live the brand values and their positive behaviours are clearly seen through the eyes of other stakeholders.

It must be emphasised that leaders play an active role during the brand building process when it comes to translating the brand’s promise into action.

However, the other role of leadership is to build bridges between individuals and the organisation. Hence, leaders not only influence the internal brand building process via formal communication flows, but also through social actions.

The Virgin group of companies is a fine example. The CEO, Mr Richard Branson, has become quite synonymous with his organisation’s brand.

Mr Branson is responsible for hundreds of companies carrying the Virgin brand whose product offerings range from airline services to clothing.

However, Mr Branson is a fun-loving and adventurous individual. He has been known to execute some daring stunts such as parachuting off a tall building or fun events such as the Tobago Goat race.

His personality has extended into his organisation’s culture, and his employees ensure that all clients enjoy both a fun and pleasant experience.

Such unconventional actions have contributed to building Virgin’s internal brand, and consequently, a very profitable and successful international group.

For leaders to successfully execute the internal brand building process, they must demonstrate three types of leadership attributes:

Showing commitment

Living brand values

Trusting employees

A committed leader is an integral part of the internal brand building process.

During the initial phases of internal brand building, leaders generally show support and commitment, but due to time pressures they become less involved with implementation.

In fact, leaders need to be committed throughout the entire brand building process. They must build on the qualities of innovation, inspiration and imagination.

Such behaviours create excitement among employees and this translates into positive reinforcement of the brand values.

An illustration of this point can be explained in terms of a personal experience involving a major financial institution, Republic Bank Ltd.

When I approached the bank for a particular kind of financing facility, the lending officer went into the broad details of the service, but explained that there were some obstacles with respect to my requests.

However, rather than leaving the matter in limbo, the lending officer went out of his way to render advice and assistance. He even spoke to his regional manager, and was given several scenarios and solutions that could apply to my situation.

After two days, several conversations (either by telephone or personal meetings) and some innovative approaches, the obstacles were all cleared up and I was granted the facility.

This action shows that organisational leaders have to be in the “middle of the process,” working and guiding their employees.

Live the brand promise

Successful leaders are passionate representatives of the brand promise. Living the brand may encourage the development of trust and respect amongst employees.

Leaders of organisations that have built high brand equity over time have emphasized the importance of “role modeling.”

They understand that they must lead by example and demonstrate behaviors that exhibit the values and promises of the brand, and to motivate their employees to emulate similar behavioral patterns.

Hence, living the brand promise serves as both a magnet and motivator for employees.

Trust and empower

the employees

A successful leader views his people as talented individuals who can make valuable contributions to the internal branding process.

The leader can facilitate participation through actions such as recruiting individuals whose values are similar to the brand, through training and a fair reward system.

This ensures that employees have the necessary skills to implement the brand vision, that they understand the external brand environment, and that they are able to judge if there is a fit between the internal and external branding campaign.

Brand leaders trust that everybody in an organisation is determined to live their “brand values” and knows how to turn challenges into opportunities.

Empowerment is considered as the driving force for successful brand building. Ultimately, this implies giving up control, which in turn demonstrates the leader’s faith in his employees.


Organisational leaders eventually lead their employees to the brand-based organisation, which takes the customer driven organisation a step further. It demands viewing customers in terms of how they think about brands.

When a customer thinks about making a purchase in a category (whether it is a financial service or toothpaste), a few brands usually come to mind.

In the future, the success of companies will be largely determined by their ability to get customers to think about their brand first.

Organisations will have no choice but to develop the most appropriate branding strategies especially to compete in the challenging environment of the Caricom Single Market Economy due to come on stream this year.

Successful business leaders, however, must view an appropriate internal culture as one of the pillars of building a successful organisation.

CEOs especially, must play a pivotal role in building the internal brand values of their organisations.

It is their brands, rather than their products or services that drive sales and this should motivate leaders to organize their businesses around those brands.

Mr Jai Leladharsingh is a senior associate with the UWI-Institute of Business.

He can be contacted at: [email protected]




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