brand leadership

Strong brands have strong leaders with strong personalities. This branded leadership will help organizations succeed because the audience will have confidence that the leaders will respond to their needs.

colonel sandersLeaders of the organization (at all levels) can influence brand perception. How they exercise that influence can have positive or negative effects.

But where does this leadership come from? There are three primary sources:

Shoppers trust Joe down at Joe’s Butcher Shop more than the corporate meat cutter behind the glass at the Mega-Low Mart. The product is similar in both instances. Why is there a major perception difference? It’s because shoppers perceive Joe as a guide, curator, and maybe even a friend. His personal integrity stands behind his product. The meat at the big box store is presented as a faceless commodity.

And the naysayers say…

“Well, okay, of course the small mom & pop business can do this stuff, right? That’s their strength. Major national brands can’t do it.”

Perhaps you’re reading this post on a product you picked up down at Steve’s Apple Store.

Steve Jobs was defined by Apple and Apple will always be defined by Steve Jobs (and Woz). Jobs’ personal credibility bled through to the brand. While he was infamously a hands-on micromanager in development and design, he didn’t personally sell iPhones, Macs, and the rest to consumers….Or did he?…You saw the personal connection between him, the brand, and consumers at when he unveiled a new Apple product when he was alive and you certainly saw it when he died.

You’ve seen this strong personal leadership that crossed the veil into the brand at several strong corporate entities. Tony Hsieh at Zappos. Richard Branson at Virgin. Herb Kelleher at SouthWest. Oprah at … Oprah. All individuals whose personal leadership made those brands great.

And the naysayers say…

“Well, okay, of course the founders of these companies made a huge impact on the corporate brand. But our founder is ____. (boring / evil / dead / etc) We can’t do it.”

No doubt Henry Ford, in his day, made as much or more of an influence on his company as any of the people I mentioned above. His influence on the Ford brand is finished. But with social media connections to people like Scott Monty (@ScottMonty), there is a personal leadership and connection to the brand. Through an effective social media strategy, consumers can talk “personally” to a brand and feel a one-on-one connection that is similar to Joe down at the butcher shop.

Another point to remember is that brand leadership happens at every level of the organization. The barista that you interact with every morning who knows your name and you know theirs is more of the face of Starbucks to you than Howard Schultz is. Develop a corporate culture that helps the people who are ambassadors of your brand (employees, volunteers, other customers, and more) show brand leadership.

People want to interact with personalities, not corporations. No matter where the leadership for that personality comes from, organizations will benefit from it whether it be from an employee empowered corporate culture, an interactive social media presence, or a visible dynamic founder.

getting priorities straight

Paula Berg is leaving her position as Manager of Emerging Media at Southwest Airlines. And instead of burning bridges on the way out, she left a (ahem) LUV note about Southwest.

Like any good marketer — alot of it is promotional talk, but there are many items on the list that showcase how Southwest builds a brand through their employees.

The one that struck me the most was #33:

Employees first, Customers next, Shareholders last.

Companies get the order of these mixed up all the time. Actually, most businesses have priorities that are the complete reverse of this.

And then there are businesses that think the customer should be first. That’s not always true. The customer is NOT always right. But if you have treated your employees right today and shown them that they are valuable, then they are eager to make sure the customer is satisfied tomorrow.

And shareholders will be happy with their ROI because good employees cultivate good customers (see previous paragraph) who are loyal to the brand and continue to spend money with the company.

and the dominoes started to fall

I called it.

Today’s announcement — United is following American’s lead.

Of course, when your industry is hated and someone else has already taken the brunt of the PR backlash — decisions like these are pretty easy. Way to step out, United.

And behold the power of contextual ad placement:

come check my wiring harness

I’m a Southwest person. If they don’t go where I’m going, I’m a US Airways person. With US Airways alliances, sometimes they stick me on a United flight.

I haven’t flown on American in about 10 years — until a speaking client’s travel agency put me on an American flight this week.

On Wednesday, when I saw the lines, I thought there would be a bloggable customer service disaster. But BNA did well. They were handling the crisis very well (at least, they were on Wednesday morning). The only trouble I had was that I didn’t have any AA miles clout in achieving standby status. Luckily, I had plenty of time to get where I was going with relative little trouble.

The thing I kept thinking was that just a few years ago, people would have been incensed at the whole situation. All through the airport, there were just dead eyed accepting blank stares from passengers. The entire air travel industry has lowered the bar so much in the last few years that people are accepting of situations like this. I suppose if you mistreat customers enough, they eventually are satisified with subpar experiences.

Free to move about the cabin

First off, let me make clear that I’m a huge fan of Southwest Airlines. When I travel, they are my first choice for an airline. The price, the company culture, and common sense methodology that they use to run a business impresses me everytime.

But two separate things have come up about SWA in the past few days that all marketers (and Southwest) could take a lesson.

1) People don’t like change…even GOOD change
When I was a child, my grandmother would sit at the kitchen table to make out a grocery list. She would mentally go through the store and write things down in the order that she would come to them. One day we went and they had re-set the store. It threw her system off and made her mad.

I was extremely familiar with the SWA website. I knew where everything was. Then I logged on the other day and they had redesigned the website. I can see the new website is a much better design. Frankly, I think it’s a lot easier to use. I would have advised Southwest to change the old site to the new one. But part of me doesn’t like the site.

People get used to what they’re used to. It’s simple enough, but we forget that. I think it’s a good sign that people get upset when you change things. It means that they’re invested in the site and they view it as “their website”. When you change things and no one makes a fuss, you’re in trouble.

2) Sometimes cleverness can go too far
I primarily deal with the company through the web (see above). But today, I had to actually call the airline to deal with a unique situation. The rep was friendly in the typical Southwest way. And she told me she had to put me on hold for a minute or two. Her demeanor was so good that I didn’t mind.

And then I started listening to the on-hold message. In one of my seminars, I spend a good chunk of time talking about marketing on-hold messages. I may call SWA back and have them put me on hold so I can record an example of what not to do.

The message started with some of the type of cutesy things that you hear from the flight crew when you fly and then they had a recording of someone calling the customer service line. The first time I heard ‘Southwest Airlines, can I help you?”…I started telling this new person that I was waiting for the 1st rep. And then I realized what was going on and felt crazy.
Then more cute.
Then “Southwest Airlines, can I help you?”. I started again.
More cute.
“Southwest Airlines, can I help you?” I paused…not sure.

And it went on like this for two or three minutes. When the real person came back, I didn’t say anything until she said “Mr. Houchens?”.

It was the most on-edge hold I’ve ever been on.

The cuteness and cleverness is one of the brand hallmarks of Southwest. And people (and I) love it. But, a surreal mobius loop of an on-hold message can freak you out.

Wine, cheese, and Tractors

First…a delightful tangent story…..

A few years ago, I boarded a flight in Nashville and found the entire C-level management team of the Tractor Supply Company (TSC) seated around me. Apparently, TSC was being featured in that month’s new issue of the in-flight magazine and this flight was a PR event / celebration.

Before takeoff, I engaged in the typical seatmate conversation with them….told them that my family and I had shopped at our local TSC since I was a little boy…still shopped there for my hobby farm…they asked what I did…etc. As usual with airline seatmates, that was the extent of our relationship.

During the flight, as a part of the PR gig, the stewardess brought out a bottle of wine. The TSC’ers enjoyed that wine with some pricey French cheese (fromage!) and grapes while I enjoyed my packet of peanuts and complimentary in-flight beverage service.

Prior to that flight, I had a brand image of TSC that could be described with bib-overalls, barbed wire and farm animal supplies. Now when I walk into a TSC, I can’t get the thought of wine and cheese out of my head. 99% of the farmers that have known in my life are not in the “wine, cheese, and grapes crowd”. They’re in the “Ski and a Moon Pie crowd”.

(And after 4 paragraphs, my point is….)

The changing face of the market shows that the “wine & cheese crowd” are now the core of the TSC demo. As open farmland is increasing sub-divided, people that now buy “farm stuff” are not full-time farmers. They’re people like me who either hobby-farm or suburb-ites who have a farm-type need.

Steve Hall over at AdRants shines a light on the new ad campaign from TSC. I’ve seen these ads and they freak me out a little. It’s like the Thunderbird puppets went out on the farm. (See the ads here.)

Other than freaky puppets, I think TSC is doing some good marketing. All of their stuff looks really sharp. I absolutely love the “Hatch Show Print look” of the print in both the previous and current ad campaigns.

Just next time, how about sharing that cheese?

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