Commentary

Passionate Leaders Build Passionate Brands

Steve Jobs has rightfully received attention since his passing and the release of his biography. He is often cited as a visionary innovator, but what often takes a backseat is his branding ability. How did he create a brand with such a passionate following? One key ingredient -- by being passionate himself.

What today’s marketer should learn from successful brand leaders

Given the attention that Jobs has received, one might think he was the only leader to exhibit this behavior and achieve such results. Yet others have demonstrated that passion breeds success. In fact, I would argue that passionate leaders are required to build passionate brands. Take Howard Schultz and Starbucks, John Mackey and Whole Foods, Phil Knight and Nike -- all passionate leaders who created passionate brands with strong equity positions and equally strong business performance.

According to The Brand Bubble and Young & Rubicam’s Brand Asset Valuator, these brands squarely live in the “Leadership” position, having Brand Strength and Brand Stature, positioning them for strong earning potential. These companies’ business results are proof of this assessment:

· Apple’s stock: a 35%+ CAGR, rising from $5.42 when Steve Jobs returned as CEO in 1997 to $405 in December 2011.

· Starbucks’ stock: a 25% CAGR since Howard Schultz returned as CEO in January 2008, starting at $18.91 and reaching $46.01 in December 2011.

· Nike’s stock: grew 127% during fiscal years 2007-2011, reaching an all-time high of $106.66 in February.

· Whole Foods’ stock price: a record high in February of $82.02, rebounding after a low during the recession of $8.19.

Here are three tips marketers can learn from these leaders’ example to earn similar returns.

Guide brand development through a clearly articulated vision fueled by passion

Howard Schultz built Starbucks based on his passion for great coffee and his desire to bring the Italian coffee bar experience to the world. He reiterated this point in 2008, recognizing that a loss of focus was leading the company astray. He emphasized a need to right the organization by remembering “the tradition, heritage, and passion they all had for the true Starbucks experience.”

Phil Knight founded Nike because of his passion for running. “If there was no track, there was no me…. I would be somebody entirely different and there wouldn't be a Nike,” he told the Des Moines Register in April 2009.

Steve Jobs was driven by perfection, but he was also driven by passion. Speaking of entrepreneurs in general, Jobs said: “Unless you’ve got a lot of passion for this, you’re not going to survive.” Finally, Whole Foods’ John Mackey built Whole Foods based on a passion for healthy eating. 

Instill that passion in the organization

These brand leaders may have had the passion to start a company and run it, but to continue to drive company growth they had to get their passion beyond them. Steve Jobs knew this, so when he hired senior people, the most important thing to him was “are they going to fall in love with Apple?” Starbucks’ Schultz talked about building a company based on “[valuing] the authenticity of its product and the passion of its people.”

Have people bring the brand passion to life

This is especially necessary in today’s world where consumers seek authentic connection, yet are cynical of establishments. It’s imperative that brands find a personal connection. 

Take Starbucks, which focuses on building its brand through its people, even calling them “partners” with this in mind. Howard Schultz has said: “We're in the people business…. It's all human connection.” Whole Foods takes a similar approach, engaging its workers in business decisions, preferring not to govern from the top of a centralized organization. Employees are “team members” and embody the brand in stores everyday.

Having people living the passion can take many forms. Phil Knight has always focused on getting his shoes on real athletes. Apple did it by opening retail stores, hiring enthusiastic Apple geeks, and creating the Genius Bar.

Consider -- how can a marketer expect consumers to be passionate about a brand if you yourself are not? You should be as passionate about your brand as consumers themselves are. If you don’t love your brand, it’s time to move on. Find the passion, embed it into your people and culture, and put a face to your brand. Do this -- and consumers and business results will follow, as these passionate brand leaders have successfully demonstrated.

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1 comment about "Passionate Leaders Build Passionate Brands ".
  1. Steven Howard from Howard Marketing Services , May 14, 2012 at 5:27 p.m.
    Great insights, but I would highly recommend you add Sir Richard Branson, and probably Akio Morita (founder of SONY) as well, to your list.