Commentary

Attn CEO: Be The Keeper Of The Brand

Sometimes the CEO is the brand—the visionary (Steve Jobs), the maverick (Richard Branson) or the oracle (Warren Buffett).  

Most CEOs, however, are not the brand. They are the keepers of the brand. 

Which means as CEO, you need to think of your brand as a Patek Philippe watch: You never actually own it. Your job is to appreciate its value, take care of it and keep it ticking for generations to come.

If that sounds like a passive pursuit, it’s anything but. This is about focus and action. Does that mean we need a new brand of CEO? No. It means organizations need CEOs who embody and reflect a company’s purpose and treat it as job one because it has become clear that a stronger brand, like any other business asset, drives business performance. 

Here’s what CEO brand keepers do:

They Find Their Brand Purpose

When it comes down to it, the CEO’s number one customer is the employee, and the CEO’s top job is to motivate and inspire employees.

That begins with purpose—the primary reason why the organization exists.

So CEOs need to answer three key questions: “What are your organization’s core strengths?” “What ideals inspire and motivate your people?” And finally, “What’s your economic model—how do you make your money?” You’ll find your purpose at the intersection of those three answers. It’s not always easy to find or express, but the benefits of a clear purpose—and the disadvantages of a lack of purpose—are well established. 

Brand-keeper CEOs start with purpose. You ask yourself: “What would the world miss if our company didn’t exist tomorrow?” And your answer guides everything you say and do going forward.

They Walk The Talk

Grand proclamations might grab you a headline or two, but your actions are your ongoing proof points.  

In February, CVS Caremark announced that it would stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products at its CVS/pharmacy stores by Oct. 1, making it the first chain of national pharmacies to do so. “Ending the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products at CVS/pharmacy is the right thing for us to do for our customers and our company to help people on their path to better health,” said Larry Merlo, president and CEO of CVS Caremark in making the announcement. “Put simply, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”

The move means CVS will potentially sacrifice an estimated $2 billion in annual revenue. What do they gain? Unassailable proof that CVS is in the health business, which will, in turn allow them to grow the company’s business working with doctors, hospitals and other health care providers.  

Brand keepers walk the talk.

They Inspire Others To Live The Brand

If you’re the standard-bearer for your company, you need to do more than just show the flag. You need to lead the charge. In fact, your whole C-Suite should be doing everything they can on a daily basis to reinforce and demonstrate the purpose and the values that define your company. 

PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi, speaking earlier this year at a panel discussion at the Yale School of Management on “Bosses as Brands,” said: “When you become a CEO, you’re no longer your own person. You’re a public property.”  

Knowing the expectations associated with her role, Nooyi decided early on that everything she did would be “completely intertwined” with the values of PepsiCo, and launched the “Performance with Purpose” initiative. 

“If our history and trajectory have taught us one thing, it’s that we have to think in terms of both quarters and generations,” she tells stakeholders, adding, “We recognized early that when we transform our business to deliver for our consumers, protect our environment and invest in our employees, we achieve sustained value.“ 

If you’re a CEO who’s a brand keeper, you understand the relationship between a strong brand and business success and know how to balance the two over the short term and the long run. And, finally, you honor a fundamental requirement of your job, which is to pass the brand on to your successor. 

That’s how you keep your brand—your Patek Phillippe watch—ticking for years to come.

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