While not unexpected, Steve Jobs' departure as Apple CEO has set tongues wagging about how it will affect the company and, perhaps more importantly, the brand.
Millward Brown ranks Apple as the most valuable brand in the world in its 2011 Brandz Top 100 report. According to the report, Apple's brand value is worth more than $153 billion, compared with second-place Google at $111.5 billion.
Jobs' resignation will be a loss to the worldwide business community, says Peter Walshe, Global BrandZ Director of Millward Brown.
"However, he has left the Apple brand in great health so that the company is still poised for future growth," Walshe says. "The future direction is mapped out, the successor is in place (also a designer by background), and consumers rate the brand uniquely 'creative', 'fun' and 'adventurous.'"
Apple's board has named Tim Cook, previously Apple's chief operating officer, as CEO. Jobs has been elected chairman of the board and Cook will join the board.
Millward Brown's BrandZ brand equity research shows that Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple is completely different from other technology brands and has the characteristics of a luxury brand, commanding huge desire and an equally high price premium. "The momentum (future outlook for the brand), according to consumers, is also strong," Walshe says.
Howard Belk, co-president, CEO and chief creative officer at global branding firm Siegel+Gale, believes Apple may struggle to maintain its creative edge without Jobs at the helm.
"Under Jobs, Apple made utilitarian technology products into art and legitimized design as a core competency of technology firms -- one that drives premium pricing," Howard says. "While there's a deep bench of Apple designers, with Jobs's departure, Apple's challenge will be to continue to nurture a culture where people connect the dots between design, consumers and the supply chain -- connections that other people simply don't see."
A founder's day-to-day presence -- and absence -- can make a difference for a brand, says Susan Nelson, executive director of consumer insights at Landor Associates.
"Founders themselves can be an inspirational presence and a constant reminder of what the brand stands for," Nelson tells Marketing Daily. "Their leadership also sets an example of how to behave in a way that supports their aspirations and those of the company. When they are no longer there, sometimes the teams can begin to forget why they are there and revert to old, new or different practices."
Yet Apple's future remains bright, because its pipeline of new products is strong through 2015, Nelson says.
"The company was founded in 1976 and they have had 35 years to imbue brand values and behavior. In the longer term, the evolution of the brand may be driven by new management, hiring practices and product innovation."
Jobs's resignation shouldn't affect consumers' emotional connection with the Apple brand, she adds.
"We don't believe there is a direct connection among mainstream consumers. Does the average iPod purchaser really care that much? However, Steve Jobs is a legendary CEO and visionary among influentials --- leading-edge consumers, bloggers, journalists, the street, etc. Among those audiences, his leadership will be missed."