3 Strategic Moves to Build Iconic Brands

How many times a perfectly good company has lost a client when a sales rep left, without even actively ‘taking clients with them’? Why do people choose to buy from one company and not another when the price is comparable? Why one job applicant is chosen over another when they have the same skills and comparable background? Why one product succeeds over another, even a better one?

Firstly, people buy from people, not from companies. And, secondly, since when did facts and logic get in a way of a good story!

It is about personal leadership by actual leaders, individual people, companies and even products. And behind each success of taking the lead there is a powerful engine of brand personality – or personal branding with a deep purpose. A story!

Today, in the social world driven by personal influence of individuals, more than ever, leaders need to recognise the power of personal branding.

People best relate to stories that involve them or with which they identify themselves. This is a powerful opportunity for leaders who need to mobilise their workforce to deliver increasingly more difficult results. Many companies struggle with employee engagement, productivity, sales and, of course, innovation.

So, how can personal branding of leaders help organisations build iconic brands, operational excellence and ultimate, consistent success?

Social media and other platforms – that can connect employees and build a cohesive, dedicated culture to make a company competitively more resilient – are technologically within reach of most companies. Many companies have already embraced Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Yammer. The problem is – these platforms are managed by a dedicated person or even a team, and lack personality. Because personality comes from leaders who see the bigger purpose, set the direction and drive the vehicle.

One large telco invested in Yammer community forum some time ago. Yes, someone was appointed to maintain the noise, but nobody took notice. It wasn’t until, months later, when one of the senior leaders started contributing to the conversation, that the flood gates opened. Now, they have approximately 25% of the 10,000-strong workforce, participating in the conversations on the forum. That’s over 2,000 employees who care.

Why is it so important?

For big companies it’s a better way to communicate relevant messages to employees and keep them connected, informed and perhaps inspired. It is also a way to identify your ‘innovation elite’, people who are curious, widely networked and have lots of ideas they may be encouraged to share and take forward. Leaders engaging directly in the conversation can inspire these people to create new value for the organisation.

For smaller companies – when in a company of 20-50 people you only have one or two BDMs who know what you are selling, what your USP/UVP is or what your brand stands for, suddenly a forum allows you to have 20-50 people capable of ‘selling’ and spreading the WOM in places you would never have access to. Call it ‘viral marketing’. It has long been a strategy pumped by consumer goods. There is no reason why it shouldn’t work for you – with no extra cost, and with more credibility. As long, as your employees are well informed, coached, and inspired!

We have broken out of a patriarchal society. The command and control system is less valid. This is the age of leading by influence and influence is a personal choice. People can and do choose who can influence them: follow or unfollow; as simple as that.

Leaders still have to make difficult decisions that will not please everyone. But in the war on talent, like contestants in ‘Idol’, ‘Voice’ and ‘Australia’s got talent’, they need to wow and show what they are made of personally, if they want to wield influence.

A lot here can be learnt from Social Media. Who are the biggest influencers? They are individuals who share important information and have the courage to have opinions.

Here are the Three Strategic Moves to Building Iconic Brands:

1. Provide Direction
There is often a huge disconnect between what business wants and what employees are thinking and doing. Management, in any size company, cannot afford to leave understanding of the company’s direction, branding or market to chance. The role of a Strategist Leader, who knows where he/she wants to take the organisation, is to be a meaning maker of the company’s identity. The direction needs to be spelled out, ‘This is our purpose. This is not. This is what we will be. This is why our clients prefer the world with us rather than without us’.

Translating a company’s Vision and Mission into a simple set of Non-Negotiable Principles (NNPs), creates a consciously self-aware organisation with clear focus on where it is going, what it wants to be and what it will and not will do to get there. But the secret to success is consistency and frequency of communicating the NNPs so that every person in the organisation knows how to make the right decisions and trade-offs on a daily basis. By making the right decisions more often, employees feel more empowered and productivity increases through shorter decision-making cycles and less confusion on all levels.

Implementing NNPs enables organisations to bring people on the same strategic page. Like any strategy and business activity implementing and achieving measurable objectives, requires appropriate communication. This can be accomplished internally or using expert external resource.

2. Lead by Example
As seen from the telco example above, telling people to do something is not enough. And neither are the technology bells and whistles. Best leaders lead by example. They walk the talk and aim to personally experience what their employees and customers are experiencing. Leader needs to demonstrate that if it is good enough for them; it is good enough for the employees. Imagine Daniel Grollo not wearing a safety helmet or vest on a construction site, or CEO of Mercedes-Benz driving a BMW as a car of choice.

The NNP development process brings Leaders into the centre of learning, engagement and company-wide conversation. It starts with Leaders developing NNPs. The objective of NNPs is to help employees make right decisions. By developing and testing the Principles first themselves, Leaders will know if this will help employees make better decisions to achieve business objectives and therefore enable them to build business excellence and strengthen the competitive advantage.

3. Build Followers
Be a Teacher and a Student all the time. Being actively engaged in employee purposeful networks is an invaluable management tool for all senior leaders, including the top leader.

Firstly, no matter how good you are, you can always learn something new – from anyone. It will be either a problem you didn’t realise they have, or a solution you haven’t thought of. Best breakthrough solutions for both products and business are often accidents. We’ve all heard about mentoring. Now the best leaders recognise the value of ‘reverse mentoring’ – learning from children. It’s not just the domain for market research. It is becoming a valid element of executive learning.

Secondly, leaders can only be leaders if they are visible and if people see a reason to follow. It can just be one message – repeated, reinforced, refreshed – as long as it helps people do their job easier, they will have a reason to follow.

Building iconic brands that engage and build ‘audiences’, is good business sense. Building Personal Brands is an essential management tool for business leaders in the Social 21st century.