July 2, 2019 Chris Fuller

How Inspirational is Your Leadership Brand?

Like It or Not, You Make Branding Choices Every Single Day 

People aren’t the only forces of inspiration. Brands have the same power—one that is multiplied, even, by the number of people who come together under one missional banner. 

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPod, he sold a metal box with a microprocessor, small screen, and a clickable wheel. But what did he deliver? A thousand songs in your pocket.

That small piece of hardware has changed the way people consumed music. 

It might be retro cool now to buy albums on vinyl or even cassette, but a thousand songs in your pocket was transformational in 2001, helping pave the way for the iPhone and establish Apple as a global monolith. 

What is the big idea YOU serve to your customers? Think for a moment before you answer. 

You may think you “sell” one thing but actually deliver another. And if your sell and your deliver aren’t matching up, there may be a disconnect of inspiration. 

You can discover it again—that idea that made you tick, the goals your people signed up ready to achieve. 

But it requires asking the hard questions: How inspirational is my brand truly? And what decisions am I making everyday that set me on this course? 

Inspiring Brands can Inspire Positivity OR Negativity

Brands clearly have an identity, much like a person, but do they always inspire? And further, do they always inspire in the positive sense of the word? 

As a leader in an organization, you are a torchbearer for your brand. The things you say and do reflect on the brand.

The NFL for years has talked about the shield when referring to their logo.

They have high standards for what they want their brand to be. That’s why players get fined for wearing the wrong cleats or something that doesn’t match the uniform. 

It’s seen as disrespectful to the shield. 

The NFL has a brand code that it expects its players to live up to and abide by. Unfortunately, however, many fans feel the NFL has been inspiring in the wrong direction lately. Right or wrong, the League has paid a price for that perception. 

So whether your brand is inspiring positive or negative thoughts, you will make an impact either way with the words and actions you use to front your brand. 

Inspiring Brands Get to the Heart

Some brands, like Apple, become status symbols. Others like Tom’s Shoes and Patagonia become outlets for causes the owners and employees can support. 

Now more than ever, brands have a say in how they are perceived in the marketplace. Dove, a Unilever Skincare brand, launched a campaign several years ago called “Real Beauty.” You may remember the ads. 

It began when they “put six women in their underwear on a billboard in Times Square and challenged conventional norms of beauty imagery.”

These women weren’t famous supermodels with recognizable faces. They were women of all shapes, sizes, and skin tones and showed that Dove products were for everyone. 

It was a risky proposition that could have backfired, but according to Rob Candelino, Vice President of Brand Building for Unilever Skincare, the campaign transformed the company’s image. Candelino said that the billboard “was so groundbreaking and profoundly inspiring to women” that they were flooded with positive feedback. 

Dove used their platform as a brand to send a message to the heart of their market. 

Inspiring Brands Cause a Reaction

Think about the following brands: Zappos, Starbucks, Target, Salvation Army, Red Cross, Tesla, Google, Disney, Chick-Fil-A, Walmart, Home Depot, and Amazon.

Do they evoke a positive or negative reaction in you? 

Would you want to work with these brands? Why? Why not? 

What have these brands done that sticks in your mind and causes a reaction? What cultures do you think these brands have inside the company’s walls? 

Some are listed among the top places to work. Others are frequently defending their culture and treatment of employees. Are their employees happy, highly regarded, frustrated, exhausted? 

Now consider this: just as you have a reaction to these brands, your customers and the marketplace have a reaction to your organization’s brand. 

Your company brand is and will be known for something.

It may be the lowest cost, the highest quality, reliability, luxury, economy, sportiness, value, or humor. 

Building Your Brand Identity

Whether you lead an organization of millions, a division of thousands, or a team of a few, your leadership can inspire—or exasperate—the brand you lead. Yes, that’s right! 

Even a small team has a brand identity. 

You can decide to be an inspirational leader or an exasperating leader who shapes that brand in either direction. 

If you choose to do nothing about your leadership style, you’ll naturally become exasperating to those you lead. No one wants to follow someone who simply goes through the motions. What do you want your brand to be? 

What type of leader will you need to be in order to create a team that embodies that brand?

Get out a pen and paper before you do anything else today (it will be worth it). 

Write down at least 5 adjectives that describe your ideal leadership brand. What feelings do you want to evoke in your audience? In your coworkers? What are 5 action words that describe how your leadership will execute? 

Then put your favorites together in a missional statement.

This statement can change, it can grow, but if you can keep it in mind before every decision, delegation, project, and product, you will find it 100x easier to stay on-mission, on-brand, and powerfully inspirational, not only as an individual, but a brand. 

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