An online research was conducted with KRC Research in November of 2011 using 1,375 consumers and 575 senior executives in top companies as its respondents, it was discovered that nearly 3 in 10 consumers (28 percent) report that they regularly or frequently talk about company leaders and approximately 6 in 10 (59 percent) say that their perceptions about a brand are strongly influenced by what top leaders communicate.
According to Gaines Ross, a brand strategist, gone are the days when purchases were made solely on product attributes. Today’s consumer is savvy, well-informed and privy to a plethora of purchase options. Decisions are now increasingly based on additional factors such as the company behind the brand, what the company stands for and even the standing of its senior leaders. Based on this, brand enthusiasts seek to examine to what extent corporate leadership affects the equity and perception of a brand and also which 21st century CEOs are redefining what it means to be a corporate chieftain.
We begin our story with the legendary Richard Branson who founded Virgin Atlantic. The use of the name Virgin is a departure from the otherwise conservative cultures of the British so it was viewed as an audacious and bold move. Also associating the brand with sexual imagery created an outcry with people somewhat confused as to the purpose and intent. For example, in the early days of Virgin Atlantic, the restrooms for the men had the toilet bowls shaped in the mouth of a woman creating a sexual association which resonates with the average man’s sexual predetorial instincts. This imagery created a surreal and erotic storytelling of unleashing the wild side, of letting go, of damning all the consequences and letting your hair down and of not giving a hoot about conventions and rules. The idea behind this bold and audacious move was to differentiate the brand while positioning it as boldly authentic. In time, there was an outcry against these unconventional and overtly sexual themes and while at an interview, the CEO’s response to this was “screw it, lets do it”. This overly authentic and audacious move in managing the brand emerged Virgin Atlantic as a timeless and ageless brand to be reckoned with the world over. Branson till date is a top social media influencer with over 7 million twitter followers, 9 million Linkedin connections and 3 million FB likes, his’ has become a voice that has shaped corporate leadership in this century and for a long time to come.
Another rugged and sagacious CEO is John Legere of T Mobile who doesn’t have a hard time dropping the F word in the middle of a press conference, for him this represents the unprecedented side to his customers. In his words, “the trick for me is, I really believe that I act, behave and speak the same way my customers do. I say what they think on behalf of them, “If you look deeply, most of my colourful nature and antics is to drive change that benefits customers.” Also, Slow Cooker Sunday is a live online show Legere hosts online on Sundays, where he makes a novel dish in a slow cooker. The January episode got more than half a million views with increasing views over time. Defending his unconventional practices, Legere says that though it may sound crazy, he does as a CEO what other conventional CEOs aren’t going to do, he uses social media to further his cause, he uses hashtag #ShoppingSaturday, Instagram and Facebook when he goes shopping on Saturday to buy the ingredients for Slow Cooker Sunday. He says that these are in line with his authentic self which will inevitable portray his brand as original and purely authentic. Legere wears his unconventionalism like a badge using this as strategy to keep his brand evergreen in the mind of the consumer.
On closer examination, we find that the face and voice of the CEO represents the brand to a very large extent and these new breed of CEOs are playing up to the consumers need for novelty and a departure from the norm. These corporate chiefs realizing that innovation will not differentiate their brands in the long run have had to find something intrinsic, authentic, original and difficult to copy – their unique personalities. Hence they play up to that wild side while using the power of social media to blow it up in people’s faces. The blatant disregard for convention, the colourful choice of words and their suggestive language all become part of the entertainment their customers seek which inevitably rubs off on the equity of their brands.
According to Matt Hulett, the persona of today’s corporate leaders are changing as the polished sophistication of the past has given way to a new breed of CEOs. These new breed are unfiltered and unapologetic and people love them for it and they know how to hold our attention and have the revenues to prove it. With the ever blurring distinction between work and life, we’ve got a new generation looking to brands and their CEOs for entertainment, suddenly, the line between office chatter and bar talk becomes even more blurred than ever before. He further posits that because CEOs use their unique personalities to teach and entertain, their messages and missions become sticky and their companies are reaping the rewards.
In summary , CEOs should not shy away from being real because it is the profanity, the rawness, the unfiltered content and the honesty that people crave. It’s what makes them down-to-earth and relatable and in doing so, employees, customers and investors are given the permission to be truly authentic and engage on a genuine level with the brand.