“I saw The Social Network...”
Asking any American, older than the age of 15, if he or she knows who’s Mark Zuckerberg elicits a predictable response. The questioned would probably respond with some variation of “Do you think I’m an idiot?” But if you asked the same person who is Ron Garriques, CEO of RadioShack, then only a handful of folks would be offended.
There’s a reason everyone and their mother knows Zuckerberg’s name even if everyone’s mother isn’t on Facebook, yet. Zuckerberg and the like, i.e. CEO’s like: Richard Branson, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet, are seen as ambassadors of their brands. Some of these entrepreneurs are celebrities in their own right. However, the inescapable bond between the CEO and his or her corporate brand holds much more weight in the eyes of the public and company stakeholders.
A Brand New Brand for the CEO
CEO Branding is not personality branding, which is the attribution of character traits to a brand name. CEO Branding’s purpose is to present a CEO as an important ambassador of a business’s corporate brand, which should help secure more deals and increase esteem within the business community. The transformation of the CEO into public icon is a relatively new phenomena, which offers new opportunities for business leaders represent certain, chosen values. During times of instability, employees, colleagues and sometimes the public, turn towards icons who irrefutably stand for certain virtues like poise, creativity, and ingenuity.
Think of the CEO and the brand as two bodies that can synergistically work together when their public perceptions are aligned. The brand stands for certain values, and the CEO projects these values for other businesses, and the public, to notice. Authentic representation is the goal of CEO Branding, as opposed to more publicity for the company. Through a well-defined brand personality, other businesses and the public associate the brand with certain traits. The CEO then makes these traits concrete through his or her actions. Traditionally we might think of actions like public appearances, speeches, and book deals as concrete actions that a CEO could do to effectuate values. But, CEO Branding requires an approach that promotes CEO engagement with specific topics and issues.
This sort of engagement requires authentic interest in an issue on the CEO’s part. For example, Whole Foods’ CEO Walter Robb IV directly expresses solidarity with Whole Food’s employees by capping his salary well below what it could have been, directly promotes the importance of healthy habits like good diet and exercise, and endorses internal initiatives that are designed to get employees to live more active lifestyles. Through these actions, Robb IV has amplified Whole Foods’s perception as a company that values personal health. Authentic engagement doesn’t come in the form of one-off speeches or events, because it requires a CEO the live a lifestyle that aligns with his or her brand.
So, say that your business’s brand identity is effectively represented by its CEO, which comprises a significant portion of the challenge. How is anyone in the public eye or business community supposed to learn about your business’s CEO without traditional PR events? Well, it’s time to turn to the ubiquitous source of information for nearly all Americans living in 2016, which is the internet. Search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo search are of particular interest to us for the purpose of getting the word out.
Every successful case of effective CEO Branding shares one commonality. All of these CEOs share a unique story, which amplifies their personal and their brand’s values, with the public and other businesses. We understand Zuckerberg’s a-ha moment at Harvard, and know that Jobs and Wozniack founded Apple in a garage in Southern California. Their personal ingenuity corroborates the values of their businesses, which are both viewed as companies that capitalize on new, potentially risky opportunities. Before we learn about any of the concrete details of their work at Facebook or Apple, we know their story. In our era, the storytelling medium of choice for consumers and businesses is video.
Video and CEO Branding
Video is very often a component of traditional personality branding, but functions as a different tool with CEO Branding. Instead of using video to increase the public’s awareness of a business’s services, video becomes a tool to show other businesses what a CEO and a brand stand for. The goal isn’t to answer the question “what does this business do,” but instead to answer the question “how does this business put its values into action?”
For example, Skillman Video Group produced this video in 2015 to showcase our client’s commitment to effective professional development.
The executives at our client’s organization could have given a speech on their work, or created a series of traditional print advertisements. By choosing video, their target audience gets to literally see how they put values into action. The visceral qualities of video make it the medium of choice for effective CEO Branding.