Our Thinking

Leading with Brand: The CEO and the Corporate Brand

June 2018

By Michael Watras, Chairman & CEO

Over the past decade, the corporate brand has become a critical component for businesses that aspire to recognition and growth. Representing the overriding identity of a business, the corporate brand may be the only piece of the entity that touches all stakeholders, from the entry-level employee all the way up to the CEO. That’s why it’s essential for CEOs to take brand seriously, and use it as a tool to inspire and engage stakeholders of all kinds.

The value of a strong corporate brand

First of all, it is important to know what a corporate brand is, and what it is not. Corporate brands are not simply logos, nor are they limited to descriptions of products and services. A good corporate brand is the identity of the corporation, weaving all the sub-brands together into a cohesive, recognizable brand architecture. The corporate brand is the face of the company in the world, representing the company’s values and personality to everyone who encounters it.

The corporate brand is also the face of the company to the financial community. This is especially true if the business is a public corporation. In the past, CEOs were mainly concerned with their company’s share price and bottom line, and did not see how brand played into that, so they saw no need to connect to the brand. Many saw brand as frivolous, nothing more than a logo treatment.

However, the last decade has seen a shift: CEOs have become more connected to corporate brand. This is partially due to the explosion of social media. Brand personalities and interactions are now on display for all the world to see, even in B2B settings once thought safe from these concerns. And recent research has shown what branding professionals have known for years: a powerful corporate brand is proven to have a positive effect on company share value and net worth. 

The CEO’s role in corporate branding

With its power to impact not only a company’s image in the world, but its financial value, corporate brand can be a CEO’s best friend if used properly. Today’s CEO is the steward of the brand, and owns it while in the lead position. A strong corporate brand establishes a communication channel between the C-Suite and stakeholders. These include investors, customers, partners, and — in my opinion, the most important stakeholder — employees.

Recently, I spoke with Ken Banta, founder and CEO of The Vanguard Group for Leadership, which works directly with CEOs and develops senior executives. We discussed how an authentic corporate brand has the power to open a line of communication between the stakeholders and the C- Suite. “For a top leader, defining a sense of purpose for an organization is fundamental,” said Ken. “People need to be aligned with something bigger than themselves. Otherwise they will just be doing a job.”  A CEO may own the brand, but employees carry the brand flag, and are vital to supporting and communicating the brand.

Conclusion

Corporate brands continue to be relevant today. A strong corporate brand is the face of the company, beyond its products and services, encapsulating and conveying a company’s place in the world. If CEOs accept their role as stewards of brand, then brand can become an important, functional asset for achieving business goals. CEOs can use a strong corporate brand to communicate with customers, inspire confidence in investors, attract top talent, and strengthen ties with employees.

In our next article on making the most of a corporate brand, we will discuss how a corporate brand is relevant to what I consider the company’s most important stakeholder: employees.

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Straightline is an international brand strategy and design consultancy. We work with leaders of global and emerging businesses to develop brand strategies and creative solutions that help organizations improve their business and bottom line. To have a conversation about your brand, contact us.

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