By Raoul Davis, Partner at Ascendant Group and a leading global expert on CEO Branding
Most companies fail to leverage one of their most compelling and distinguishable points — the CEO’s brand. Think about NASCAR for a moment. Every car in the Daytona 500 is high performing, has sponsors and a skilled pit crew and is financially backed. There is one major difference between the cars: the driver! Similarly, in business, the CEO is the driver.
CEO branding is accomplished through the process of getting the right message directly in front of your target audience, using a strategic blend of thought leadership that’s demonstrated through social media, speaking engagements, publishing and savvy public relations. It all starts with determining how the CEO’s brand maps to the corporate brand and how it can be used to generate access to the target market at a fraction of the cost of traditional advertising.
Business isn’t just business-to-consumer (B2C) or business-to-business (B2B) anymore. It is human-to-human (H2H). Human connection is often influential in building trust. When a CEO acts as a thought leader, it provides value to an audience. When done correctly, CEOs can talk about their businesses during interviews while sounding organic and contextual instead of contrived.
Building a CEO brand can help drive top-line revenue, develop a more portable brand to use in launching new divisions (or a new company) and build a legacy. While all this advice sounds good in theory, unless it’s carried out in the real world, it holds no value. Below are examples of how successful CEOs are effectively using CEO branding and tips for how you can leverage these strategies for your own brand.
Conquer your industry without traditional advertising
Elon Musk has built a great CEO brand. His name is associated with innovation. Tesla began with little in terms of an advertising budget and, with other car makers spending in the billions of dollars on advertising, the brand has still had great success. In my opinion, the most obvious factor is Musk. He has used strategies like social media, product-unveiling presentations and even sent a Tesla Roadster into orbit in conjunction with his other company, SpaceX. As a result, he has built trust and awareness faster and introduced a disruptive idea (an electronic car) with less market resistance than others likely could have, all with fewer upfront expenses and greater retained earnings.
While it isn’t easy to reach the level that Musk has, specific strategies can be applied to gain exposure that’s more cost-effective than traditional advertising. One way to do this is to utilize thought leadership-based public relations. Realize your audience is looking for you to provide value, and offer useful data and considerations for those in and connected to your industry.
Rebrand yourself in creative ways
Lori Greiner began on Shark Tank as an occasional guest. Before long, Greiner had earned the respect from fellow “sharks” and her own regular spot. Earning the reputation of “Queen of QVC” and the “warm-blooded shark,” consumers around the world get to witness her business savvy decisions and negotiation skills each week. She built up her brand to a point where entrepreneurs want to work with her more often, distributors want her products and consumers trust her. This translates to better equity on deals she invests in, increased distribution and more sales.
You can rebrand yourself by developing a one-liner that captures who you are in the marketplace. Utilize that single saying — position it in your LinkedIn header, on other social media profiles and in your bio. If people hear it enough, they will begin to buy into it. Branding is about leaving an imprint, and if you can articulate what you do well — I suggest keeping it to three to seven words –and have it visible, you’ll be more memorable.
Build a stellar reputation and leverage it to bolster your brand
Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, has a reputation for being a great leader in his company. Many remember the high scrutiny that financial CEOs faced after the financial crisis a decade ago. Despite this, Dimon was spared the third-degree that most others in his industry faced. In his congressional hearing a few years ago, members of Congress were much easier on him with their questions and interview tactics — I believe largely in part to the stellar reputation he has maintained.
I had the opportunity to attend the 2018 JPMorgan Asian American Business Roundtable Summit, and I was amazed by how complimentary his team was of him. They mentioned how approachable he is, how much he cares and that he walks the talk.
Reputations aren’t built overnight. They are built through consistent and memorable impressions. When networking, provide value to others instead of pitching your product. Make referrals to help people grow their business or offer valuable insights without charging for them. This makes you more endearing and trustworthy and builds relational equity — all adding to your reputation.
Overcome brand scepticism
When a Chinese automaker wanted to debut its unmanned vehicle at the Detroit Auto Show, we had only three weeks to pull off five significant media placements and attract 50 reporters to the press conference. At first, we received pushback from members of the media, who claimed Chinese companies aren’t known for innovation. We quickly pivoted to focus on one of the executives of the company and his reputation for innovation. That approach proved successful and, as a result, we secured 75 significant media placements and 200 people attended the press conference.
When a brand has taken a hit, rehabilitation can be difficult, but a likable and trusted face personalizes it. Instead of traditional reputation management practices, think about taking the offensive by showing key leaders participating in community service work or listening sessions with customers. Faceless organizations are easy to turn into piñatas. However, when you see leaders demonstrating care, these brands become more human.
The investment of your time in strategizing and executing your CEO brand can have a great impact on your company and, from my perspective, it is one of the most beneficial things you can do for its future.
Originally published in Forbes