Brand, leadership and saying no

The role of leaders within an organisation in building the brand can’t be understated. I quite simply have never seen a strong and resilient brand result if it is not driven and supported by the leadership of the organisation.

And when I say leadership, I mean literally the CEO, GM, owner, founder, etc, but also other people within the organisation who lead in various ways.

So how do leaders drive and support the brand?

Most obviously (but not most often done), they state what it stands for – what the purpose is, and then they keep talking about it. That’s the defining driver of any brand.

They set the example and the tone for the values of the organisation by what they do and how they do it, which in turn shapes how the organisation does things and delivers on their purpose.

Both those are all critically important. But here is the most important role leadership plays in building a brand: They say no.

They say we will not do things that way.
They say we won’t trade what we care about for short-term gain.
They say we won’t blindly follow that trend.
They say no to a merger that would destroy the culture.
They say no.

By way of example, Southwest Airlines is a low-cost carrier in the US which was founded with the mission “to make air travel as affordable as taking the bus”.

The airline is renowned for its low ticket prices, no assigned seating and friendly staff. Whenever founding CEO Herb Kelleher was approached by a staff member with a suggestion, Kelleher’s response was always to ask “How will that make flying more affordable for our customers?”

If the answer was it doesn’t, then the answer was no. And the result was one of the best performing and strongest brands in aviation history, with passionate staff, loyal customers and 40 consecutive years of profitability.

See you next week.

Michel is an independent Brand advocate dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan


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