Founder Focused or Brand Focused?

This is a question we discuss in our book that has come up a few times recently. Many companies start with a savvy, likable character that is a natural business developer. The company’s brand and marketing is founder-focused. For many people (clients, prospects, employees), the brand and the founder are the synonymous. This also happens with company presidents and CEOs with strong personalities or high visibility. Think Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg. As the company develops thought leaders through content marketing, this can also happen.

A few challenges arise from having leader-focused marketing. First off, your company can appear like just 1 person works there. Obviously most people realize Steve Jobs wasn’t the only person that worked at Apple, but for regional construction companies, this can be a big problem. Also, the company’s image can be tarnished along with the leader’s image. Most brands drop their celebrity endorsements when the celeb gets into trouble (e.g. Lance Armstrong & Tiger Woods). It is harder to drop the CEO while a fiasco blows over or is dealt with in the courts.

The largest challenge that can be prevented is what happens when that person retires or dies? Apple lost part of their identity when Steve Jobs left. To prevent missing a step, companies need to shift to being brand or team-focused. When a leader is considering retirement in the next few years, you need to shift the focus of the marketing away from solely him or her and to the team. Keep the leader involved as the team starts to share the limelight. Eventually, the leader takes a back seat to the company and fades out gracefully. The opposite process happens as the new leader takes his or her place. Slowly fade out the team and let that new leader shine. It is a mix of art and science and timing can be tough to gauge, but having a plan is key.

Think about your company’s marketing  – is it leader or company focused?