Ashleigh Hansberger is a speaker, brand strategist and co-founder of Motto, an award-winning branding and design agency that works with visionary companies to build brands that transcend the ordinary.
In all my years of working with companies to build brands, I can say with conviction that branding is an internal leadership effort and not a task for the marketing department.
Regardless of the industry that they operate in or the number of employees they have, leaders play a cardinal role in the way their brands are perceived by people in and outside of their company. Great brands are not happenstance, but rather born from the heart, nurtured into existence, fiercely guarded, passionately loved, and even suffered for, so that the brand may impact the world as we know it.
If a leader is not proactive about every aspect of their organization, including branding, there will be huge problems on the horizon. Depending on how a company approaches branding -- from the outside-in or from the inside-out -- their actions can determine the difference between a brand that's fleeting and one that's truly everlasting.
Wegmans, Salesforce and Tory Burch understand the connection between brand and leader. All three of these tremendously successful companies have embraced and executed inside-out approaches for their brands. Many companies approach branding using an outside-in approach, which is structured entirely around consumer needs and expectations. And while it's important to factor in consumer needs, this strategy is problematic because it neglects the brand-building foundation that leads to authenticity and sustainability.
What's more, an outside-in strategy doesn't give the unique and authentic point of view of a meaningful brand. The inside-out approach reflects a deeper theory of brand development, where the brand is crafted as a reflection of the company's unique vision, culture, personality, purpose and shared values. This yields more powerful long-term benefits, including increased brand advocacy and lower employee turnover rates. It requires a special kind of leadership and commitment, where the brand is the core of the business.
In order for this to be effective, it must be led by the top down and embraced by the entire organization. New York-based grocery chain Wegmans is a literal example of an inside-out brand. Its motto is "employees first, customers second," with the belief that employees who are cared for will, in turn, care highly for their customers.
Wegmans boasts a high employee retention rate and consistently lands on Fortune's prestigious "100 best companies to work for" list. These successes are all due to CEO Danny Wegman's commitment to internal brand building. Danny shows employees they matter by implementing multiple benefit programs, including a condensed work week, job sharing and scholarship options for high school employees.
Leaders who truly value their employees create a culture that's enjoyable and attractive -- two brand characteristics that permeate beyond the office walls. Another way that leaders can build a brand internally is by acting upon the brand vision they've established. From speaking on panels to participating in charity events, those in leadership roles have countless opportunities for spreading the company mission.
Take Salesforce, for example. It's seen as a revolutionary product and brand, but it wouldn't be that way without CEO Marc Benioff. Through his outspoken beliefs and propensity to change, he upholds the brand's commitment to being a poignant, bold, and disruptive product. Benioff isn't afraid to publicly call out powerful corporations like Oracle and Microsoft during talks and events, thereby supporting Salesforce's defiant narrative against an antiquated industry.
In addition to caring for employees and acting upon brand values, brand authenticity is a powerful benefit of inside-out branding.
A great modern example of authentic leadership is Tory Burch. Tory incorporates her personality into daily business operations: her retail items are named after her family members, she regularly writes on her blog, and she uses her life's history to inspire new fashions. Because Tory started the brand on her own, she exemplifies how the inclusion of personal values can become the key part of a brand.
From being the art history major at UPenn, to being the small town girl with a farmhouse, Tory harnesses her own life experiences to create multiple authentic brand narratives. These stories are successful not just because they are relatable, but because they are personal and authentically inspire and motivate.
The inside-out approach to branding shown by these three companies clearly demonstrates the powerful connection between brand and leader. So rather than letting your brand fall on the shoulders of the marketing department, be the captain of your brand's ship.
Integrate your brand throughout the entire organization to create a stronger brand that is more cohesive, believable, and aligned. As a leader, you are your brand's guardian. Don't ever forget that.