Competencies of Branding

The four competencies of leadership, as described by USC professor Warren Bennis, also apply to branding, which, when you think about it, is a form of leadership.

Bennis codified the four competencies in a 1984 essay, taking care to note that the competencies are not style or title dependent. It doesn’t matter whether you are shy or brash, a Senior Vice President or a Junior Mint; if people follow you, you are a leader.

How do the four competencies compare between personal leadership and brand leadership?

1.  Manage attention – People cannot follow you if they don’t know you exist, so good leaders and good brands know how to achieve distinction.  You don’t have to be loud to get attention, but you have to stand apart. By crafting a distinctive vision, leaders – and brands – attract followers who want to go where that vision leads.

2. Manage meaning – Leaders communicate a compelling story that personally connects followers to their vision, and to the work at hand. They build pride in the purpose of the work. Brands manage meaning too. Apple enthusiasts have long believed that they “think different.” Nikon enthusiasts believe their gear gets them to “the heart of the image.” Honda and Toyota owners connect to reliability and value.

3. Manage trust – I usually distill this competency into a simple credo: do what you say you’re going to do. (Not to be confused with Ernest Hemingway’s excellent maxim: “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”). When followers believe they can rely on you, they will follow you to new places. Trust sustains brands over time, and makes daring brand extensions possible. Of course, sharper than a serpent’s tooth is a customer scorned. Brand loyalty boosts profits – but can dissolve in an instant. Bad word-of-mouth based on customer experience lasts long after advertising hype has faded.

4. Manage yourself – Set a good example and be the kind of person others aspire to be. A leader takes good care of him or herself: physically, emotionally and intellectually, staying candidly self-aware. Brands must also work at self-awareness, or they may experience meaning-creep (or worse, in the case of ethical lapses or moral turpitude: creepy meanings). I believe a lack of self-awareness transformed Kodak from a synonym for photography into a case study in corporate decline. Brand leadership, like personal leadership, is not a right conferred by position, but a privilege conferred by followers.

The four competencies of leadership, applied to individuals or to brands, provide a helpful checklist for those who want to step back for a moment and appraise the quality of their leadership.

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