Brand Leadership — Updated

Sandeep Das
4 min readMay 4, 2023

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Photo by Nik on Unsplash

Almost 2 years back, I had penned some thoughts on brand leadership on LinkedIn, which you can read here:

After surviving the Covid pandemic, and now entering a world fractured with war, populism, totalitarianism, rising costs of living, and global recessionary pressures, it is time to revisit what brand leadership is all about.

First and foremost, brand leadership is not brand purpose, which when allowed to run amok, becomes laughable (hence the term “purpose washing”). If we were to attempt a simple definition of brand leadership, it can be “any form of enhancing the consumer relationship beyond buying, which improves a consumer’s life by some degree”.

Leadership is also not market share dominance. Category or market leaders may be enjoying the fruits of sustained investments, lack of meaningful competition, consumer inertia or simply having a superior product and powerful innovation programme. But if all of these is not elevating the consumer relationship beyond purchasing, a brand is not demonstrating leadership.

Raising consumer consciousness, imparting education, enhancing the quality of life, discovering innovative product delivery and usage avenues, social and community contribution, and impactful partnerships are potential ways of practicing brand leadership.

An important difference between brand leadership and “purpose-washing” is the absence of unnecessary stretch. In a light hearted manner, it means “a toothpaste does not need to have a purpose”. For example, IKEA’s furniture assemblies have spawned multiple white collar professions. Recognising the frustration it causes customers, IKEA invested in imparting customer education. It now has multiple videos from different subsidiaries detailing assembling of specific furniture products.

Choosing a colour to paint your house or a specific room without actually seeing it on the walls can be a challenging and frustrating experience for customers. Enter the Dulux Visualiser App from AkzoNobel, which specifically aims to mitigate this frustration using AR.

Manufacturing and engineering conglomerate Siemens has a comprehensive internal education and training unit called Siemens Professional Education. This unit invests in continuous and long term upskilling of its workforce, and is also open to external partners and students graduating from universities. Through this commitment and initiative, Siemens is ensuring high levels of competitiveness of its own workforce, and raising the skill levels of labour in the country or market segment they operate in.

These are a few of the multiple examples of how brand leadership can be practiced. A common argument would be that whether these brands are able to impart education because they are leaders or the role of education in they achieving and maintaining a leadership status in the markets or segments they operate.

There is no clear answer to resolve this argument, but true brand leadership is enshrined as a top management priority. Those who truly believe in it and practice it, will have it encoded in official corporate documents for both internal and external stakeholders.

For example, Forbes publishes an annual list of the Top 100 Most Customer Centric Companies.

Customer centricity is not the only thing defining brand leadership, but there is a connection. If we randomly pick up a company from the list, and let that be CVS Health. The CVS Health Annual Report 2022 brings out the following brand leadership examples:

  • “Our care delivery strategy is focused on meeting people where they are with personalised solutions that they seamless, connected and increasingly digital”
  • “We significantly expanded access to virtual health solutions with a focus on mental health. In 2022, we delivered more than 10 million virtual mental health visits”
  • “As a result of our expanding capabilities, MinuteClinic® locations delivered more than 5.5 million patient visits in 2022, making us one of the largest providers of episodic care in the United States”

A completely unanticipated cocktail of a global pandemic, recession, large scale unemployment, geo-political strife, and lack of trust in governmental, financial and regulatory institutions has gripped the world. As individuals and consumers, we are seeking stability, simplicity, support and solace to rebuild our shattered confidence.

Brand leadership in these uncertain times is not about vague, uncertain or irrelevant promises that have zero influence in elevating the brand-consumer relationship. It should be about providing consumers with the stability, simplicity and support they are seeking through the products and services that an organisation manufacturers. It can be as simple as having an excellent customer service that immediately replaces a damaged good that has been delivered, or providing a discount to a loyal customer, or offer solutions that support a customer directly experiencing a cost of living crisis.

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