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Every Brand Needs A Champion At The Top

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Every Brand Needs A Champion At The Top

For brands to succeed today, they need a “champion” at the top. Someone who leads the charge, casts the vision, and sets the standards; but is careful not to over shadow the brand itself or steal the spotlight. The champion must remain in service to the brand.

This role goes beyond that of the CMO and usually falls upon the CEO or the founder. The key criteria for the brand champion is not the craftsmanship of the marketing strategy (which IS the role of the CMO) but the absolute, unwavering belief in the “why” of the brand and its sole purpose for existence. These leaders are so passionate about their brands that they can believe almost anything is possible. And by marshaling that force of will, together with solid brand strategy anchored on a clear articulation of goals, can and do achieve the impossible.

Let’s look at some of the champions who have set the standard.

In the early 60s, the NASA brand had such a champion in President Kennedy. He set the bar very high for the ultimate goal of “landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth” by the end of the decade. And it worked. But to put this audacious goal in correct context, you must remember that space travel at that time was akin to a daredevil stunt–hardly “routine.” After his assassination, presidents Johnson, then Nixon, carried on the moon mission until its conclusion in 1972. While there have been many achievements by NASA since, nothing and no one has yet replaced that original, jaw-dropping piece of goal setting.

In the late 1970’s and early 80’s, Chrysler had such a brand champion in Lee Iacocca, who believed so much in his beleaguered car brand that he pledged to buy back your Plymouth, Dodge or Chrysler car if you weren’t satisfied. His out front, no nonsense style and his introduction of the minivan to the US market (he had also fathered the Mustang while at Ford) saved Chrysler from certain oblivion. Iacocca was an author, a bit of a showman and a charismatic personality that did come perilously close to upstaging his brand. However, Iacocca did put it all on the line for his car company as its spokesman in a national ad campaign just when Chrysler needed it. And it worked.

Walmart, the largest retail chain and employer got its traction in the 1980s under its founder and champion, Sam Walton. His humble, yet visionary leadership with the primary mission of “driving down the cost of living” out of spartan offices in Bentonville, Arkansas (doors laid across file cabinets as desks, etc.) is business legend. Walmart went from rural to urban and achieved respectability in the 80s. Walton’s home-spun genius and shrewdness inspired the launch of another extraordinary retail brand, The Home Depot. Bernie Marcus and Sam Walton even became friends with Marcus adopting Walton’s EDOP (Every Day Low Pricing) model for the better part of Home Depot’s early history.

These are just a few examples of brand champions from the past. There are so many more we could discuss from the 90’s and 2000’s as senior leadership in this period became much more aware of its importance and impact on growth. Jobs, Branson, Musk, Bezos, Schultz … perhaps you could add yourself to this list or know someone who deserves to be, famous or not.

The point is simply this: Brands are human constructs. And while it can be argued that they exist in the mental and economic abstract, they do, in fact, function in the real, physical world. Brands represent the things very talented and inspired people create in order to accomplish a purpose that these people believe very passionately about. The linkage between the creator (often the brand champion) and the brand creation is inescapable. Their leadership in casting a vision for the brand will always play an invaluable role in its success.

The definition of a “champion” is a person who fights or argues for a cause or on behalf of someone else. “Brand Advocates” are what we marketers aspire to create among our customer base through our diligent and consistent efforts. “Brand Champions” have a stake in the game regardless of our marketing efforts, for their very reputation rests on the reputation and success of the brand itself.

Every brand needs one. Are you that champion?

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