CEO ‘branding’: Is it a double-edged sword?

CEOs are public figures and part of the company's reputation depends on the image of the CEO. What are the upsides and downsides?

CEO ‘branding’: Is it a double-edged sword?
We rarely talk about CEO brands in India despite the presence of industry heavyweights such as  Mukesh Ambani (Reliance), Sunil Mittal (Airtel), Kishore Biyani (Pantaloons) among others.
With the advent of new media and a rising focus on leadership, CEOs have gained prominence in India. They have become celebrities in their own right. A few of them have even endorsed their respective organisations thus, transferring trust and credibility associated with their name to their respective organisations. In this sense, celebrity CEOs can be legitimately considered as brands.
However, there are hardly any campaigns that have utilised CEO brands in India. CEO brands are influenced by their personality and their role as managers. Organizations need to constantly monitor CEO brand reputation as well as communicate its positioning. Successful CEO branding enhances perceived brand value and creates value for organizations. 
CEO branding is intertwined with corporate branding and draws heavily from its knowledge base. Corporate branding is often regarded as a systematically planned process of creating and maintaining favourable images and consequently a favourable reputation of the company by sending signals to all stakeholders. A CEO brand can personify to stakeholders what the organization stands for. A favourable stakeholder perception enhances a CEO’s status leading to greater CEO brand equity. CEOs are public figures. Public opinion about a company is partially accounted for by the reputation of the CEO. This affects the corporate brand. A corporate brand can benefit by developing and managing CEO brands taking into account the multiplicity of stakeholders. This has potential for creating value for the company.
A successful way of achieving this congruency might be to systematically build an emotional relationship with stakeholders over time. Marketing campaigns involving CEO brands need to make an emotional connect with key stakeholders. The better the connect, the more likely it is that talented people want to work for that CEO; the more likely peers are to say how they feel about having that CEO as the spokesperson for the company; the more likely investors will feel secure and invest in the organization; the more likely CEOs can influence regulations in the business environment; and the more likely general public will be receptive to corporate messages expressed by that CEO.
There is also a downside though. For CEO brands, it is particularly important to consider not only personal identity but also managerial identity. The constant need to control personal identity in order to fulfill responsibilities as a CEO and meet the high expectations of stakeholders can result in role stress. The result is that CEOs may behave in a way that can erode the perceived values of their brand and the corporate brand. Managing CEO brands and campaigns involving CEO brands are complicated as it is difficult to detach the image of the person behind the brand. This complexity can however be leveraged to improve CEO brand reputation. A successful CEO brand campaign will be the one that is able to create and maintain the essence of both, the CEO brand and the corporate brand in such a way that they resonate with a wide range of stakeholders.
(Piyush Pranjal is a doctoral scholar and Soumya Sarkar is the assistant professor – marketing at IIM Ranchi.)


Campaign India

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