How to separate the founder from the brand

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Now that Steve Jobs is sadly no longer with us, what does that mean for the Apple brand? Many companies, especially small businesses where the founder is still active, struggle with how to parlay one person’s personality and values into a company brand. I’ve worked with a few clients on how to bridge this transition so that the company can scale and grow.

A recent article did a great job of breaking down Apple’s game plan for avoiding culture shock. These guys have not just started thinking about this now – they’ve been working on this since at least 2004. The culture Jobs worked hard to create lives on without him – as expressed through it’s structure and processes.

The company “encourages creativity within a formal structure of product development and launches.” This is part of their product concept and rollout process now and is baked into everything they do. According to the article, this is in sharp contrast to the “start up free for all feeling of a younger company like Google.”

The best testament to this is that roles are clearly defined – even in such a creative culture. Steve Jobs was about both coexisting equally, and this plays out in how the company will now function without his input. As one source cited, “Apple is ‘an army…everyone has a role.’” So, clearly, while creativity and innovation might seem at odds with process and structure, the very process and structure put in place at Apple will help that creativity continue to flourish. Ironic, huh?

The company also worked to “develop ways to convey the conpany’s culture and business lessons to new executives.” This is what I often talk about when I talk about “operational branding.” It’s more than just the pretty pictures or the slick ads. It’s a value and belief system that is codified and not only used to hire the right brand stewards, but to train them as well. If you don’t think HR plays an inportant role is building the brand, you are kidding yourself.

Steve Jobs was a unique man. But it doesn’t have to mean that Apple falls apart without him. By transferring his own values (product  innovation, sleek design, challenging the status quo) into corporate brand tenets, the company can put in place everything it needs to keep that vision alive.

Your business can be built on your own brand personality and values, but ultimately, as a past client of mine had to do, you need to formalize that so all business development does not hinge on your personal reputation, but on the company reputation. This client needed to scale business development and it was not feasible for him to sell every project himself. So what did we do?

  1. Wrote a brand positioning statement that aligned to his personal values as to why he built the company and what value he wanted to offer clients
  2. Adopted his trademark tone and manner in the brand personality and copywriting
  3. Used aspects of his background to create a unique brand slant that no other competitor could claim
  4. Created a Values Manifesto that was grounded in his personal values but phrased as guiding principles his whole team could adopt and deliver.

What are you doing to codify, articulate your brand to go beyond just “you” and become part of your business? Please share in the Comments and get some link love back to your site.

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