Thursday, 6 October 2011

Brands & The Cult of Personality – What to learn from Steve Jobs

I started writing this blog before the sad news of Steve Jobs’s death had been announced, though this news, if anything, brings the subject into even sharper focus. I began writing on the back of the perceived lacklustre launch of the iPhone 4s this week and the suggestion that, whilst the media felt new Apple CEO Tim Cook presented well, the whole event lacked the presence and the force of Steve Jobs’s personality.

In truth the disappointment surrounding the iPhone 4s launch had less to do with Steve Jobs and more to do with expectations being raised too high for the product to live up to.

Apple will continue to flourish without Steve Jobs because it has the necessary culture in place to enable it to do so. Big personalities should be able to render themselves redundant once successful.

So how great an asset can the force of one personality be to the prospects for brand success?

In a sense, Apple is something of an anomaly. It used to be all about the tribe, the cult of the creative collective, but latterly has been heavily associated with its cult leader, Steve Jobs.

Other brands, however, are personifications of their owners. A lot of have been grown by the person at the helm and the personalities of the two are intrinsically linked. Although he no longer owns every business, imagine Virgin without Branson, Ryanair without O’Leary, Dyson without Dyson and even Easyjet without Stelios (even though they are in dispute). These personalities have values which people associate with the brand, such that the brand personality becomes an extension of their own over time.

Brands that consumers can clearly associate with something or someone tend to do better in market than woollier ones. Indeed some of the more emotional attributes are the hardest to cement with consumers - which is where a personality can be helpful.

This is not true for all brands, of course. Some brands, like John Lewis, for example, thrive despite the "positive absence of personality". John Lewis benefits from being democratic, there for you, whatever you want us to be sort of feel, rather than a "this is me, take it or leave it" notion of a personality-led brand.

Of course the values of the 'leader' are also often reflected in the employees of the business as well. If you get it right, having a strong character or leader with clear values and a vision can drive a brand faster and stronger than others and carry consumers with it. Brands represent who people are. Buying Apple products has made people feel cool, it has made them feel different and they have bought in to the chilled, relaxed feel that Steve Jobs embodied so well. Maybe Apple will find it tougher than we think without him. Only time will tell.

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