Uber bet the farm on Dara. Elon and Tesla are one in the same. The now infamous Theranos story came into existence as a result of Elizabeth Holmes’s celebrity and charisma, not underlying sound innovation. If you ask Mitt Romney, companies are people too. But clearly the opposite is true as well.
We are collectively in search of single messiah like figure to represent our brand narrative. Perhaps this is an expected and natural reaction to the general public becoming uneasy about corporate anonymity and unchecked growth. Influencer and celebrity-driven marketing is a culprit as well. Nevertheless, there’s a growing demand to put a face with a corporate name and we’re all responding in kind by ushering in an era of individual brand. The left has AOC now, the right has Trump. Silicon Valley had Zuck and Elon, but those stars are fading.
If your brand strategy is a popularity contest, you can count on increased volatility in perception, and expect further investment in a new personality as soon as that well of popularity has run dry. As evidenced by Uber’s identity crisis following Travis K’s departure.
Familiarity has always bred contempt, just much more quickly nowadays. In fact, for the top CPG categories from 1923–1983: 20/25 brands held #1 position the entire time.
From 1983-Present: Only 4/25 kept the #1 position! To be sure, there’s a larger dynamic at work here that speaks to information cycles being shorter and shorter, but this trend cannot be expected to slow down regardless.
In an attempt to be a solution-oriented individual, I offer you a middle ground. Satisfy the need for personality, but associate it with a broader group of people, not just leadership. Hedge your bets to capitalize on individual brand, while avoiding the volatility. Capricious public favor and erratic CEO behavior must be neutralized. Take for example Southwest, they embrace the culture of personality but on a broader organizational level. Their flight attendants exist as the front lines of personality — most frequent flyers could spot their in-flight safety spiel only a few words in. What’s more, their tv work is complementary to the customer experience bringing in a layer of shared organizational personality without resisting the temptation to trot out a CEO, or put Rashida Jones in front of camera.
Now, let’s look to another example on a different side of the same industry. Our friends over at TSA. The brand that’s done more with less, than anyone the last few years. Injecting just the right amount of levity and humanizing features of individual faces officer is the best and worker stories. Suddenly there’s a sliver of separation between the narrative of endlessly frustrating government inefficiency, and a group of people bravely facing thousands of the crankiest group of people on the planet.