by Pete Canalichio.

People, regardless of whether they are functioning as consumers, fans, enthusiasts or community members, expect brands to act as leaders. You see, brands make a promise to their target audience and that same audience expects them to keep their promise. Keeping promises is a leadership characteristic. In addition, brands are expected to set an example for the greater community. When the world is coming apart, consumers look to brands to fill the void and to take a stand. Take for example Nike’s recent ad, “For Once, Don’t Do It.” In the ad, Nike advocates for citizens to not turn their backs on racism; instead, Nike urges people to take a stand. Setting an example and advocating, in the face of naysayers, is another leadership characteristic.

The definition of leadership, according to Merriam-Webster, is “the act or instance of providing direction or guidance.” Leadership is not contingent on title or position, but rather on mindset, choosing to respond thoughtfully rather than react. Some of our greatest leaders, including Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela, held positions of influence for years without any position of authority. In the case of Mother Teresa, she began her vocation as a nun who was ordered to help the impoverished of Calcutta. Nelson Mandela was a prisoner on Robben Island for 27 years before becoming President of South Africa. People decide to follow individuals who know where they are going and who act on their behalf. People engage with brands in a similar fashion.

Just as people look to leaders in challenging and difficult times, they look to the brands in their lives for direction and guidance. The brands that are responsive to what is going on in the lives of their fans are the ones that will strengthen their influence and loyalty. The brands that are tone deaf to what is going on in the world (in this case with COVID-19 and the recent race riots) will damage their relationships with their followers, some irreparably.

When we consider that the brands we love are led by individuals in companies that own these brands, it is not surprising to infer that the leadership attributes of those brands might be derived from the stewards of those brands. So, when we contemplate the beliefs we hold about leadership specifically, and brands in general, we only have to look to the leadership qualities of the founders of the companies from which they come. Consider Elon Musk of SpaceX whose Falcon 9 rocket launched into space on May 30, 2020. It was the first time in history that NASA astronauts launched from American soil in a commercially-built and operated American crew spacecraft on its way to the International Space Station.

In most instances, the brands we respect come from companies whose leaders we also respect. Not surprisingly, the inverse tends also to be true.