Parting is such sweet sorrow

In all the attempts to assess the value of a brand, a fundamental element is often left out. That is the contribution of the executive who is symbiotically linked to its success, an indefatigable champion whose corporate fortunes rise or fall in tandem with those of the brand.

This does not tally with the usual definition of a brand – a set of characteristics surrounding a product which should exist no matter who is in the driving seat. In reality few brands thrive without effective champions. And some brands would amount to little without individuals’ efforts.

Coke employees famously wept on hearing that their chief executive Robert Goizueta had died. He achieved iconic status amongst staff for revitalising Coke during his 1981 to 1997 reign. Since then Coke has drifted.

The Sun has never been quite the paper it was under the editorship of Kelvin MacKenzie, and Kelvin himself has failed to repeat his former success either at Live! TV or The Wireless Group. Marketers, in their idle moments, often ponder the future of Virgin were Branson to fall out of his balloon. What will News International be without Rupert Murdoch, and how will Microsoft fare without Bill Gates?

In the case of mobile phone network Orange, the driving force has been the German/Canadian former hotel manager Hans Snook. Never mind that the Orange brand was invented by Wolff Olins creative director Doug Hamilton or that its advertising strategy was created by WCRS.

The leather-jacketed former backpacker has wowed investors with his off-beat approach and endless championing of the new-age mobile telephony product: his personality seemed to mimic the values of the Orange brand.

But while Snook has undoubtedly been its champion, the question of whether Orange would have achieved similar success without him is hard to answer. All that can be said with certainty is that a good part of branding is down to an individual’s vision and commitment.

The relationship between a brand and its manager is most pertinent at Orange – and, in a different way, at Bhs, the directionless high street emporium. It became a well-honed brand under Terence Conran, ten years ago. Since then a succession of chiefs has failed to give it a firm idea of who its customers should be. Entrepreneur Philip Green bought it in April, and has brought in ex-Debenham’s steward Terry Green and Allan Leighton, who helped build up Asda with Archie Norman.

Keep a close eye on the performance of Debenham’s, Asda/Walmart, Bhs, Orange and Snook. That way you’ll be able to test the following thesis: that a brand and its manager may prosper, but once parted, neither easily repeats the success of their joint enterprise.

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