Corporate Eye

The Brand Champion Exit Strategy – Lessons from Apple and Steve Jobs

I often write on Corporate Eye about how important it is to have brand champions and brand guardians who truly believe in your brand and live your brand promise.  When those people become popular spokespeople for the brands they champion, the brands receive publicity boosts that can’t be denied. 

Examples of popular brand champions who over time have become physical embodiments of the brands they represent include Hugh Hefner for Playboy, Bill Gates for Microsoft, and J.K. Rowling for Harry Potter.  But what happens to the brand when something happens to the key brand champion?

This is a fate experience by Apple last week when an erroneous report on a Wall Street Journal blog reported that Steve Jobs had experienced a massive heart attack.  The result – a 5.4% drop in Apple share price that same morning, which brought the stock to a 17-month low.  The reaction of the market was swift and significant when word got out that the brand champion had fallen ill (regardless of the fact that the report turned out to be false).

Would Apple continue without Steve Jobs at the helm and acting as the brand champion?  Of course, however, history has proven that Steve Jobs has a way of making Apple successful.  Keep in mind, Steve Jobs certainly brings more to the table than simply acting as brand champion, but so do most strategic brand champions. 

With that in mind, do you have an exit strategy for your brand champions and brand spokespeople?  These people could walk away from your brand voluntarily or involuntarily for a multitude of reasons at anytime.  Their departure could happen quickly or it might be drawn out over the course of weeks or months.  Are you prepared? 

It’s essential that you create an exit strategy for each person who represents your brand.  Whether it’s the actor in your commercials or your CEO, each person who represents your brand internally and externally should be replaceable as far as your brand is concerned with an effective (and possibly sensitive) plan, so your brand, your customers and your business experience a seamless transition that leads to bigger and better things. 

You never want one person to hold so much power that your brand’s short or long-term success becomes dependant on him or her.  Ensure your brand can stand on its own with brand champions helping to push the brand in the right direction for strategic growth.

Image: Flickr

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.

Excellent piece! This is something everyone ought to be thinking about. We always focus on “succession planning” based on the assumption that management aspects need to be taken care of… brand champions… good point.

Thank you, Calvin. I’m a huge proponent of brand champions on every level – consumers, employees, executives, and so on, but it’s important to plan for the potential loss of a brand champion and not put all of your eggs in one basket, so to speak.

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