Back in October 2008, I wrote a post on Corporate Eye about an incident when a false report online stating that Steve Jobs, the leader of Apple, Inc., suffered a massive heartattack caused his company’s stock to drop 5.4%. I mentioned in that post that the value of a brand champion who becomes the physical embodiment of a brand can be immense, but I also questioned what happens when that brand champion exits the company he or she has championed for so long. Apple got a dose of that reality back in October, and now, the inevitability for Apple is back in the press again.
When Gizmodo.com reported a rumor on December 30, 2008 that Steve Jobs’ health was failing after the announcement was made that he would not attend this week’s popular Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Apple’s stock price instantly dropped by $4 per share (4.5%). Ultimately, Steve Jobs had to issue an open letter addressing his health issues to quell the panic related to his absence and what that might mean for his company. Once his letter was made public, Apple’s stock price rose again.
The Apple brand has long been at the center of publicity thanks to the innovative new products Steve Jobs has delivered. From the outside looking in, the brand champion has appeared to have massive control over the inner-workings of the company. Now, the buzz about Apple isn’t what cool new products the company will unveil at the Consumer Electronics Show this year but rather about what Apple will look like and how it will survive if Steve Jobs takes a lesser role or disappears altogether.
While brand champions are incredible assets to a company, they can become a liability if they are too closely aligned in the public’s eye with the success of that company. Of course, Apple will survive when Steve Jobs does decide to step down one day, but until then, the public will speculate about what’s going on as it tries to find some sense of security with the brand.
The lesson to learn is this – develop brand champions but don’t put all your eggs in one basket. And most importantly, put together a succession plan before your primary brand champion exits.