Part I

On the Consistency of Brand Positioning and Leadership Style

Chapter preface by Günter Müller-Stewens

When looking for the reasons of why some businesses are more successful than others over prolonged periods of time, you generally do not find particularly ingenious ideas, but rather quite simple strategies. The key to success, then, lies in the strategic consistency of their leadership – in other words how perfectly components like strategy, organizational structures, management systems, capabilities, and values are aligned with one another. These components are akin to pieces of a puzzle that have to be brought in perfect order to reveal the intended, harmonic impression of a well-run business. The key is in the alignment of strategy and organization. If this alignment is not achieved, even the smartest strategy achieves nothing more than a paper tiger.

In the luxury industry, many companies are facing exactly this challenge. Many luxury goods have degenerated to mass produced items that do not reflect the exclusivity that they once were associated with. Here, luxury dissolves – it fades away in terms of substance and mystique. Today, it’s not enough to simply be expensive in order to be perceived as a true luxury.

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If authenticity is at the heart of a business and a complementary marketing strategy implemented with the company, its market positioning can be strengthened, customer loyalty can be fostered, and stronger perceptions of trust and identification may ensue.

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One approach to counter this challenge lies in authenticity. If authenticity is at the heart of a business and a complementary marketing strategy implemented with the company, its market positioning can be strengthened, customer loyalty can be fostered, and stronger perceptions of trust and identification may ensue. This way, authenticity advances from a fashionable abstraction to the basis of a strategic tool of positioning and differentiation.

However simply pointing to a long heritage and craftsmanship as part of a luxury campaign is not sufficient to be perceived as luxurious. In strategic management, authenticity first and foremost means to equalize the self-presentation and the identity of the business. In other words, producers of luxury goods should not construct an image, but discover and communicate identity – talk must be backed up by action. This also relates to the leadership style.

Authentic leadership styles require a substantial amount of self-awareness. Authentic leaders are willing and able to reflect upon themselves with little or no bias. Authentic leaders possess a reliable and sizeable impression of themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, their emotions, attitudes and motives. Additionally, they are able to use this knowledge to self-regulate their behaviour. They do so by (1) discussing their self-perceptions openly and free of emotions with their colleagues, by (2) appreciating and integrating other’s perspectives both in their perceptions but also in the process of decision making, and by (3) building their decisions upon the foundation of a well-anchored set of values which also characterize the relationships with their key stakeholders. Consequentially, being an authentic leader is not as much about leading from the front, but just as much about “followership” with colleagues and subordinates.

Employees are the key agents of authenticity. Be it the craftsman that brings the brand positioning to life and instils it with a specific soul or the sales person that caters to all needs of the customer in order to safeguard the customer’s loyalty. With their passion, their pride and their conviction, they are generating a positive atmosphere for the business, altogether. They transport authenticity inside and out as they represent the business’ identity – and do not simply generate an image.

These characteristics of an authentic leader are not necessarily a description of most top managers today – those who might have lost touch with reality, those reigning in their hierarchical pyramids, and those who lead by themselves. However, when positioning a brand anew, the crucial question remains whether the business in question is both willing and able to implement a fitting leadership style. One cannot exist without the other: „strategic consistency matters!”

Author


Prof. Dr. Günter Müller-Stewens