Sharon Leite is flipping the script on brand transformation.
The CEO of Ideal Image is leading a refresh of the beauty aesthetics company. “Ideal is going through a significant transformation,” she said. “It’s never really been talked about as a brand. And in this fragmented industry, the opportunity to create a world-class brand in beauty aesthetics is really profound.”
And while the traditional “slash-and-burn” style of leadership is familiar and often expected by many during transformations (remember Chainsaw Al? And Elon Musk?), Leite’s approach is different. Her commitment to embracing her employees and company culture to fuel transformation is a great example of how today’s executives can approach brand building in a more modern way.
A Tale of Two Transformational Leaders
Look at the old-school leadership style of Ron Johnson who tried to turn around J.C. Penney. Within months of accepting the challenge, Johnson had fired all his top executives, thousands of mid-level managers, his ad agency and his public relations firm. He rebranded the company away from what his customers actually valued in a retail experience. Sales tanked, the stock plummeted and seventeen months later he was out of a job.
Leite, however, shows us a very different, more inclusive, more effective approach to brand building. The former CEO at the Vitamin Shoppe (you may remember her as the CEO on Undercover Boss who explained, “I’m going undercover because if there are problems on the frontline, I need to find them and I need to fix them”) offers a truly modern playbook for brand transformation.
Her leadership style in her new role at Ideal Image is more about investing in and embracing her existing employees, empowering them to deliver the world-class experience her customers actually want and, importantly, building community around both her customers and her employees.
The Power of People in Building a Brand
“Truly understanding our customer and taking care of their needs first and delivering on that is the only way we can continue to really lead in this field,” said Leite.
So, how does a modern, transformational leader coalesce her employees and show them how to deliver a world-class customer experience? “I’ve always been a big believer that whenever you take on a team, the opportunity to experience something is a lot more effective than simply listening to someone talk,” Leite explained.
So, perhaps drawing on her Undercover Boss experience, Leite gathered her Sales and Field Leaders in New York City last month for what she described as a “brand walk experience.” The group visited nine very different retail locations, from Starbucks to Dyson to Louis Vuitton, to really engage with the brands firsthand.
Leite’s goal was two-fold. First, to forge community among her employees. Despite working together for many years, her team had never actually met in person. “I believe it’s important to break down silos and foster new relationships across the organization,” said Leite.
And second, to learn what makes an exceptional customer experience and, importantly, what can ruin one. “At the end of the day in NYC, we compared what each store we had visited did particularly well in terms of brand experience, customer service, use of technology, merchandising, staff and product knowledge. We then discussed how we could apply those learnings to improve our own customer experience,” Leite shared.
Leite asked each of her team members to write down specific actions they would take to improve the customer experience or team dynamic at their own location. Leite calls these commitments “I will” statements and top takeaways include:
- For service-oriented businesses, the customer experience must be like a great retail experience, where all aspects of service, marketing and assortments are thoughtful, personal and differentiated.
- Retail store associates should put themselves in the customers’ shoes and see the brand experience from the customers’ point of view.
- The brand experience should be personal. Associates can greet customers when they enter the store and can ask them friendly questions.
- It’s important to turn store associates into “brand ambassadors” by educating them about the company’s unique brand story; this helps create a greater sense of purpose and passion.
- Employees should create strong internal bonds with colleagues across function; this sense of community can be fostered during company-wide calls and meetings.
But perhaps the biggest takeaway from Leite’s community-building, fact-finding stroll along Fifth Avenue – and a concept in stark contrast to many of her predecessors – is simply about the importance of people in the building or transformation of a brand.
“The thing that came back from all of our team members was the importance of people,” said Leite. “Yes, there were various things at the different locations that made each experience special. But the importance of people in the customer experience is the most important leadership lesson I can give my team.”
Jane Hanson, Bentley Lewis Advisor
Learn more about Bentley Lewis