Steve Jobs health impacts the health of the brand

How much of the Apple brand equity is Steve Jobs? Is the brand at risk with Jobs’ new medical leave? When a major brand is closely tied to a single person (think of Yves St. Laurent, Oprah Winfrey, Donald Trump), brand value can rise and fall on the fortunes and failures of that person.

Steve Jobs is an iconic figure in technology and culture. When he holds up a gadget at any event, everyone oohs and aahs. Yes, the Apple brand is about cool design, but it is also about the guy that invented computing as we know it in a garage in Cuppertino. Jobs’ spectacular successes and instructive failures have given him status and credibility that can’t be matched. Apple without Steve Jobs has the potential to remain a cool company, but it could just as easily fall to the low profitability, declining sales and sinking stock price of the John Sculley era.

MarketWatch talks of the Jobs Premium  in the share price of Apple stock. Apple shares fell 50% in 2008 when it was rumored Jobs’ pancreatic cancer had returned. They suffered a similar fall in January 2009 when he took a leave of absence for a liver transplant. On the immediate heels of his latest announcement of another medical leave, share value dropped 6.45% and  has been shaky since.

What can Apple do? I certainly hope that Steve Jobs comes back from medical leave fit and healthy. Yet Apple, like any valuable brand, must face the fact that we all face the same unavoidable end some time. Here are three options:

  1. Institutionalize the legacy of the person. Coco Chanel has been dead for decades, but her personal brand has become iconic and her spirit still infuses Chanel. Calving Klein is attempting to make the same transformation in his own company, while he is still alive to enjoy it. Orville Redenbacher has become a character, much like Colonel Sanders.
  2. Find a successor. Frank Purdue found another tough man behind a tender chicken, in the person of his equally winsome son. Perry Ellis was succeeded by superstar Marc Jacobs.
  3. Diversify.   Build on a strong personal legacy by adding additional attributes. Martha Stewart is less and less about Martha and more and more about design. She no longer appears on the cover of every issue and additional designers, like Kevin Sharkey, are sharing some of the spotlight. Condà © Nast Publications continued and even thrived after the death of founder and driving force Condà © Montrose Nast by focusing on high-end, glossy publications that set the standard for their categories.