25th February 2015
We are all (often unintended) walking, talking brands. Perceptions are formed within moments based on our appearance, communication, network and associations, but beyond this superficial concoction it is our personal values which define this brand. Essential for successful leadership and sustained business success, a powerful personal brand strategy should not be mistaken for an ill thought out, quick hit of self-promoting social media output, rather viewed as an ongoing journey which underpins and authenticates the very foundation of our business and being.
In this online, virtual and wholly personal age, it is ill advised to hide behind our product or service, purely reliant on its brilliance to engage the consumer. The digital era demands transparency, and understanding and refining your personal brand before launching it on to the market will ensure you speak effectively to the target audience who will resonate with your values and buy, quite literally, into your story.
It need not be stagnant. Your personal brand should be viewed as an evolving asset and valued and respected as such.
It is personal branding which differentiates and distinguishes you from competitors, view it as a simple PR & marketing exercise at your peril – indeed it is your brand which should inform those channels and not vice versa. Personal branding is not cosmetic, it should be your truth.
The global financial crash signalled a watershed as damaged corporate reputations and the revelation of ethical lapses in business, cleared the way for a new era – and a change in the way we do business forever. Out with a purely economic focus and in with corporate social responsibility, casting a spotlight on the individuals who yield power, their morals and motivation. Accountability was introduced.
Today the most successful brands with longevity have aligned personal and business values which create authenticity, trust and dependability. An appealing combination the consumer audience can buy into, and resonate with. Consumers are more savvy, spoilt for choice due to the abundance of an over populated market place. Our spending habits have changed and we are no longer motivated purely by our wants and needs – consumers expect a broader insight into businesses which the digital era has made possible. One by one brands built on a disingenuous foundation have crumbled. Clippers boss Donald Sterling’s PR nightmare serving the perfect example last year.
The National Basketball Association (NBA) is built on African American players. At last count in 2013, 76.3 percent of NBA players were African-American, but at the top of the food chain just 2% of the NBA’s majority owners, are people of colour. If we look specifically at the Clippers, ten out of twelve of the team players are black men, and yet off the pitch Sterling’s comments to his girlfriend that it bothered him that she would “associate with black people” and that he would prefer she did not bring them to his games, caused a global outcry and ultimately saw him fined $2.5 million and banned from the NBA for life.
The equally notorious old tale of entrepreneur Gerald Ratner who denounced his own jewellery as “crap” and wiped £500 million from the value of his stores overnight also serves as a prime example of dire personal branding. The fallout in both benchmark cases where the true value system and mindset of these business owners was revealed, resulted in irreconcilable commercial and credibility brand damage.
The irony about life is that the truth will at some point, reveal itself, and even those self aware enough to recognise the disconnect between their personal values and the pretence of their business values cannot fail to be exposed.
Times and business have changed, the value systems and ethics of major players are up for examination like never before. Our love for Apple and Virgin is contributed to by the fact that we quite love the guy behind those power brands. We celebrate and buy into the drive, passion and genius of Branson and the late Steve Jobs.
There is no compensation for authenticity, and audiences can see through branding messages that do not correlate to behaviour.
If you are a business owner, putting a face to your brand can be a powerful PR tool, but before you step centre stage be sure to self-critique.
When a brand’s rhetoric is not aligned with the customer’ s experience, integrity falters and trust is lost.
It is personal brand that investors will buy into (Branson, Dyson, Gates, Winfrey all examples of leadership enabled through authentic personal branding) have confidence in, and that same personal brand that post exit, is the currency which forms the foundation for new business exploits and positive notoriety.
Respect, influence and a strong reputation are the return on the investment in a strong personal brand.
Consumers take confidence in brands transparent enough to own their values, deliver what they say they will, sincerely be who they are and communicate that brand promise. Ultimately it is about having an engaging, honest story and committing to deliver what you promise.
So how to identify the asset that is your human interest story? Our values are the sum of our experiences and journey, our personal story. If you genuinely believe that your business adds value to your customer’s lives, then it’s important to communicate that personally. By being visible rather than relying on your faceless brand to sell itself, you allow your customers the opportunity to understand the ethos behind your brand and your business values, and if you are marketing to the right audience then your values will resonate with them and make them more likely to buy.
Define and refine your personal story by asking yourself what the inspiration behind your business was, what is your vision? How are you improving, changing or distributing that which will benefit your audience? Give your customers an insight into the entrepreneur behind the business through your PR and marketing material and witness how effective this approach can be. Understanding your personal brand will help you to identify your competitive position as you understand what makes you stand out and how you add value, are you traditional, mainstream, niche? An Expert authority?
Personal branding begins the moment we enter a room or engage in conversation, but to build that brand into the realm of the influencer requires six basic steps which will help to position you as the ‘go-to’ individual within your field.
Establish your area of expertise
Experts come in different guises. Those whose training and academia equips them to speak from a position of expertise, and those whose experiences and life journey make them compelling and inspiring to learn from. Often expertise is a combination of the two.
Create a content distribution strategy
From a digital perspective this means that Keywords pertinent to your expertise must be implemented into the content you distribute online through opinion articles, blogs and columns for business publications. That way when somebody searches for a topic which falls under your expert area, you help to ensure that your name or company is visible.
‘Speak’ to your audience
Identify who your audience are so that you can communicate effectively with a sector who share your values and will be receptive to your expertise and experience. Whether you are speaking publicly or communicating through copy, remember that YOU are the product and regardless of the platform, you will be selling yourself.
Capitalise on your brand
Nothing adds kudos and instant gravitas like a book. In the absence of a physical hard copy publication, E books are a great tool for sharing expertise. Once you have cemented your thought leadership through a dedicated effort to follow these steps, your reputation will make it far easier for you to garner the interest of a book publisher.
Develop your public speaking skills
If you are serious about public speaking and want to consider agency representation by an agency like ours, consider that we will take into account whether you are knowledgeable in your field, whether you will be a draw for an audience and whether you have the skills to deliver an enjoyable presentation. I strongly recommend you consider some outside training for speaking if it is something you intend to pursue seriously.
Invest in PR
Finally your personal brand is redundant if you remain unknown to your audience. Incorporate PR into your marketing strategy to support your content distribution. Ensure the key industry trade titles within your sector are aware of you by sharing useful content for their publications. Broadcast media provide a powerful medium for raising your profile and the ultimate aim is to be the name on everybody’s lips to provide comment when a topic within your remit hits the headlines.
When we set aside the commercial benefits of a great personal brand, what we are really talking about is the desire for integrity and the authentic benefits which come from operating professionally with honesty. We often over complicate business with jargon, but when all is said and done, letting our actions reflect our words and our service or product deliver on its promise, is the foundation for a brand success no marketing strategy, advertising or PR stunt can compensate for.
“Authentic brands don’t emerge from marketing cubicles or advertising agencies. They emanate from everything the company does…”
– Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO
By Jessica Huie, MBE