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“I don’t need a personal branding agency. My marketing team will work on my personal brand.”
I have heard this statement from so many CEOs, that it is time to share my thoughts. At the risk of hurting feelings, please allow me to be blunt:
Your marketing team is unlikely to be qualified to work on your personal brand.
Marketing vs. branding
You see, I understand where the confusion comes from. Marketing and branding have been conflated for ages. As CEOs, we often misunderstand branding when it comes to the companies we lead. So, of course, with personal branding being a new kid on the branding block, it is misunderstood even further.
Let’s unpack some of the differences, looking at what your marketing team can be leveraged for as you build your visibility and where their gaps lie.
Your marketing team is likely to be instrumental in helping you market your brand: assist with PR, create content you can use to promote your personal brand, help you launch a podcast, book you as a guest on other people’s podcasts and secure speaking opportunities. Yet, what they are unlikely to be of support with is uncovering what your radically authentic brand is all about:
Your brand essence — the positioning that is at the core of your brand, which is tied to who you are as a human being on a deep level rather than what you do as the leader of your organization
Your brand descriptors — how you want to be perceived by your audience
Your target audience beyond what serves the business, one that is distinct from the transactional needs of the business
Your content pillars that surpass your industry expertise
Well, you might ask, but why do I need to have positioning beyond the business? Why should I have an audience outside of my customer avatar, and why should I talk about anything else than what directly relates to the business? The answer is: You don’t! That is, unless you want to build an actual personal brand, rather than be a spokesperson for the business.
Why build a personal brand in the first place if it does not fully serve the business, you ask? Let me answer that question with some of my own. Is your identity completely fully tied to the organization you run? Or is your identity bigger than that? Can we reduce your entire essence to your identity as owner of ABC Inc.? The answer is likely “no.” And guess what? Your audience does not need a replica of your company’s corporate social media page. If everything you post or share can happily live on your business pages, then what value is there in that messaging coming from you?
Corporate branding is the topic of much confusion also. We know that a brand is the essence of our organization, and uncovering it cannot — and should not — be reduced to something tactical, such as the creation of the logo. We know that working on our corporate brand is not a task we would delegate to our Marketing Specialist. So, why then would we make that faux pas when it comes to our personal brand?
Now, let’s address another elephant in the room.
One of the most frequent questions I receive when I give my keynote on personal branding to audiences across the globe is this:
Marina, but what happens if I build a personal brand and then make my business so tied to myself that it becomes hard to exit as a result?
A great question. We tend to call our businesses our babies. And yet we sell these babies. Or sometimes we bankrupt them. And what happens then? You see, it is indeed hard to sell a business for which you have become a spokesperson. That’s what our marketing teams would love for us. And yet, the buyers of our businesses wouldn’t. Not only is it harder to exit a business like that, but we also end up with no personal brand that serves us as we pivot.
Personal branding done right
A personal brand created right does not make you appear to be “tied to the business.” Quite the contrary — it makes it clear to the audience that the business is one of the many facets of who you are and what you are. And yes, when done right, your personal brand helps you attract high-value clients and helps you attract talent of a much higher caliber to the organization. At the same time, however, it builds your portability, making your business more exitable and making you less irrelevant when you do sell it.
Your marketing team can bring tremendous value to your personal brand-building process, but you also need to be aware of the limitations of their expertise. They can most certainly help position you as a spokesperson for your organization. They can also help you with execution once the strategy is built. Yet, if you are looking to build an actual personal brand that has portability and extends beyond the business, let’s leave it to the pros: those who eat, live and breathe radically authentic personal branding.