For marketers, 2019 may retrospectively become known as The Year of the Personal Brand. While it is not a new idea, attaching a brand to a person and making them the face of their business is a branding strategy that has gained some real traction over the past 12 months.
As a business coach, I can certainly see the value of business owners embracing this trend; by showing up in your branding, it helps customers connect with your business on a personal level – and, as we know, people buy people.
But I do have questions. Does this strategy suit every type of business? What are some of the pros? Are there cons to be aware of?
In this blog, we’ll work towards addressing those questions, but first, let’s back up the bus and explore what is meant by personal branding…
What does it mean to be the face of your business?
Personal branding is often used to describe a scenario where a brand is tied strongly to a personality (often a celebrity). Think Gary Vaynerchuk: the serial entrepreneur is now so well-known that he goes by ‘Gary Vee’ and has achieved guru status amongst his four million followers. Other examples include Virgin’s Richard Branson, Author and speaker Simon Sinek and even American President, Donald Trump.
For businesses employing a personal brand strategy, a customer’s brand loyalty is attached as much to the personality, qualities and values of the person behind the business, as it is to the products and services they are selling (sometimes more so).
But how does this this work for those of us who haven’t achieved cult-status or world fame? How does personal branding help grow, for example, a trade based or local B2B business?
Personal branding on a smaller scale
There are definitely ways that personal branding can work for business owners; the tactics are usually pretty similar as with larger companies or celebrities – just less intense. You may have already had to grapple with the question of how much ‘you’ to put in your branding, for example deciding whether to include your name or surname in your business name.
I mentor business owners that becoming the face of their business can include seemingly simple things such as:
- featuring profiles and images of yourself and key team members on your website and other marketing materials
- signing off blogs and marketing emails with your own name
- posting (select) personal stories and updates on Instagram and Facebook, offering commentary/opinion on industry issues on Twitter or publishing content on your personal LinkedIn profile
- taking advantage of local public relations opportunities (eg being featured in a story in your local paper, sponsoring local kids’ sports teams etc)
Four ways a personal brand could help you grow your business
There are a few instances where business owners could positively impact their business’ growth by showing up more in their branding and marketing:
One: when trust is important
Businesses where trust is a key element of the purchase decision could benefit from developing a personal brand.
As a business advisor, I could easily make the case that this applies to all businesses. However, it is particularly true of trade-based businesses where a plumber, electrician or builder etc must enter a customer’s home or workplace and the work they perform directly impacts the safety of family or team members etc.
The familiarity built through personal branding helps foster that trust, making it easier for customers to choose you over less recognisable competitors.
Two: referrals play a significant role in winning new business
If people know, like and trust you (the person) they are more likely to refer others to your business. When you make that truly personal connection with your customers, they’ll feel that by spreading the word about your fantastic products or services, they are helping out a friend (not some faceless profit-driven company). Therefore, if referrals are the meat and potatoes of your customer acquisition strategy, it may be worth considering beefing up your personal brand.
Three: your offering makes it hard to differentiate
When you are operating in a crowded market where every business is basically offering the same thing, it can be hard to find a way to stand out. Personal branding offers a solution, since you can become the unique selling proposition (USP) of your business. For example, you might highlight your superior qualifications or experience or your unique world view, personality or values so that customers come to associate these with your business and the products and services you offer.
Four: if your personal story is an asset
Similarly, it may be your personal journey towards business ownership that sets you apart. Whether it’s a rags-to-riches story like Steve Jobs or one about overcoming setbacks like Boost Juice’s Janine Allis, your personal story can provide that brand element that others in your market just can’t compete with.
Five potential cons of a personal brand strategy
One: while you get the credit, you also get the blame
A personal brand comes with a whole new level of responsibility. It’s great while things are going well – you get to be the celebrated hero. When things inevitably don’t go to plan, however, guess who people will take aim at? It can be harder to deal with the fallout as an individual than it would be as a larger entity ie a business.
Two: customers may be disappointed if they don’t work with you directly
A personal brand can make a lot of sense when you first start your business, but quickly become an issue as you step back from operations and take on a managerial role. Will your customers be disappointed if you’re not the one on the ground delivering your offering? If they too closely associate the results they expect with working directly with you, then your awesome personal brand becomes a weight around your neck, holding you back from scalability.
Three: you must be comfortable being visible
While you won’t need to run out and buy a baseball cap and dark glasses to fool the paparazzi anytime soon, you will need to be aware that putting yourself out there as the face of your business will increase your personal visibility to some degree. A higher profile can mean that you come under scrutiny for your personal appearance, conduct and values. Being a walking billboard for your business means being ‘on’ all the time, making it harder to relax.
Conversely, you could also become a risk to your business. If you make a mistake and are publicly called out on something you do in your personal time, this could negatively affect your business’ reputation.
Four: it may impact future saleability
Brand equity is something that potential buyers will look at when purchasing a business; your brand is worth something all by itself. If your business’ branding, however, is too closely tied to you and your personality, that brand equity all but disappears if you are no longer at the helm. Just something to consider if selling your business is your ultimate goal.
Five: it takes commitment and an investment
Building a personal brand can represent a significant time and even financial investment. As a business owner, you may feel that you haven’t the extra resources to add yet another task to the ever-growing pile.
Some of the assets that you need in order to build a solid personal brand include:
- Professional photography – images for your website and especially a great headshot for your LinkedIn profile and any PR opportunities you send out media releases for
- A professionally designed and well-maintained website which includes a regularly updated blog
- A well-crafted unique selling proposition and personal brand story that you can weave into your marketing
- A social media presence that encourages a high level of engagement from your target market
On balance: is personal branding a good strategy?
As with all such marketing questions, the answer is: it depends. As a business coach, I would advise business owners to think carefully before setting off down that path. While there are many benefits for certain types of businesses, it could be that the cons outweigh the pros in your case. It’s a labour-intensive strategy and it can be hard to get that genie back in the bottle once it is out there. If you do decide to build a personal brand for your business, just be sure to do it properly and with your eyes wide open.