Until now, many of us have seen the question of branding as two-dimensional: we have a personal brand, or a business brand. If ours is a business brand, we need to ensure that the human beings who maintain that brand online present a united front that reflects the brand values.
But is that all there is? Would it be possible, for example, for us to use personal brands to enhance the business brand? To put it another way, could business brands gain depth, richness and outright likability if they managed to encompass the personalities of the individuals behind those brands?
The web makes this possible in countless ways. Let’s look at a case study that shows just one approach to using personal brands to add dimension and credibility to the corporate brand — and engage more authentically with customers.
Personal-Corporate Branding in Action
One of my clients publishes a podcast dealing with news and developments in their field of expertise. The brand, which is established, has something of a cult following built on a strong community.
The brand is now considering integrating interviews with staff members into the podcast, in which those people would talk about the projects they’re working on, what industry developments or events have captured their attention, and so on. Perhaps they’ll answer listener questions directed specifically to them. Perhaps they’ll return later in the year to report on the projects they discussed in their first interview.
This idea emerged alongside a strong social media presence. The company’s Facebook page is frequently updated with in-office photos, comments on team events and involvements within the industry, and so on. While the company’s social media presence is managed by a single person, the brand has a strong personality built on the strong personalities of the individuals who work there. The podcast idea builds the personal brands into the personal brand even more strongly.
The essence of branding is to present to the audience traits with which they’ll identify. Brands that are heavily human-based — service brands in particular — and which have a strong company culture have the potential to enrich their brand perception by tying in the brands of staff members.
This can add depth to the corporate brand, make it more personable as well as more personal, and make it feel more real and less contrived. That’s especially the case in the social online environment — a place where personalities rule.
Hearing from the actual experts in an organization can reinforce customers’ belief in the brand’s expertise and technical leadership — not only is the brand at the forefront of its industry, but the people who work for the company are on the cutting edges of their individual disciplines, too.
Similarly, getting a sense of team members’ passion for their work can inspire a belief in brand quality, assuring customers of the brand’s dependability and its alignment with their own values and ethics.
Among the objections to the idea of merging, to some degree, personal brands into corporate brands is the obvious issue of consistency: will the inclusion of personal brands (or simply personalities) dilute the corporate brand? Will they confuse customers and be difficult to manage?
The case of my client above is probably a good way to avoid the potential issues: the podcast host represents the corporate brand proper, and guides the personal brands into the equation. The host sets the boundaries for the discussion as the podcast format sets the boundaries for the brands’ integration. The integration is controlled and carefully managed.
Business owners may be concerned about other issues, though: the potential to inadvertently promote their staff to headhunting competitors, for example (something that shouldn’t matter much if your culture is strong and your team members loyal to your organization; after all, if someone does wants to leave your company, they won’t wait to be headhunted).
Another concern might focus on the dangers of adhering a corporate brand to the brands of individuals who might move into different roles, or leave the company, undermining brand equity as they do so. The degree and way in which the personal brands are aligned with the corporate brand is the issue here: get it right, and your team members’ individual personal brands won’t be integral to the brand — they’ll support it in concert, and subtly, rather than on an individual level, or loudly and directly.
Does your business brand incorporate the personal brands — or personalities — of your team members?