There are brands that are personal and then there are personal brands. At the core of every brand strategy is an objective to create a personal connection with a brand. Organizations create brand identities that represent and remind customers of that important connection with the company. At the foundation of managing a portfolio of brand identities is determining whether to create that personal connection with product brands or the corporate brand or some combination of both. This dual context to leveraging brand strength misses another very important brand segment – the personal brand of employees, especially key employees. A new, innovative approach to brand identity management can benefit many organizations by helping them leverage all of their relationship assets, i.e., making brand more personal.
Are you personally confused? Let me explain.
The basic premise behind brand identity management is to reinforce the personal connection through the consistent use of brand identities, avoiding dilution and supporting consistent brand impressions and usage. The primary process tool is a set of brand identity guidelines. The key tactical challenges of brand identity management range from ensuring consistent logo usage to defining and enforcing brand extension boundaries.
Tactical execution delivers better with an allegiance to a strategy. Fundamentally the mandate of a brand identity strategy is to connect the targeted customer with the brand equity that delivers the most value in the relationship. The product brand becomes the primary brand when the company believes the strongest, most strategic relationship is between the customer and the product brand, i.e., Kindle. Among brand management professionals this is known as a segmented or product brand identity strategy. In an analogous manner if the corporate identity is the strongest relationship lever, the corporate brand becomes the primary brand, i.e., Google. This identity strategy is known as a monolithic or umbrella framework. The final option is to split the relationship between the product and the corporate brand, convincing the customer that the relationship is supported by the respected business standards represented by the corporate brand delivered through the specific competency of the product brand, i.e., Apple iPod.
This classic brand identity framework, treating brands as marketing tools, has limited the perspective of brand managers. Brands are relationships. Therefore the most viable brand strategy must be “walked back” in its perspective to focus on a broader framework of relationships. This new perspective recognizes that personal relationships are important assets in driving business results and provide competitive advantage for the organization. In some cases certain personal relationships have brand power that rivals or surpasses product or company brands. The new perspective of relationship assets must be expanded beyond the product-customer relationship (product brand); company-customer relationship (corporate brand) to include the individual-customer relationship (personal brand).
In certain industries the personal brand of selected individuals is clearly more important than the product brand and rivals the company brand. Professional services organizations such as health care providers, law firms accounting firms financial advising firms commercial insurance brokerage firms, commercial real estate firms, or architectural firms are prime examples where the personal brand of key individuals is an important driver of business results. Some of these personal brands are so important to the firm they have earned the status of “rainmakers.” The impact of strong personal brands is not limited to professional services organizations. Companies where sales people have a disproportionate amount of impact on the customer relationship, e.g., medical device companies, must also consider personal brand in their overall brand strategy.
The brand strategy of organizations where personal brands play such an important role must be broadened to incorporate the role of key personal brands. Personal brand adds a new dimension to the portfolio of brands that impact the customer relationship. Any organization will benefit by expanding their perspective to embrace the relative role of each brand (product, company and personal) and develop a brand strategy that explicitly coordinates how each brand impacts the customer relationship.
Acknowledging the existence and impact of personal brand creates new opportunities for an organization’s brand strategy. However adding personal brand to the strategy mix requires a new perspective to brand building. Since writing Be Your Own Brand, the best selling book on personal brand, I have had the opportunity to work with many clients to integrate personal brand into their organizational brand strategy. Here are a few key insights to adding personal brand into an organizational brand strategy:
- Develop personal brandbuilding tools. When personal brand is important, provide those individuals with the tools to become even stronger brands.
- Building strong personal brands can be a win-win. When the personal brands of key employees are in alignment with the organization’s brand, both can become stronger. If the personal brand is a good representation of the corporate brand, the corporate brand can become stronger with every interaction with a customer. At the same time when the corporate brand reflects the values and aspirations of the personal brand, the employee is in an environment where they believe their brand can prosper – that attitude is a foundation for retention.
- Senior managers must have the courage to not tolerate personal brands out of alignment. Too often senior managers know that the personal brand of a key employee is not in-synch with the corporate brand but fail to address the misalignment. The misaligned personal brand may be making significant contributions to the business in the short term and some senior managers are convinced that the extra effort to “manage the misalignment” is a reasonable trade-off. The misalignment will eventually cause a problem. Tolerating that type of misalignment will result in a lack of respect of the corporate brand by other employees, eroding the power of the corporate brand.
- Create a healthy balance between the corporate and personal brand’s impact on the customer. The more influence a personal brand has on a customer relationship, the less power the senior management has to implement customer-driven strategies. The less power an organization has on directly impacting the customer relationship will surely create unnecessary hurdles introducing new products and repositioning the company’s relationship with its customers.
- Personal brands trumping corporate brands can be a workable corporate strategy. When an organization is confident it can successfully manage the relationship with key personal brands, a lopsided personal brand-biased strategy can work. It is working today with many companies. This lopsided strategy requires a specialized management competency and is fraught with all sorts of vulnerabilities and idiosyncrasies and depends upon very talented, niche management talent.
Choosing to integrate personal brand into your company’s brand strategy doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact personal brands are a part of every company’s effort to build strong customer relationships, to a lesser or greater degree. Some companies are consciously competent about incorporating a personal brand strategy and others leave it to chance. How personal is your company’s brand strategy?
Posted by Karl D. Speak