The future of branding your product is personal branding

future of branding

By Mark Schaefer

Beginning with my book KNOWN, I’ve been a relentless advocate for the critical importance of personal branding. Although there are still some skeptics, it’s hard to believe that there is even a debate about this issue any more.

Not only is personal branding crucial for an individual’s long-term success, increasingly it is going to determine whether your company succeeds in this world. I’ll make my case for that today.

You must be known

I recently read an excellent summary of the business case for the personal brand by the talented young writer Nicholas Cole. He wrote:

If you don’t have a personal brand online, people aren’t going to work with you.

Do you know how every single conversation I have with people in business goes? Like this.

“Hey Cole, yeah so I was looking you up online. Really impressive stuff.

Actually, I was reading one of your articles, which got me thinking…”.

Every single time. Without fail.

We are in a transition period in business.

When you meet with someone, what do you do beforehand?

You look them up online.

What do you do after that coffee meeting?

You look them up online.

What do you do when you’re trying to figure out how you can work together?

You look them up online.

What do you do when you’re choosing between working with one person versus another person?

You look them up online.

Over the next few years, this is only going to become more ingrained into the way we do business. We can’t help it. We make decisions based off what we see, and if all we see is an outdated presence online, we’re going to assume that person is outdated.

The future of branding

Obviously creating a personal brand can boost your career and open new doors. But if you look at the market trends, I’ll argue that personal branding plays a part in the future of company branding …

  • The effectiveness of “traditional” ads and marketing is eroding rapidly. The “sales funnel” is collapsing and customers own the buyer’s journey … not you.
  • If people see your ads (which they probably don’t), they won’t believe them. Nearly 80 percent of consumers do not believe corporate advertising and the number is even worse among young people.
  • What do people believe? People. They believe each other, through reviews, shared content, and influencers they respect and trust.

In the past, our businesses were built through an accumulation of advertising impressions. Today, our brands will be known, at least in part, though an accumulation of human impressions. I am 100 percent convinced of this.

This is why so many legacy brands are dying. They represent the ideals and lawyer-approved voice of a company, or an ad agency, not a trusted warmth of a real person.

The Musk effect

Tesla has existed as a company for a little over 10 years. And yet, it has approximately the same market valuation of Ford Motor Company — the fifth-largest company by sales volume — which was founded in 1903.

At least part of that value comes from the personality of Elon Musk. He is clearly an imperfect person, but I think that is what people love about him. He shows up as a real person — not a lawyer-approved mouthpiece. He is honest, flawed, and the greatest entrepreneur of our generation. He is a beloved hero to many.

Who is the person you love at Ford?

Or AT&T?

Or L’Oreal?

I think it’s undeniable that the Musk personal brand has some impact on the company stock price.

This is why smaller businesses have an advantage in this era of human impressions. Normally, the founder IS the brand.

It’s hard to love a logo, an ad, or a piece of branded content. We love people. That is the future of branding.

Beyond employee advocacy

By the way, when I talk about human impressions, I’m not talking about begging employees to share your content. I’m not a fan of employee advocacy programs that mandate or gamify content sharing. It’s just another form of advertising when you get down to it. And it’s not sustainable if there isn’t personal value in it for the employee.

In the long run, the only thing that’s going to work to cut through the Content Shock clutter of our world is real information from real people. Not only do we need to trust our people to share whatever they want to share, we need to encourage them, train them, support them. I am working with one Fortune 500 company right now who paid for employees to develop their own blogging sites — no strings attached.

One young woman in this program had been blogging about how the company’s technology is being used for social good. That validation and her enthusiastic and authentic belief in the company is more powerful than any advertisement they could buy. This is the future of corporate branding.

In the past, a brand is what a company told you it was. Today, a brand is what people tell each other it is. How are you going to insert yourself in these human conversations?

If you’re still on the fence about personal branding and it’s cumulative impact in the business world, you’re on a probable path of obsolescence.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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