Five reasons why your marketing department needs to focus on personal branding

personal branding

This month marks the fifth anniversary of the launch of KNOWN, a seminal book on the topic of personal branding.

When I consider my long career, I regard this book as my greatest contribution to the business world (so far!). Not many weeks go by that somebody doesn’t tell me how this book changed their life or that KNOWN is their favorite business book ever. KNOWN unravels the complexity of building your personal brand, and it works.

Despite the obvious business case to establish the presence, reputation, and authority to get your job done in this world, many people bristle at the idea of “personal branding” as a regular business activity. Today I’ll make a case why this is not only important as a personal activity, it is essential for nearly any corporate marketing department.

Here are five reasons why an emphasis on personal branding should be a pillar of your marketing efforts.

1. “A brand is simply trust”

This statement is a famous quote from Steve Jobs, and it is a simple and profound truth.

We live in a world that is starved for trust. Research from places like the Edelman Trust Barometer shows that trust in businesses, government, and the news media has fallen every year for more than a decade.

Who do people trust? People.


Technical experts.

Business leaders.

Their friends and neighbors who work for your company.

How can you build trust in your company when nobody sees or believes your ads? The answer is simple. Elevate the awesome people in your company.

2. Battling the bots

I recently attended the powerful and inspiring SXSW conference in Austin. This is where the future happens and one of the most sobering talks was from AmyWebb, CEO of Future Today Institute, and her  extraordinary report projecting the future.

One of the most chilling forecasts is an 80 percent probability of catastrophic impacts from AI-generated fake news and deep fakes.

Think about how misinformation spreads rapidly today. Consider that evil forces can create perfect videos of you and your company leaders saying anything they want you to say. How do you operate in a world where nobody knows what to believe? How can a company stand for truth when AI bots can spin out infinite amounts of harmful content?

There is only one strategy. Establish a trusted presence so people know where to go for the truth. In a world where truth is the exception, your company needs to establish a platform of trusted voices now, not after the problems occur.

AI bots are taking jobs in graphic design, script writing, video editing, media buying and more. How do you protect your job in this kind of environment? Personal branding may be the only answer.

3. The beginning of community

personal branding

Boss Mom founder Dana Malstaff leading a discussion group at The Uprising

Community is the ultimate marketing achievement. If you have a true community of fans who will love you and defend you, you would no longer need SEO, Facebook ads, or trade shows.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic and I see a pattern that true community almost always begins with a personality — somebody who builds an audience because they are known.

  • Boss Mom is a Facebook community with more than 70,000 members. But they are there because they believe in founder Dana Malstaff and her genuine and compassionate leadership.
  • Glossier is the fastest-growing skincare/cosmetic brand in the world but it launched from a loyal blog community founded by Emily Weiss.
  • The Spanx brand has loyal fans in part due to the inspiring hard work of founder Sara Blakely.

Community gathers around a leader.

4. Personal branding in a post-SEO era

Most companies become entrenched in marketing routines. If you’re doing the same marketing you did three years ago, it’s time to take a fresh look at the world.

Number one on my list of outdated activities is SEO. Don’t get me wrong. SEO can be critically important for many businesses, but I also see many small businesses plowing money into SEO because they have been sold some marketing package deal.

The fact is, the ability to benefit from SEO depends on a special set of circumstances, and increasingly SEO isn’t going to create a return. The other option is to create content that establishes authority through thought leadership. In this way, you can earn attention and an audience without depending on search engines and ads.

5. The personal brand IS the brand

On average, Mercedes Benz spends $945 on advertising for every car they sell. Tesla spends no money on advertising. The difference is Elon Musk.

Elon Musk is not a perfect person. But he’s authentic. He’s a real human being that people can connect with and trust as the greatest entrepreneur of our generation.

Millions of people aspire to buy a Tesla some day because they love and admire Elon Musk. Who do you love at Mercedes Benz? At Verizon? At Procter & Gamble?

Great branding means building an emotional connection between what you do and your customers. For years, that emotion was created through advertising. That’s why we when we hear “Coca Cola” we think of polar bears instead of brown sugar water.

The new consumers don’t see ads in a streaming content economy. But they do establish parasocial emotional connections with their favorite leaders.

Personal branding. What’s next?

It’s exciting for me to see so many companies waking up to the fact that effective executive personal brands can carry a company further than any other marketing activity.

Right now, I’m working with one of the biggest companies in the world to create a foundational personal branding plan for their executives. Their marketing activities are being rewired and reorganized to support executives on a path to becoming “known” in their industry and beyond. The personal brand IS their marketing of the future.

What do you believe? An ad? Claims at a tradeshow booth? A direct mail piece?

Or do you believe authentic, passionate humans sharing their unique insights in a way that helps and serves their customers?

That’s what I thought.

To learn more about personal branding and how your company can move in this direction, here are three resources to consider:

  • KNOWN is a beloved book that provides a foundational blueprint. Thousands of people have had success through this book.
  • I teach a personal branding Master Class several times each year. This includes six classes over three weeks, a strategy guide, and two one-on-one coaching sessions with me. Click here to learn more.
  • Finally, I am actively helping companies devise a personal branding strategy for their executive teams. Some of my clients have been so successful they have appeared in Harvard Business Review and have been invited to speak at elite industry events. Contact me if you would like to learn more.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of some of the world’s bestselling digital marketing books and 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.

Follow Mark on TwitterLinkedInYouTube, and Instagram. Discover his $RISE create community.

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