Over the last 30 years, businesses have invested a tremendous amount of time and money in “brand awareness,” which not only keeps the business top-of-mind for the consumer, it also has real equity value. With many major brands, such as Nike or Coca-Cola, the brand value may be higher than most of the hard assets.
Building a company brand should be a major focus for every business owner, but today it needs to be balanced with “personal” brands. Personal branding makes awareness of individuals and individual messaging as important as business messaging. This is a cultural issue that should be explored.
Some industries have been focused on individual branding for many years. Next time you drive past a For Sale sign, notice that the individual who is listing the house is emphasized over the real estate company. Many signs display not just the agent’s name but also his or her photo. Even real estate–related direct mail generally comes from the individual who is personally listing the house. This builds value in the individual and is more effective than a generic piece from the corporation.
Another industry focused on individual brands and personalities is the movie industry. People go to see Brad Pitt, not Paramount Pictures. And in politics, we vote more for the person and not just the party, as seen in the last historic election.
I’m not advocating that you put your photo on all your signs or your salesperson’s name in all of your marketing materials, but I do believe that personal branding is important to your company’s growth and to your overall business strategy. This is especially true today when consumers are inundated with information.
Take e-mail, for example. If you’re like me, you get hundreds of e-mail messages each day — more reading material than anyone has time for in a week, let alone in a regular workday. Most people solve the problem by screening their e-mail. If you get an e-mail from “Remodeling magazine,” for example, you have three choices: a) read it, b) delete it, or c) skip over it and either read or delete it later. As a practical matter, you probably delete or skip far more messages than you read, otherwise, you would be spending hours each day doing nothing else. On the other hand, if you get an e-mail message from “Sal Alfano at Remodeling magazine,” you will probably read it immediately or at least make it more of a priority to read later. Why? Because the use of Sal’s name makes a one-to-one connection that feels more personal.
Personal branding doesn’t require you to change your business message, but it does require you to recognize a change in the business environment. More than ever, people today need relationships with specific individuals, not just with business brands; they buy from people, not companies. Many remodeling companies that have responded to this change by emphasizing the personal over the corporate are enjoying record results — even in a down economy.
So what can you do? First, take inventory to identify the individuals who could create strong personal brands within your business. (To succeed at this, you’ll need to put ego aside and focus on the facts.) Next, create individualized marketing messages built around the people you have identified, wrapping the company brand around the whole thing as an insurance policy. Then use your next staff meeting to build awareness of the power of personal brands and to flesh out ideas. Finally, begin to reward examples of personal branding rather than making them secondary to company branding.
For some business owners, investing in personal brands can be a scary investment. But if you believe people are your greatest asset, and if you select the right individuals to highlight, you will find that leveraging personal brands will produce good returns for them and for you.
—Mark Richardson is co-chairman of The Case Institute of Remodeling, which provides business educational tools and events for the remodeling industry. firstname.lastname@example.org; 301.229.4600.