In marketing, reputation is everything. The way customers view our brands and companies is often the main reason they choose to do business with us. And in the digital age, the personalities of executives and business leaders are integral to their company brands. Think about Apple and Steve Jobs — his public presence helped catapult his company to the top of their market.
Also, consider the coffee shop you always go back to because the service is so friendly and the coffee is so great; or the grocery store you go out of your way to shop at because their products are fresh and the cashiers know your name. It's the people, and their personalities as they intersect with the work that they do, that create your experience of that brand. As business leaders, we set the tone for the personality of our brand, from the boardroom to the stock room to the sales floor (or website — even your online presence should have a personality!).
Because of this, the importance of personal branding for executives and business leaders is at an all-time high. So how should we be marketing ourselves?
Whether we like to admit it or not, as leaders of our businesses, we are a major part of our brand, and marketing ourselves is becoming more important than ever before. This is known as executive branding. Essentially, the power of your executive brand relies on two main traits: being good at what you do and being recognized by those you do it for — your customers. As John Hall, a content marketer and CEO of Influence & Co., explains in Forbes,
“Executive branding verifies your value in the field and creates familiarity that enhances trust between you and potential customers.”
But it's more than just marketing ourselves. While the practice of executive branding, pioneered by Tom Peters in the early 1990s, often centers around increasing visibility and influence, it also represents a viable strategy for growing our businesses. I believe what people most want to hear from company leaders is vision. To quote Sam Walton of Wal-Mart fame,
“Capital isn't scarce. Vision is.”
The most successful companies are products of an innovative vision and the mission to make that vision a reality. When a CEO or company leader is outspoken in expressing and demonstrating the vision for their organization, they build a following of people that identify with that vision. Pricing, products, and services may drive business, but having a unique, expressly stated vision will make your company stand out in a big way. It's a leader's role to make sure that vision is known.
Many executives tend to shrink away from the public, cloistering themselves and creating an aura of mystery and distance. In doing so, they abdicate one of their responsibilities (whether they like it or not), which is to connect to their customers. This connection is invaluable and can no longer be ignored. When we begin marketing ourselves — communicating our individual personalities and sharing our expertise in our field — two major changes occur.
First, we position ourselves as thought leaders and subject-matter experts. As a result, our credibility with customers sky-rockets and, since our customers find us credible, our company brand credibility is bolstered as well. According to Hall, this form of executive branding,
“can build the company brand, dissolve trust barriers, attract and nurture leads throughout the marketing funnel, and keep us top of mind when prospects and customers are ready to buy or provide a referral.”
We're building relationships with new customers by creating trust and humanizing our companies.
Moreover, executive marketing creates new opportunities to reach out and start a dialogue with both our potential customers and colleagues. When we become established as a market expert or field leader, others want to learn from us. This allows us to interact and engage with different audiences, all the while increasing our credibility and growing our brand. Joshua Johnson, the Vice President of Influence & Co, explains in a blog entry,
“For instance, let’s say you connect with the organizer of an industry conference or event. Your relationship could land you a high-profile speaking opportunity that puts you in front of new audiences and ramps up your credibility.
Create Brand Awareness
Companies live and die by the value and reach of their brands. As we stated in a previous post, people fall in love with brands — not products. Therefore, we should be using every avenue available to us to grow our brand's presence and credibility. Marketing ourselves as expert executives is a powerful way to accomplish this. Johnson writes,
“Reaching new audiences doesn’t just fuel your personal brand. It also generates exposure for your company. More eyeballs lead to more awareness, especially when readers learn about your unique perspectives and expertise.”
The more people read or hear about our passions, skills, and communities, the more connected they will feel to our companies, products, and, most importantly, the brands we stand behind.
Create Something Different
What makes you different? What sets you apart from other executives in your field? The answer to these questions will give you a great jumping off point for your executive marketing campaign. Consider this: just like the products we create, we all have features that are intended to benefit our customers. Identify personality features that set you apart and note the benefits they can provide your customers. Tom Peters, a world renowned business expert and writer, explains executive branding and differentiation this way in Fast Company,
“Forget your job title. Ask yourself: What do I do that adds remarkable, measurable, distinguished, distinctive value? …If you're going to be a brand, you've got to become relentlessly focused on what you do that adds value, that you're proud of, and most important, that you can shamelessly take credit for.”
Executive branding is all about us; all about our skills, our passions, and our connections. And while at first glance this may seem selfish and individualistic, our executive branding is in the service of our company brand. By showing our customers that we are personal, relatable individuals, as well as field-experts and market leaders, we can begin humanizing our company brands and forging real relationships. It's time to put yourself out there and embrace each and every opportunity to build your business.
How do you approach creating an executive brand? Share your tips by tweeting @EidsonPartners!