Why business leaders are building personal brands

Personal branding can humanise a corporate brand and become a leader’s ‘secret weapon’ for growing and inspiring at scale. But, customers feel an aversion to ‘phoniness’ and one leader and their brand can be quickly discarded, warns Stefano Faustini

Interest in personal branding has been steadily on the rise. A quick Google Trends report, for example, shows that the term ‘personal brand’ has doubled in search volume over the last 10 years.

Some of the earliest forms of ‘personal branding’ trace back to academia and career management centres, when some forward-thinking universities spearheaded courses for students on ‘how to market themselves for the job market’ in the earliest years of the 21st century.

In many ways, interest in personal branding has since shifted away from serving a primary purpose of helping students gain a competitive advantage and stand out among a large graduating class competing for the same jobs.

Today, personal brand building is being engaged by some of the most successful, highest-level executives, leaders and entrepreneurs across the globe. No longer simply a ‘tool’ or strategy to land a job, business leaders in diverse industries have learned that building a personal brand and leveraging their voice to make an impact at scale may be the ‘secret weapon’ to advancing their business interests in a modern and progressive way.

So how can business leaders, whether recently graduated or further along in their career, leverage personal branding?

Personal brand and corporate brand in tandem

It’s no surprise that consumers continue to feel a growing distrust toward corporate messaging – a phenomenon that may only be accelerated in a post-pandemic, politically and culturally-tenuous moment in time we collectively find ourselves in. Unsurprisingly, a recent study by the American Association of Advertising Agencies confirmed that only 4% of people believe in the integrity of corporate marketers.

Leveraging personal branding and storytelling by the leaders behind a corporate brand can be a way of bypassing that growing distrust from current and future customers of a brand. People simply trust messages coming from other people more than those from corporations. When executed correctly, the voice of the business leader as a person can not only increase loyalty in the corporate brand but can humanise the corporate brand in ways which otherwise may be challenging.

The solution? As a business leader, emerging or seasoned, speak to your customers directly as often as you can – and speak to them from your perspective, not from the perspective of your corporate brand. Your corporate brand will benefit from the increase in loyalty and trust – and where those two elements can be found, revenue can often be found following soon after.

Leverage social media

By leveraging modern communication and media tools, business leaders can build trust with their audience at scale – and they can let their personality shine, which by default shines a light on the corporate brand. Using the right social media platforms in active ways (LinkedIn may be a good place to start) can help business leaders develop that emotional connection to their audience and customers in a scalable and accessible way.

Take Richard Branson as an example. While the Virgin Group, Branson’s corporate brand, counts roughly 245,000 followers on Twitter, his personal Twitter counts north of 12 million. Branson rarely uses social media as a platform to directly promote his company’s products or services; instead, by leveraging social media to speak about topics that matter to him, to share his personal stories, and to establish his thought leadership on various business topics, audiences across the globe trust him (and many even revere him). His corporate brand profits from his personal brand messaging.

While posting on social media is one strategy, business leaders can explore others that may resonate best with them. Being interviewed on popular podcasts (or hosting an owned podcast), filming videos, launching a personal newsletter or writing blog articles can all be massively successful in helping leaders establish trust with their audiences, customers and employees.

Be authentic

Of course, there is one major caveat: a compelling and successful personal brand hinges on deep authenticity.

One of the most common pitfalls experienced by business leaders is engaging in public messaging of any kind which feels overly-staged and artificial. Personal brand ‘lipsyncing’ can end up achieving the opposite goal: audiences can sense, on an emotional level, that a leader’s messaging is inauthentic – a phenomenon we’ve long known about, for example, in the world of politics. By extension, a leader’s corporate brand is likely to be directly affected adversely: customers feel an aversion to ‘phoniness’ and, in a world where inspiring public leaders abound, one leader and their brand can be quickly discarded.

The first step to building a successful personal brand comes down to understanding what topics, platforms and stories are fully authentic to that leader. Personal branding starts with self-awareness: understanding what makes a leader unique and what they (really) believe in. While corporate brand marketing can be managed and executed by teams, a leader’s personal brand needs to be managed by themselves: they need to speak in their unique tone and style about what matters to them. It’s their voice, after all – and while some pieces may be outsourced, a leader’s active involvement and direct connection to the platforms, topics and stories need to be there at all times. Keep it real – audiences and customers will reward a leader for it.

Ultimately, all business leaders can profit greatly from building a personal brand, no matter how far into their careers they are. If done correctly, with authenticity and on the right channels, the corporate brand of a leader will often see a financial reward. But the real reward comes in the form of the opportunity to inspire at scale, to impact and to make a difference in the lives of others. Is there really a more noble goal for business leaders?

Stefano Faustini is an entrepreneur, writer and Co-Founder of Brand of a Leader, a personal branding and marketing agency. He holds a master’s degree from Concordia University, Canada, where he also teaches writing, blogging, social media and marketing.

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