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People persuade, not faceless brands: The case for executive branding

Greater demand for authenticity, trust, and “humanisation” of brands is making the case for executive and personal branding, experts say.

personal executive branding

Over the past year, executive branding of C-suite leaders, corporate “influencers”, and brand ambassadors have been remarkably more persuasive and generated greater conversations in a ‘people-first’ digital and social media environment than most company brands.

Case in point: Conversations from Cannes Lions revolved around Scott Galloway’s “the era of brand is over” in 2023 and a year later circled around Mark Ritson’s “creativity is not enough” in 2024 rather than highlights of specific brand achievements.

Elon Musk with 189.3 million followers on X (at the time of writing this article) has greater reach than Tesla (22.2 million followers), SpaceX (34.9 million followers), and X (67.9 million followers on its own platform) put together.

“Unlike traditional influencers who focus on their personal brand or a specific niche, corporate influencers represent the companies they work for. This approach is proving to be highly effective for businesses looking to build deeper connections with their audiences, or simply to create more and better content,” said Svenja Maltzahn, founder of Sumea Social.

Deloitte Germany’s Lara Sophie Bothur, is another great example. As an in-house “corporate influencer” with a strong executive brand, her content resonates so deeply that she now has almost 300,000 followers on LinkedIn.

Humanised brands are “more appealing”

In a world where people are demanding authenticity, trust, direct interaction with leaders, and more “humanisation” of brands, is this surprising anymore?

“I’ve seen a big rise in corporate influencers on LinkedIn. Whether they are employees, partners, or external advocates, they serve as authentic voices for the brand or business. Their opinions can be more credible than traditional advertising,” said Kelly Lundberg, a personal brand strategist, author, TEDx speaker, and entrepreneur.

“Consumers and clients are increasingly looking for human connections as the corporate world leans more into AI. Leaders who are seen as approachable and relatable, whether within their team or on social media, can humanise their business, making the company more appealing. The job market is competitive and will continue to be; if you want to stand out, it’s your personal brand that will make it happen,” she added.

Sumea Social’s Svenja concurred, “Corporate influencers represent a natural evolution in the social media marketing landscape. They blend the authentic, human-centric touch of traditional influencers with the credibility and insider knowledge of industry experts.”

60 per cent of consumers are more likely to do business with a company that has a strong personal brand.
– Branding Strategy Insider.

Putting an end to “faceless corporations”

The shift towards following people over brands seems to be particularly pronounced among Gen Z consumers.

According to a recent study by Nielsen, 65 per cent of Gen Z in the Middle East trust recommendations from influencers over traditional advertisements. Another survey conducted by Ipsos revealed that 72 per cent of Gen Z in the region are more likely to trust a brand recommended by an influencer.

“This highlights the importance of personal brands of leaders and influencers in shaping consumer preferences in the region,” explained Nay Riachy, social content director at GroupM MENA. “As consumers seek relatable and authentic content that align with their own values and aspirational lifestyle, the influence of leaders and influencers will continue to grow. Brands that prioritise building genuine connections with their audience through the personal brands of leaders and influencers are likely to see higher engagement and loyalty.”

With consumers becoming increasingly aware about being “targeted” by faceless corporations, the need for brand leaders to intentionally “lead from the front” and engage through personal stories, experiences, and thought leadership insights, has become more crucial than ever before.

Budgets allocated to executive branding

Leaders across brands and agencies are not only recognising this move, but have also begun investing in it.

“When I entered the executive branding space 8 years ago, CEOs rarely posted on social media. Now, companies are allocating significant budgets to personal branding initiatives. This shift doesn’t surprise me; I’ve long been a believer in its potential because the fundamental truth is: People follow people,” said Briar Prestidge, founder and CEO of executive branding agency Prestidge Group, and brand founder of futuristic gaming and avatar fashion company Oltair.

“The key, however, is to strike a delicate balance. Overly curated personas risk appearing inauthentic, while unfiltered exposure can lead to reputational risks. The most effective approach will be one that combines strategic brand building with genuine, value-driven engagement across platforms,” she added.

65 per cent of Gen Z in the Middle East trust recommendations from influencers over traditional ads.
– Nielsen study

Gen Z gravitating towards leaders with personal branding

As Campaign Middle East wrote about recently, marketing experts around the Middle East region have counseled caution saying that Gen Z “attitudes can’t be ignored” because they “have the power to make or break a brand”.

This is a generation of individuals who have “cancelled” meaningless narratives and have called for brands to stop the mantras. They are calling for a principled, practical, and hands-on approach to marketing, demanding co-creation, connection, communities, cultural sensitivity, and cut-throat honesty.

“Gen Z follows accounts that add value to their lives, whether they belong to brands or individuals. They use social media not just to see ads but to engage with real-life stories and experiences. That’s why they gravitate towards individuals who have honed their personal branding and create impactful content,” said Mary Smiddy, business lead at MSL Group Middle East.

“Even for brands, showing the people behind it, the behind-the-scenes operations can help them stand out. This approach makes the brand more relatable and trustworthy. Even for professionals like doctors and business leaders, investing in building their personal brand is crucial. It allows them to connect authentically with Gen Z, who value transparency, expertise, and relatable stories. By cultivating a strong personal brand, professionals can share valuable insights, engage in meaningful conversations, and build trust and loyalty among Gen Z followers,” she concluded.