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What’s in a name? The power and pitfalls of the personal brand, by The Loop’s Rachel Lloyd

By Rachel Lloyd, partner consultant, The Loop.

Personal branding has made its name through the rapid evolution of social media, but it’s a notion that first dropped on my own radar from something of a different angle.

Around the time that the Millennium Bug was perceived to be the biggest threat to business continuity, I crossed paths with an organisation that had taken the surprising step to list one of its most senior executives at the top of its corporate risk register; the reason being that person’s maverick approach to media relations. It occurred to me that if it were credible for one individual to wipe out a company’s profit margins with some ill-chosen words, perhaps there was potential in the reverse scenario.

The power

If you want to see the potent power of the personal brand, look no further than a modern-day maverick, Elon Musk. With over 47 million followers on Twitter, a single tweet from Musk last year had the capacity to wipe $14bn off the value of Tesla. In January this year, the price of bitcoin spiked 20 per cent after Musk simply added the hashtag to his Twitter profile, and he continues to fan the flames of cryptocurrency trading with his provocative commentary on the matter.

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The pitfalls

Of course, a brand itself takes years to build and can be destroyed virtually overnight. The post-millennium Enron scandal wrecked almost 90 years of history for Arthur Anderson, one of the world’s largest multinational businesses and a big name among the “big five” at that time. Naturally, when a corporation of such a size commits a professional transgression on such a scale, it will have a proportionate impact on its reputation. Yet the firm’s capacity to recover should also have been proportionate to its stature, but it never did manage to return as a viable business on any level.

The need for nurture

Much like the corporate brand, a personal brand is to be nurtured as it grows and treated with kid gloves once it’s established. Still, to do so can be something of a minefield. The age of the influencer has shown us that there’s a fine line between personal branding and shameless self-promotion. The higher and hastier you climb, the further and faster you have to fall, potentially taking your business reputation with you. Yet if you look at the likes of professional personalities such as marketing guru Seth Godin, it feels as if they have slipped into our daily consciousness almost effortlessly.

So, is it a good idea to pursue the personal brand strategy? Here are some questions to consider.

Is it a good fit for you?

The first question to ask is whether it’s right for your company and, perhaps more importantly if it’s right for you. Giving your customers a face and a story instantly humanises your business, and if done right, promotes consumer trust in a way that the CEOs who linger in the shadows never could. The ultimate triumph is to create a persona so relatable and a relationship so sincere that a customer would feel the guilt of infidelity if they were to purchase elsewhere.

That said, entangling one’s own personal credibility with the entire operation of a business means accepting a significant level of individual responsibility. While on the other side of the coin, human fallibility means that an individual’s downfall could have a destructive impact on the business itself – a risk that organisations have clearly come to recognise and try to mitigate against.

Are you ready and able to commit?

The second and perhaps more daunting consideration is the long-term, personal commitment to the cause. It’s not simply a question of investing the time, it’s also having the capacity to constantly put yourself out there, tell your story candidly, and open yourself up to public challenge and scrutiny. A poster child for personal branding, Oprah Winfrey is evidence enough of the grit and determination required to gain and retain the personal brand status, as well as the risks and responsibilities that go with it.

Do you have the foundations in place?

Assuming that most personal brands won’t be born out of primetime TV, it’s the digital space that now provides the most fertile ground for growth. The third question then is how you can transform your digital footprint into the digital real estate required to build a personal brand. Some of the most renowned personalities of our time have fuelled their brand status by being fearlessly outspoken and unashamedly controversial across social media – perhaps not a tactic recommended for the novice. Outside of the celebrity world, personal branding is more likely to evolve out of the simple nuances of individuality.

The benefit of the personal brand is that no two will ever be the same; there’s no clone or ‘genuine fake’ version of human beings. It’s the unique combination of ideas, skills, experiences, relationships, attitudes, goals and so on that give every person their own X factor. These characteristics are what help to construct the individual insights and one-off perspectives that can build a personal brand in the business. As PwC put it in their personal branding handbook:

Define your X-Factor. Understand your WHY Factor. Eliminate your Zzz Factor.

Communication is at the centre of it all

How you convey your ideas ultimately influences the impact of your interactions. My maxim here is to communicate with CAUSE; know exactly what you want to say and be Consistent, Authentic, Unique, Spirited and Engaging. Your personal brand is a reflection of who you are as a human being and your audience will be more inclined to engage with it, and importantly, overlook any imperfections, if you are resolute, genuine and truthful.

With the right combination of courage, commitment and character, the personal brand can be a powerful tool in making a name for both you and your business. So put in the time, but don’t let it take over your life. Engage with constructive criticism, but pay no heed to the haters. Most of all, remain true to yourself and your business goals. If you ever did happen to succumb to the pitfalls, authenticity would be your saviour.

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