Personal branding and your startup- An introduction
There’s a tired old cliché that can be found in almost every marketing related book, blog post and academic journal ever written. It usually goes something like this “People don’t buy from businesses, they buy from people” and like most tired old clichés, this one is usually 100 % correct.
It's a lesson that many businesses have learned, to great prosperity.
At the far end of the spectrum we have the ‘big boys’ (and girls) with their highly idealised patented human manifestations, helping bring a touch of the familiar and friendly to the mass produced and corporate.
Colonel Sanders, Betty Crocker, Uncle Ben, Mr Muscle, Aunt Bessie, Mr Kipling, Ben and Jerry, Willy Wonka, those puppets from the Dolmio adverts and even Ronald McDonald, all stand at the helm of their respective brands, providing a friendly, trustworthy human, (or nearly human) face to the consumer.
One of the things that each of these has in common is that they are all fictional, even those based on real people (like Colonel Sanders and Ben / Jerry) are so preened, polished, airbrushed, nipped and tucked that they are now a mere caricature of the people upon whom they were originally based.
On a more credibly human level, the picture doesn’t become much more authentic. Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson, Alan Sugar, Bill Gates, whilst more appreciably human to the public than say Colonel Sanders, are still extremely well versiopolished ns of themselves… something of a brand in their own right.
Startups and Personal Brands
For most startups and small businesses this is where difficulty begins. They see so many highly successful brands and businesses proudly sporting the face of their founder and naturally assume that branding your startup with a face (or at least having a face in close association with it) is requisite to success.
This is not true of course.
Many business brands grow from a founder's personal brand, but it is something that needs to be very carefully considered and delivered in a well measured and strategic way.
In a nutshell, if you are going to bring a ‘personal brand’ to your business, you had better make sure it’s a good one, that adds value and doesn’t confuse or obscure the overriding message you are trying to send out.
Use your backstory
There’s a reason that Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook journey was made into a film, and that Ben and Jerry's Vermont story appears on the back of every carton...people love stories, but only really good ones.
That's not to say that if your life has been fairly run-of-the-mill to date, you should embark on a worldwide adventure in search of some excitement. It simply means that unless your story is particularly inspiring / attention grabbing, don’t make it the focus of your personal branding.
A great story for a startup or business is one that is directly relevant to the business / startup to which it is being attached. A great example of this is Levi Roots and his Reggae Reggae brand. Here is a case in which a person's back story has been instrumental in the growth of a highly successful business, with the brand essentially growing from the person until the two are indivisible from one another.
Levi’s journey is at the extreme end of the spectrum, and we are not suggesting that in every case ‘person’ and ‘brand’ should become quite so indistinguishable from from one another. Nevertheless he stands as a great example of how in some cases a great, relevant story can add value to a business.
Sell yourself far and wide
If you have a great back story and are keen to incorporate it into the development of your startup, you must dedicate yourself to relate the story on as many different platforms as possible. It's simply not enough to tell your story on your own website, or to your already existing customer base. You should use it to spark intrigue in your business and give people the opportunity to forge a human connection with the work that you do.
Make sure that your personal story is given a presence alongside the marketing of your business, but also take time and effort to ensure that you have an active presence within your industry. Make full use of social media; LinkedIn, Twitter,Facebook and Pinterest to give yourself professional credibility that can be seamlessly transferred to your business.
Making such a personal connection between yourself and your business can be a dangerous game. Aside from the added pressures that can come from being such a visible part of your business's persona, if not executed masterfully, it can actually have a negative impact on the way your business is perceived.
Generally speaking we would be inclined to suggest, that unless you believe that giving such a personal touch to your business will add significant value to it, extreme caution is necessary.
There are so many variables at play, and indeed so many things that could go wrong, that the risks making yourself into the ‘human embodiment’ of your business most often outweigh the potential benefits. Specifically you need to pay particular attention to;
Your online presence. What will someone see if they search your name?
Your professional demeanour. Are you bright, confident, resourceful, reliable and engaging?
Your communications. As central to your business brand, everything that you now say is fair game for scrutiny and even ridicule.
We have lots of posts related to business marketing here at Startacus. Why not take a look at some of these?