Branding is crucial for any business looking to be competitive in today’s marketplace. When most organizations mention branding, they’re referring to the carefully crafted perceptions surrounding their products or services designed to create an emotional response in their target audience. But there’s another type of branding that can be equally important in marketing your business—namely, your personal brand.
Whether you’re an entrepreneur or business owner, a professional or an executive, a spokesperson, marketing associate or CEO, drawing a distinction between your product and personal brands, and working to position each of them, can help you propel your business forward and increase public recognition, customer loyalty, and profitability.
What is a Product Brand?
Defining a product or service related brand is paradoxically simple, yet also quite complex. A brand is what your product or service ‘stands for in people’s minds, what it means to them,’ and ‘branding is the process of executing and managing things that make people feel the way they do about your brand’. What your brand stands for—its values, promise, customer experience, and those associated feelings your brand provokes through its story, and so forth—is what makes up a product or service brand. It’s a combination of all those intangible and tangible elements associated with your products, services, or the organization as a whole that gives your brand meaning in a way that’s relevant to your target customers.
Companies endeavor to suggest and influence customer perceptions and predispositions to buy through their branding strategies—and this is where the definition becomes more complex. Defining a product brand on the company side can involve a number of components, all working together to reinforce a desired brand perception. This can include brand positioning, brand values, the brand story, and the brand promise.
A product or service brand shapes customer perceptions of the things they purchase, everything from eggs to airline travel! These types of brands can become so powerful that they’re perceived as synonymous with the function of the product or service provided. For example, many people refer to all disposable tissues as Kleenex, all copy machines as Xerox, or all clear adhesive tape as Scotch tape or Sellotape.
What is a Personal Brand?
Your personal brand is all about you, as a person, but in the more public sense of how you project your image to the outside world. A personal brand doesn’t necessarily reflect every detail of an individual’s private life, unless an individual chooses to live their life in a ‘reality TV’ way! Just as with product or service brands, personal brands are (or should be) carefully crafted in terms of both perception and authenticity. In a very fundamental sense, your personal brand is your reputation.
A personal brand includes the perceptions, qualities, and characteristics people associate with you, your name, how you conduct yourself (professionally and privately) and your professional position. Personal brands can be leveraged in brand strategy terms just as effectively as product or service bands. They too represent the emotional experience others will expect when encountering you in a professional capacity. Your personal brand is a unique promise of value that can be attributed to you as an individual, which can also tie in to your company’s brand promise on some level as well.
Image via www.virgin.com
Take Sir Richard Branson and Virgin or Michael O’Leary and Ryanair. Both have very separate, individual personal brands that are distinct from the product or service brands they head up. They are, in effect, the spokespersons and visionaries behind the product brands, with brand personas which are aligned to the brands they stand beside—but neither are one and the same.
Image via www.02b.com
The most successful personal brands are an authentic reflection of that person’s true qualities, without necessarily divulging every micro detail on a private level in their personal lives.
Image via www.marthastewart.com
One strong example of a successful personal brand is Martha Stewart. In this instance, her personal brand is tightly linked to her products and services, which typically also carry her name. The public face of a vast business empire, Martha Stewart the person is also Martha Stewart the brand. Customers associate her as an individual with taste, quality, and comfortable living. Interestingly Martha Stewart’s personal brand was strong enough to carry her through a legal ordeal that had her serving time in prison—after her release, her reputation recovered and her business empire continued to grow.
Product and Personal Brands: What They Share, What’s Different
While personal and product brands are different, they are not totally separate either. Regardless of your personal brand’s standing in the market in terms of its recognition and associations, the strongest personal brands are often linked in some way to your company’s product or service brand. There are often commonalities—for example, Martha Stewart’s personal style is reflected by the brand promise of her company to lend that style to customers’ home décor, clothing, and other Martha Stewart Living product lines. Richard Branson’s personal brand is reflected in some of the characteristics of the Virgin brand, such as being seen as a game-changer, a challenger of the status quo, and an innovative risk-taker that puts the customer at the heart of everything.
Image via www.marthastewart.com
Generally, product and personal brands are similar in that they stand for something that’s meaningful to their audience, and must be consistent in how they are reflected or presented to the world. Consistency is an important key for both personal and product branding. The more customers experience the same values and emotions through each interaction with you, or your products and services, the more they will trust, expect and value a similar relevant experience every time.
There are several differences between product and personal brands, and the most important is one that’s inherent to the nature of what these brands represent. Product or service brands are created by branding and marketing campaigns, which help to shape customer perceptions. On the other hand, personal brands are a deliberate choice by the person who is that brand.
Image via www.starbucks.com
A cup of Starbucks coffee can’t choose to be a social status symbol, representative of discerning cultural tastes and community responsibility. But Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, can choose to launch an initiative to create more jobs and encourage entrepreneurs, and kick-start that initiative with a $5 million donation.
Establishing Your Own Personal Brand
One vital realisation in personal branding is that, no matter who you are or how you comport yourself professionally, you already have a personal brand. If you’re known to people in a professional capacity, you have a reputation and a set of expectations that surrounds your involvement—good or bad. And you can allow others to continue establishing your personal brand according to their own perceptions, or you can take control to actively shape, promote, and grow the personal brand you want to project.
Sir Richard Branson, founder and CEO of Virgin Group, takes an active role in shaping his personal brand. Branson is widely perceived as pioneering and inventive, which has led to the formation of an array of diverse, yet wildly successful industry groups—from Virgin Records to Virgin Mobile, Virgin Airways, and Virgin Trains. Branson’s business pursuits are continually evolving, and they continue to succeed based on the strength of his personal brand as much as the aggressive effectiveness of his business decisions and the perceived value of the Virgin brand itself.
Building a personal brand involves first defining the perceptions of yourself that you want others to expect, and then remaining consistent in your presentation of those perceptions throughout your professional appearances, both online and in person. Creating central pieces, such as your biography and professional photo, and using them to identify yourself consistently wherever you appear online or in more traditional media are important tools to manage and reinforce your personal brand.
In general, your personal brand won’t require as much research, campaigning, and analysis as your product or service brand—but the effort to shape and maintain personal branding can be highly effective in supporting the growth and success of your product or service brand or indeed your career!
What do you think?
• Is a personal brand important to you as a professional?
• Have you developed a strongly established personal brand? When did you last audit how others perceive your unique personal brand?
• How can you tie your personal brand to your product or service brand and maintain authenticity to yourself?
• What opportunities can you identify to showcase your personal brand?
• Will your personal brand evolve separately from, or in tandem with, your product or service brand?
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!