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Sun 15 May 2016 02:37 PM

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Why personal branding is great for business

The web is a tumultuous place. But by leveraging your personal brand – and maintaining it online – you can grow your business fast

Why personal branding is great for business
(Getty Images)

The web is a tumultuous place. But by leveraging your personal brand – and maintaining it online – you can grow your business fast

As much as it may seem counterintuitive, your personal brand may be key in growing a business. While some entrepreneurs and business leaders may see it as taking attention away from their core enterprise, the benefits far outweigh the negatives. So say Anouk Pappers and Maarten Schäfer, the founders of Cool Brands, a company specialising in managing online reputations.

"Business people tend to have a great reputation offline. They network with the people they do business with, and are introduced to new contacts through word of mouth." says Schäfer. "However, we're living in a web-based economy where Google has become the new background check. If you don't know someone, or you're about to set up a meeting, the first thing you do is Google them."

 Schäfer argues that this is the first test, "based on what someone finds online, they decide whether to meet or not. If your online presence is good, you'll be more inclined to sit down with that person. But if not, I might find somebody else for my business."

For an example, look no further than Cool Brands itself. According to Pappers, "A few years ago we moved in to Dubai. We sent a CEO an email asking for a meeting, telling them that we wanted to tell his personal story. He Googled us, saw who we work with and what we publish, and then scheduled a meeting."

Certainly, before someone interacts with you for business it's a safe bet that they will look you up online first. Search engines like Google first index news stories from major websites, followed by social media channels. Personal sites or blogs also trend higher. It's about quantity and quality.

Seeding these platforms with updates and timely content is a job in of itself, and that's where Cool Brands comes in. "Most CEOs are incredibly busy people. They don't have time to sit down and work on their online reputation. Many people don't know how technical seeding and SEO works. We take that out of their hands, and concentrate on what's most important: their vision" says Pappers.

A key aspect of personal branding is authenticity. Perhaps it is the sheer number of brands looking for attention, with promoted Facebook and Google adverts ever on-screen, but the world has become pretty good at spotting a faker.

Look no further than the social media blunders of brands like JPMorgan Chase. It thought it was a good idea to hold a Twitter Q&A using the hashtag #AskJPM. Chase, one of the biggest banks in the US, received tremendous backlash from Twitter users critical of the bank's alleged manipulation of the world financial markets. You don't have to be a brand to get on the wrong side of social media backlash either, and there's as a long list of celebrities, politicians and public figures can attest.

How then does a CEO come across as being authentic? "We like to ask personal questions. We're not interested in what you do now, because tomorrow you might be working somewhere else. We try and find your why, what you stand for. As that will remain true forever" admits Pappers.

Then it's about translating those thoughts in to a medium people can understand, "once we find out what drives you, we put those stories in to text, video or maybe even pictures. This is what allows others to connect with you. And is why people will do business with you".

The process is simple, says Schäfer, "If you are interested, then first we sit down with you and discuss your life. We go back to your childhood, we find the reasons why you are who you are. This helps us figure out why you do the things you do, and how that will translate to the future. Once we know your purpose, we can start creating stories."

It helps that Pappers is an anthropologist by trade, "Sometimes having a client admit their purpose to us, and helps reinforce it. For example, if you tell yourself that you are going to quit smoking tomorrow and tell nobody, chances are nothing will change. But if you go on to Facebook and tell the world, that adds peer pressure. It's the same when it comes to a purpose, or a vision. By stating it, writing it down and publishing your passion, it helps keep you on track."

But how do you know what stories are worth publishing? The internet is awash with content, everything from inane social media updates, blog posts, news and entertainment sites posting stories every minute. How do you compete?

According to Schäfer, the key is honesty. "Let's say you think education is key for the future of the world. Just by saying it, or writing a few things about education, that's not very believable. But then you tell us that you go to a university every month to share your knowledge, and that's when we can make stories. In that situation, we would come with you, make a video of you speaking, take pictures. That way you're not just telling the world education is important to you, but showing them."

So who has put personal branding at the core of their business? For one, Richard Branson. Speaking on one of his many blog posts (another form of personal branding) Branson admits, "branding demands commitment; commitment to continual re-invention; striking chords with people to stir their emotions; and commitment to imagination. It is easy to by cynical about such things, much harder to be successful".

But succeed he has. Branson's Virgin blog regularly ranks in the top ten lists of personal business sites, and is used to share news, advice and even the truth behind some of his biggest blunders (Branson is nothing but honest online).

Cool Brands points to one client, the Chief Managing Officer of Pepsi China, as another example, "as a person I don't have any relationship with Pepsi, it's a drink. It's a beverage. I feel nothing for it." says Pappers. "But by talking to its CMO in China, by understanding what drives him to make Pepsi succeed, I think Pepsi is great. If it wasn't for him, I would still think Pepsi was just a distant, inhuman brand".

Personalizing your brand is another reason to go down the path of personal branding. According to Schäfer, "humanising your business will create an emotional connection, which will create more business. More importantly, it will create brand ambassadors who will spread your vision, and create more relationships. At the end of the day, we are all people. We are all humans. Whether you are the CEO of Hewlett Packard or the CEO of a small business, you are still a human at the end of the day".

There is pushback to the idea of personal branding, especially for C-level executives. Surprisingly, that comes from traditional marketing departments, who see it diluting or taking away from the main brand. There is concern a CEO might become bigger than the company they serve, leading to complications down the line if ever he were to leave (taking much of the company's good grace with him).

For Pappers and Schäfer, this is beside the point. "It's about being personal, not just becoming an extension of your corporation. Personal branding only adds to the overall brand message, it doesn't take away from it" admits Pappers.

"I'll give you one example," says Schäfer, "we work with the CEO of a chemical company in France. His company makes detergents, and it has developed an all-natural detergent that does not make sue of any harmful chemicals. He wanted to go and tell the world that his company had created something that would help the environment. But that story is not as important as why he created the detergent.

After spending some time with him, we realized that he cares about the environment because of his children. He wants to ensure the planet is healthy when they grow up. Now that story is personal. That story makes people care. And that is the story we used to get the message across".