BRAND attributes are usually applied to products promoted by advertising, pricing, consumer experience, and word-of-mouth. Sneakers companies develop a brand trying to appeal to non-athletes, even as they are endorsed by celebrities in professional sports. Brand attributes of products can be personal characteristics such as physical fitness, daring, agility, and, yes, sex appeal.
If brands of products acquire human traits to project empathy, do humans conversely acquire product attributes like durability, low maintenance, and dependability? Do high-profile business tycoons acquire their own brand attributes?
It is no wonder that lifestyle coverage of CEOs in TV talk shows and glossy magazines (online versions) feature the personality outside the cubicle, or “after hours.” His personal brand has non-corporate attributes akin to celebrities in entertainment like generosity, ubiquity, and closeness to the powers that be.
Modifiers have their corporate equivalent. “Adventurous” means risk-taker. “Family-oriented” means conservative and risk-averse. Pictures of moving to some luxurious resort property translates into free-spending leadership style, and likely to provide generous benefits to his executives beyond the Guaranteed Annual Cash Compensation (GACC) like stock options and family travel.
The head of an electric car company once branded simply as the richest man in the world needed a re-branding when he acquired a social media platform. Here, he fired a big chunk of human resources and positioned the platform as a free-for-all soapbox. He then acquired the new branding of a media maverick. Meanwhile his old company was missing a CEO and the acquired company, by a vote of the subscribers, wanted a replacement too.
Personal brands are not static. They change with the circumstances around the organizations they are associated with. Unlike sneakers, cars, detergents, or beach resorts, a person’s brand is dynamic. The personality is changed by events. It deals with the real world of conflict and bad decisions. A company like the exchange for cryptocurrency also consigns its leader to the corporate graveyard when it fails.
Of course, there are unbranded personalities. Because of the small space they occupy in social media, they do not merit any kind of branding. There’s nothing wrong with being an unbranded (or generic) personality.
A CEO just doing his job well and increasing shareholder value does not have much use for branding or being the cover story of a magazine or a corporate tabloid site. Such generic and low-key managers are capable of marketing outstanding products resulting in profitable companies that benefit their stakeholders. They don’t need to be interviewed while training for a triathlon or writing haikus and collecting art.
Branding can be unplanned and left to chance with no image consultant under retainer. The no-nonsense executive has a thought balloon — I’ll just do my job.
Or the profile can be a planned effort managed by the same marketers that give emotional attributes to burgers, yoghurt, and shampoos. Sir, what attributes do you want associated with you?
Establishing a desired image needs to be planned and cannot be hurried. It’s like selecting the color, material, and shape of floor tiles. Once installed, it is not easy to rip up and undo without having to change the wall color, furniture, and table lamps. Image must be built up and integrated with the person’s behavior. It must fit the personality of the subject. A paunchy guy cannot embrace a sporty image, even if it’s just for bowling.
Ordinary people go through life without being branded. There is no need to be mindful of perception if one is not even perceived. The worst that anonymous individuals get is an image that falls under the category of bad habits — too loud, bad dresser, always late, or freeloader. Now and then they are accosted by friends who have not seen them for a long time — my God, you’re so fat; your stomach needs to have a separate zip code. While this comment stings, it does not make the rounds of social media and become a viral hit.
The generic pill can sometimes produce the same therapeutic result without the additional branding expense. Should CEOs emulate excellent leaders who shun publicity? Can’t the corporate numbers speak for themselves? Maybe, being successful but unknown offers little appeal.
A good personal brand is earned… but not always as intended.
Tony Samson is chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda