BIA_the_future_of_corporate_branding_is_personal_130708

2013 has been eventful for some big brands with regards to the impact of senior execs and personal opinions on company reputation. Share prices have fallen, careers have toppled and reputations shaken, not stirred. Call it an ode to the power of personal brands and social media.

Gone are the days when senior management teams were faceless individuals reserved for closed-door shareholder meetings or new product launches. Today consumers not only know who’s running the show, they are up to speed with their opinions in real-time. So what’s the impact?

Consumers and investors alike will skew their sentiment towards a business or a brand based on how well they relate to the personal opinions of those in charge. Subsequently, the line between corporate and personal branding has blurred. Top executives are not only seen as leaders of companies that have a corporate brand, but also as brands in their own right.

If a brand was once considered to be a ‘promise delivered’, the definition has moved with the times to one influenced by a hyper-connected world. Today a Brand results from a set of associations and perceptions in people’s minds based on the content they come across. A Brand is no one particular thing; it’s a net result.

The theory is demonstrated when companies and corporations seek to hire public facing high-profile executives pre-equipped with strong personal brands. An example is JC Penney’s spectacular Ron Johnson debacle. Or the more recent severing of ties with celebrity chef Paula Deen after comments she made in a court deposition, revealing that she had used racial slurs in the past.

On Australian shores, consumer backlash followed the untethered opinion of Bernie Brookes CEO at Myer in May. Myer was forced to weather a storm of social media criticism after Brookes told an Investment seminar that the estimated average of $350 a year that people will pay for the Medicare levy “is something they would have spent with us”. ‘Boycott Myer’ websites popped up along with numerous threads of fierce criticism across social media.

Interesting is the speed with which Bernie’s comments became a Myer brand issue. While consumer backlash may be expected, the need for Myer to defend its position on a matter that previously had little-to-no relevance is surprising. Public sentiment affected Myer to the tune of a bruised company reputation and share prices slumping 2.5% (compared to the average 0.7%).

A brand is a net result, and personal brands are an increasingly significant part of the pie. This begs the question; should the personal branding of executives be left to the executives themselves?

Execs the world-over depend on the power of a strong brand presence. A powerful personal brand generates leads, referrals and connections, engages the right conversations, and opens doors.

So, should it be the role of the Company to manage the personal brands of their key executives? The benefits of clear, consistent and unified brand messaging vs. the potential ramifications of untethered personal brands. This may be a consideration for the hiring or training process for companies seeking to maintain brand integrity and dollar value. There may also be benefit to a form of valuation around the ownership of a personal brand when attached to a company. The formula used to determine the value of a personal brand may soon be the same as for the big brands. I guess it all depends on the collective ambitions of the person and the company they are attached to.

Love to know your thoughts, ideas or experiences around personal brands and their impact on the whole, i.e. the corporate brand.