Your people are your brand

I’ve been reading Mitch Joel’s “Six Pixels of Separation” over the last few weeks and in the book he discusses the importance of personal branding and its growing relation to corporate branding. As Joel points out, companies are beginning to realize, or should realize, that the culture they are creating and the people working inside their buildings are their biggest assets. And in our digital world, the corporate brand is quickly becoming synonymous with their team members’ personal brands.

We are seeing this occur in a couple of ways. In some cases, the employee has developed her own personal brand. Through her own efforts and ingenuity, she has developed a great reputation and has utilized the many social tools that are available on the Web to evolve her brand.

Crush It!
A great example of this is Gary Vaynerchuk. As a hard working, talented entrepreneur, Gary has taken the wine world by storm and has literally turned it on its head. Gary is brilliant guy and he has used his unique personality and voice to turn a rather stuffy culture into a vibrant and rather lucrative business. He has used everything from YouTube to his own book, “Crush It,” to build his brand and make a lot of money doing it.

Apple’s Non-Jobs Assets
In other cases, we are seeing more and more companies personally taking charge and promoting their team members’ brands from within. For decades, Apple leveraged the “Steve Jobs” brand, but as the company has evolved and Steve gets older, there has been a need to show off the other talent from around the Jobs-reliant company (Apple’s dependence on Jobs is as much of a liability as it is an asset). Enter Jonathan Ive, Apple’s lead designer. The guy is everywhere. Check out the video below to learn a little more about him and his role at Apple.

If you’ve watch the iPad launch video, you definitely remember Jonathan. He has a lead role in the video and his creativity and vision is evident in the products Apple has been producing since he was hired.

Jason Fried of 37 Signals
Another company that is benefiting from by promoting a personal brand is 37 Signals. As CEO of the web-design firm turned software-development company, Fried’s personal brand has become as important to the 37 Signal’s brand as its amazing web-base products are. He recently appeared in an issue of Inc. magazine where he described his philosophy on work and to be productive in today’s hyper-competitive world. Fried often appears on the company’s blog and he maintains his own Twitter feed. He was also named to Creativity’s 2009 50 list.

Coke’s About More than Refreshing Drinks
Coca-Cola is another company that realizes the importance of that its employee brands can have on the company. In a recent Fast Company article, David Butler, the company’s vice president of global design, was introduced to the world as the guy who is responsible for keeping the global brand ahead of its rival, Pepsi. Butler is part of a massive team of people, but he is the face and he represents much of what the company is doing to stay relevant with a young, hip consumer audience.

Lessons for the Brand Manager
What do we take away from all of this? First, companies need to be investing in their people and developing amazing cultures. As a part of this, they should be training their team members about personal branding and then give them time to develop their brands. Yes, you heard me right. Let them work on developing their personal brands at work. 20-30 minutes a day is worth the investment. Let them blog, work on facebook, and set up their own Twitter feeds.

HR departments need to take a lead roll in this. Help your team develop great resumes, offer training, and help them create their own powerful personal brands.

Once all of this is going, the company should then leverage the talent within its walls. Link to your teams’ blogs, both professional and personal. Is there risk in this? Sure. That’s all part of the process; however, if you do your work ahead of time, you can establish clear guidelines and effective policies.

The ultimate payoff is when your team starts blogging about the company. If you have a great company, the benefits are obvious. If you are a company that is struggling for an identity, you might run into some negative commentary. Don’t be afraid of this. This is your opportunity to listen and listen well you should. Your team is your most vital asset. They are the heart of your business and the only way to improve it is to listen.

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