Plus the 3 Steps You Can Take To Start Your Personal Brand “Rehearsal."
I was working with a coaching client the other day. She's a younger Millennial and in pursuit of her next job.
Shortly after I started working with her, I learned about a job opening for a company I had worked with previously. Excited to potentially help make a "match", I sent her an email with information about the position and offered to connect her with the hiring manager, if she was interested.
A few days later, she told me she decided not to pursue it.
When we got on the phone for our next session, she told me she wasn't sure if the job would challenge her enough (high five to that!), but then she added one other deterring factor.
"I also looked on their website to see their leadership team, and they're not very diverse."
This is not an isolated incidence. Even as a mid-age Gen Xer, I admit to speeding directly to a company's "About" page on a regular basis to see what their leadership team looks like--looking for inclusive leadership--for authentic leadership, and thus what my first impression is of that company.
This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Whether it's ignoring the mission statement on a company's website but instead checking out their leadership team's "looks", or it's ignoring hundreds of promotional emails and ads and instead buying a sweater because your favorite Instagram Influencer recommended it, the concept of personal branding is exploding.
And this explosion is not just for companies selling sweaters or vodka.
A national research study conducted by Brand Builders Group found that 82% of Americans find companies more effective if their founder or executives have a personal brand that you know about, trust, and follow.
While the concept of leveraging the personal brand of a company's founder isn't a new one, in the past it was mostly reserved for those company's with celebrity status like Newman's Own or The Honest Company. We've of course also seen mega CEOs like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk take over as the primary face and personality of their companies.
But what is new is that people now crave a peek into a company's culture well beyond the celebrity cache and the main-stage talks.
People want to get to know the people leading and surrounding the company. They are essentially looking for the employees' personal brands.
The Brand Builders Group's research found that people ranked "companies" as the second most important place to see personal branding - more important than their life coach or lawyer, and second only to their doctor!
And they don't want to see the admirable in people, they want to see the authenticity in people.
I'll never forget when my daughter was about six years-old and she was watching a commercial on TV. She looked at me and said, "Commercials are a bunch of lies."
It's also the same reason both my children rarely watch a scripted show or movie, but they probably wouldn't hear a freight train enter our living room if they were deep into one of their favorite YouTube channels. It's also the reason I, again even as an old fart, can't listen to audiobooks, but I love podcasts.
Authenticity is winning everywhere, and no place is it winning more than in marketing. And it will continue to be the trend for companies - in every sector, everywhere.
Most importantly, this concept of "personal branding" is no longer just for celebrities, CEOs, or people who are considered "Influencers" based on their followings or posting activity.
For example, if I was given a choice to install an Otis Elevator or a Schindler, I would pick the Otis every time.
Why? Because I follow and adore their CEO, Judy Marks. She posts on LinkedIn regularly. Like really her, not her Corporate Communications team. I feel like I know what it would be like to work with her, for her, and ultimately, buy products from her.
Now, I know there are much bigger factors at play when deciding which elevator company to work with, but hopefully you see the point.
Whether it's buying an elevator, a life insurance policy, a sweatshirt -- or it's deciding what company to work for or with -- feeling like you can trust and are connected to the real people that work there will continue to be a bigger factor in who wins and who, well, vanishes.
If you're nodding your head up and down, it's probably because you too are making decisions more and more based off of the authentic leadership of the companies you're looking to work with.
But you also might be thinking, "This is so not for me. I do NOT want to add 'social media influencer' to my growing list of responsibilities!" Have no fear, you can start to build you and your company's brand with a few simple steps.
3 things you can start doing to begin your personal branding "rehearsal"
1. Replace your buzzwordy LinkedIn "About" section with a story that helps us understand your personal brand--who you are and what drives and excites you.
Now, don't make this all fancy and noble. In fact, people are more drawn to someone that purposefully bucks the norm and adds in a dash of humility and real talk.
I often coach people to write their LinkedIn profile like they're talking with a college friend about work and they've had about a quarter glass of wine. Just enough to release the inhibition you have to not be polished and perfect...but not so much that you say something you regret.
2. Engage in podcast interviews.
Omilord people, this is the best and cheapest (FREE!) way to market your personal brand and your company. Podcasts continue to gain momentum, with the number of U.S. podcast listeners expected to reach over 177 million in 2021, up over 10% from last year. And it's never been easier to engage. Like with nearly everything else, the COVID-19 pandemic moved most podcast interviews to a virtual setting, likely to continue well after we're COVID free.
The format of podcasts are the perfect avenue to get a closer peek inside a company by hearing from its leaders. The format is often quite lax and storytelling is encouraged. It really is one of the easiest ways to show authentic leadership!
There are likely thousands of podcasts that are looking for interesting people and stories like yours.
If I was the CMO for a company, I would spend half my team's time looking for podcast interviews for my top executives.
3. Write blog or online articles.
This one might feel the most daunting, but it's likely to give you the longest-tail traction to your brand and company's reputation. You can start simple by writing on your personal LinkedIn page (hint: people are most interested in the soft skills / inspiring articles and not a bunch of bologna about your industry's trends.)
There are also other platforms that will give you additional readership and marketing legs. You can easily start a Medium or Thrive Global account. I've also seen executives who are part of Forbes Council, an invite-only platform for executives and entrepreneurs to share their thoughts, ideas and personal branding (you can apply though - check it out for more details.)
And I know what the devil on your shoulder is saying, "But my Corporate Communications or Legal team will be all over me for this." Yes, yes they will. And you're a leader for a reason.
Partner with them as well as your marketing team to develop an authentic leadership branding strategy; it's 100% possible to make this transition if you can take the time to develop a personal branding strategy and system that's a win-win.
You and your company are working so darn hard to sell more widgets, attract and retain talent, and ultimately win in the marketplace. Working harder though won't be sustainable. It'll take a more modern approach to everything you do to succeed in this Millennial / Gen Z / post-pandemic world.
Your rehearsal time won't last forever. The stage is waiting for you. Now get out there and break a leg.
Erin Hatzikostas is an internationally-recognized leader on the impact of authenticity in the workplace and the founder of b Authentic inc, where she helps people and companies win by using authenticity as their secret weapon to success.
Erin is the bestselling author of You Do You(ish), a TEDx speaker, coach-sultant, and the co-host of an offbeat career and leadership podcast, b Cause with Erin & Nicole. Erin's talks have reached hundreds of thousands of people, and her thought leadership has been featured on ABC and CBS and been published in Business Insider, Fast Company, Well+Good, among several others.
You can download a free, full version of Brand Builders Group's "Trends in Personal Branding" study mentioned in the article by going here.