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Aligning personal and corporate brands

Lida Citroën //April 5, 2012//

Aligning personal and corporate brands

Lida Citroën //April 5, 2012//

We often think of brands as something companies have. The word “brand” makes us think of Nike, BMW or even Merrill Lynch. A brand comes to life in the reputation and legacy of the company and sets an expectation of an experience of doing business with them.  Successful brands create a promise in the mind of the target consumer or audience to which they can hold the company accountable.

Branding is about setting an emotional connection with a target audience. If I buy BMW, I believe I will feel powerful, successful and confident. If I do business with Merrill Lynch, I believe my investments will be safe, and I will be cared for as a client.

That promise, or brand, directly affects the experience and the expectation we have of working with a company… and with an individual. Yes! People have brands, too. We call these “personal brands”, and they are a big factor in deciding to work with a person at a company.  Our personal brand is the reputation we have earned, over time, through our behavior and interactions with people who perceive our value. How someone perceives you directly impacts whether they want to work with you, refer business to you, or trust you with their investments, for instance.

Can a personal brand and a corporate brand work together?

Oftentimes, professionals don’t work for companies where their name is on the door. They are employees within a larger firm which has been crafted and branded by someone else.

In choosing to work at that firm, the professional likely considered several aspects – compensation, access to resources, career potential and reputation of the company in a specific market. For many professionals, being aligned personally with the values of the firm is critical. Others don’t pay much attention to the mission statement and vision, just the track record. Either way, by working for that company, professionals align their personal values and credibility with the credibility and values of the company, even without knowing it.

I remember when I was asked to come and address the business development team at a large, global bank. They asked me to speak on the power of individual branding alongside the corporate brand. Immediately, I noticed how they all addressed solutions and offers with “we.” “We can provide a custom business approach to meet your needs…” “We have been in business for 200 years….”  “We have a solid credit rating…” There was no individual, personal connection or commitment to the customer.

In our work together, I emphasized that the power of the corporate brand was obviously a big credibility hook – without having the international reputation the company had, their clients would surely not be as forthcoming.  But beyond that, what made their clients buy were the individual relationships they had with the person sitting across the desk. That was the deeper relationship; that’s where I experienced the trust and credibility; that’s where the “promise” came to life.

When the corporate and personal brand disconnect

So, what happens when someone’s personal values fall out of alignment with the company’s reputation? We see this happen when either the employee’s values conflict in principal with the company or when the company values fall short of delivering on promises made to the market place. In either case, a fracture has occurred.

Sometimes, companies recognize that a representative is not living up to the expectations the company seeks to build with clients. Employee rogue behavior has the potential to severely impact the company’s reputation and integrity in the marketplace. One person in conflict can have grave impact to the vision and mission of a company if, for instance, they take their discontent into the social media space. This not only offers risk and impact to the brand but liability to the business.

Beyond the legal risk, companies feel the threat to their value with clients if an employee’s values conflict with their own – it is often obvious to others that the employee is not aligned, and cannot authentically deliver the service, quality and integrity the company stands for if they do not believe in the brand.

Professionals are directly impacted when the reputation, integrity and credibility of the company brand shatters. As we have seen recently in many industries, from media, medical and financial services, as the big firms, institutions and agencies come under scrutiny for questionable practices, it is only natural that the professionals waving the company flag feel the pressure to their individual reputation.