Thanks to the Internet, consumers have a hunger for — and access to — scads of information about a company, its CEO, and its senior executives. For this reason, “parallel branding” is fast becoming a necessary reality. A parallel brand operates on a dual track. It’s the sweet spot where a founder, CEO, or small business owner creates a personal brand that is distinct from, but works in tandem with, the company brand.
The process of creating a strong personal CEO brand requires an additional amount of effort and time beyond the branding that goes into the business, and while it may seem like a luxury, in today’s digital world, it’s required.
Here are three ways that creating a parallel brand can benefit you and your business:
1. Twice the Brand Exposure
When you have a strong personal brand as the CEO of your company, you give your business double the chance to be seen. Think of the late, great, and always controversial Steve Jobs. He was a master of the parallel brand. Whenever he spoke or showed up, Apple was naturally part of the conversation. Likewise, it is almost impossible to think of Apple without Jobs coming to mind.
Another example is Marissa Mayer, president and CEO of Yahoo, whose recent pictures in Vogue caused controversy. Mayer draws public attention to her company because of her strong personal brand.
Consider what happened to Martha Stewart’s personal and business brands when she went to prison. How about the recent public outcry against Paula Deen and her racial comments? Good or bad, the personal brand of the CEO works on a parallel track with the company brand.
While many brands do just fine on their own merits, the positive parallel branding of the CEO increases the buzz-building potential of a business exponentially.
2. Career Flexibility and Opportunity
Today’s job market is a volatile one. Even a startup founder or CEO can find himself moving on — voluntarily or not. Creating a strong personal brand positions you for future opportunities and helps you navigate the waters if you’re between gigs.
Just remember that while you’re still with your current company, it’s imperative that your personal brand not be in direct opposition to the company’s brand. Parallel branding requires the two to work in harmony, with you, the CEO, serving as a logical (or at least not contradictory) extension of your company’s brand in values, goals, and tone.
3. Morale Booster
Building a strong personal brand not only positions you in the public eye, but it can also become a rallying point for your employees. Employee engagement is boosted when your employees feel they work for a company headed up by someone who garners respect, admiration, or positive fascination.
Consider Tony Hsieh. Hsieh started Zappos because he was convinced that people would buy shoes online, but it was his inspirational personal brand that was instrumental in restarting the Las Vegas tech scene. In addition, Hsieh’s personal brand has built such strong employee morale that even after its acquisition by Amazon, the company still has a fun, startup-like atmosphere.
Creating a Parallel Brand
If you’re ready to take a crack at creating a parallel brand as the CEO of your company, consider the following as a starting point. Ask yourself:
• How do you “do” your job? This is distinct from what you do. This should be how you approach your work, the qualities you bring to it, and what role work has in your life. As you uncover these attributes, compare them to the values and principles of your company.
• What do friends and colleagues say about your approach to work? Are you always invited to a certain type of brainstorming session, or are you recruited to help with particular problems? Do people enjoy working with you because you bring a creative touch, or are you able to break big issues down into bite-sized pieces? Cross-reference these answers with your company brand and find the similarities.
Once you’ve done some strategizing about your personal brand as the CEO, the next step is to put it in action.
• Update your LinkedIn profile to reflect your personal brand as CEO.
• Rewrite your bio as needed to capture your personal brand, and go public.
• Seek out opportunities to demonstrate (not talk about) your parallel personal brand through writing blog posts, articles, and op-eds, giving speeches, and making yourself available as a media expert in your field.
Many of my clients have greatly increased their influence and that of their company by taking just a few small steps to creating a personal brand that rocks their business brand on a parallel track.
Karen Leland is president and founder of Sterling Marketing Group. As a thought leader in personal branding and leadership presence, Karen has worked with Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, and high-end entrepreneurs. She has appeared on “Oprah,” “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” and CNN as an on-air expert. The author of eight business books, Karen is also a popular speaker.
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