Personal Branding For CEOs And Founders
A strong personal brand — built through a combination of charisma, stances on trending topics, thought leadership on novel ideas and the example of one’s actions — provides an edge when attracting investors and customers, inspiring employees, and building followers and fans (think Elon Musk and Simon Sinek).
A leader’s brand is intimately tied to that of their company.
A CEO’s personal brand is not only about them; whether right or wrong, it is inextricably tied to their company and seeps into any external boards they might represent. Beyond building and inspiring a team, a CEO must protect shareholder value and protect the brand of the company. Therefore, their position of authority and privilege requires a CEO to be much more cautious in how they represent all the organizations their name is attached to, and that caution extends to the opinions and values they project.
It is important to keep in mind that not everything you believe in needs to be part of your public persona. In the era of viral social media, the lines between the professional, personal and private spheres are increasingly blurred, resulting in oversimplified narratives that can often misrepresent nuanced positions.
How can you go about building your personal brand?
Judicious choice of issues rooted in authenticity is a sound foundation for your personal brand. With the variety of hot-button topics, many politically charged, that CEOs are expected to have a position on, navigating the myriad of issues to speak out about can become a full-time job. It is essential for a CEO to pick the initiatives in which they know they can make a substantive difference, carefully considering new initiatives in terms of long-term fit and impact, not just short-term social currency.
It is best to pick one or two that align with their own values and those of their associated organizations and back up the talk with substantial action. Leaders need to weigh their choices through the lens of impact on their staff, their companies and their personal brands.
Start with answering these five questions to help you develop your personal brand:
1. What do you want to be known for?
You may have a number of accomplishments that you are recognized for over your career. Are there one or two things you’re most proud of? For me, I want to be known for being a serial entrepreneur who has successfully challenged the stigma of traditional views. Develop your storytelling around your experiences and accomplishments. External validation such as awards and recognitions can add to your credibility.
2. What are you uniquely an expert in?
Determine areas of expertise where you can educate others and share your knowledge and thought leadership. It is important to form opinions and novel thoughts rather than just rehashing the opinions of others. I often think through how I might add value to a conversation before adding my voice.
You don’t necessarily have to focus on the products and services of your particular business or industry. As a leader in marketing and branding, I can certainly share my expertise in the medical industry as well. But beyond that, as a male CEO and founder, I am also passionate about sharing my expertise in entrepreneurship, startup life, growth, marketing and related matters.
As I sit on a number of boards of large brands, I can share my passion and expertise on how to get ambassadorships, brands deals, and growing influence. Having experienced impostor syndrome for a large part of my career, I have also written and spoken about overcoming fear and dealing with impostor syndrome. Itemize your areas of expertise and passion to form the full narrative of your experience.
3. What kind of legacy or impact do you wish to leave behind?
Think about your purpose other than building a successful and profitable business. As a founder of a marketing company who has operated a profitable business since day 1, I want to share my experiences with other entrepreneurs. So, beyond running my business, I sit and have sat on the boards of a number of business and entrepreneurial organizations where I feel I can extend my impact to others.
4. Who is your audience?
It is impossible to be everything to everyone, so it is important to understand who your key audience is. My audience is other CEOs, business leaders, entrepreneurs, as well as aspiring business owners. Understanding your audience will help you hone your message as you develop your brand.
5. What platforms are the best channels to distribute your message and amplify your voice?
Choose the methods that put your best foot forward. If you’re not a great writer, perhaps podcasts or video are best suited to you. If you prefer the in-person engagement of a live audience, speaking at events might be your forte. Don’t be afraid to step out and try something new to expand your repertoire of how you deliver your message.
Be consistent and authentic as you deliver your message and build your brand. If you have done the legwork and set yourself up for success, do not be afraid to show it. Display your ambition, contribute actively in social and professional settings, voice your unique perspective and engage in the debates where you might have stayed silent earlier.
When you own your brand and demonstrate your skills with a balanced and professional approach, your work will do the rest by backing up your words.