Creative agency LazenbyBrown. Source: Lazenbybrown.com
America’s ongoing racial tensions have put the spotlight on the modern-day brand. Akin to the pandemic, brands have been lauded and vilified in equal measure for their response. Some have taken action, some have changed their social media, and some have stayed silent.
This has proved a timely case study for this week’s #Write52 – looking at the impacts of personal and company branding. Are they one and the same? Or does the person sitting behind the ‘tweet’ button have a different set of values?
What’s the difference between a personal and company brand?
To shed some light on the concept of branding, I spoke to four experts. Each has his or her own business in separate industries, both sole traders and limited companies.
Mat Lazenby, director of creative agency LazenbyBrown, has developed a clear-cut definition of both. “People and brands are not the same thing. Brands comprise lots of different people, or in the case of a sole trader or micro-enterprise, a set of principles and promises delivered by the individual in charge. These need to be consistent and dependable, otherwise they’re not a brand.
“People, on the other hand, should be allowed to have good and bad days.”
More leeway for creatives?
Josh Gudgeon, who runs video marketing agency Get Your Media, concurs. “Company brand is more important when you have staff. Nobody wants to work with a brand that has bad values.”
However, while Mat believes “personal brands” belong in the bin, Josh is keen to focus on his. “I use my personal brand to drive traffic towards my business. There’s more resource for creatives – I have a purpose-made business blog and I’m a YouTuber. If I’m seen in front of a camera, that’s good marketing for my agency.”
Nick Bramley, who spearheads business consultancy brand Impactus Group, seconds this. “I’ve built up my reputation over 20 years, and use my personal brand to promote Impactus. If people don’t know me, then the authoritative content from Impactus becomes more important. If they do know me, they’ll work with me based on reputation.”
The ‘creative’ element is a bone of contention, though. Ellen Forster, who manages Content by the Sea, says: “I think people find it refreshing to work with a strong personal brand. You can get away with it in the creative sphere!”
So where does this leave non-creatives? Nick cites a brilliant example of an accountant, who’s doing his best to raise his personal profile on LinkedIn – something that’s generally unheard of in this field.
The value of brand-building
Whether it’s preaching values or making content, all four of my contacts agreed: there is huge value to brand-building. Mat says: “Our studio LazenbyBrown has a brand for sure. We promote particular characteristics in our content because we know it attracts work we’re really good at, and resonates with our target market.”
Of course, this doesn’t happen overnight. Josh says: “Branding’s the foundation to your marketing. I’ve not met anybody who’s invested in it and not seen a huge return.
“Once you build up a steady stream of content, people can binge it, and by that point, they’re already that much farther down the funnel.”
It’s something that Nick has been experimenting with too, having started his ‘Impact Sessions’ podcasts in August 2019. “These have helped to elevate me as someone with influence, and they led to 670 webinar bookings. I’d have got nowhere near that without a personal brand.”
For some, it’s all about making connections. Ellen adds: “When I first started out, I wanted to keep my company Twitter and LinkedIn as ‘professional’ as possible, but that just wasn’t me! Since I’ve started posting more on my personal pages, I’ve made so many amazing connections. It’s been 100 per cent worth it.”
Changing up the message
Another controversial topic is brand messaging. For example, Nick says: “Ideally, you want to make the business look bigger than you.” Josh agrees, stating that it attracts more valuable business thanks to an agency image.
Mat is more cautious. “When our best side becomes a computer-generated filter that bears little or no resemblance to real life, then its effects can be hugely damaging, both for the viewer and author.”
Naturally, the term ‘filter’ has different connotations. Both Josh and Nick are immensely proud of their no-nonsense, Yorkshire approach to their social media content. And indeed, this personal authenticity can be a winner. Ellen adds: “As the old adage goes, people buy from people. My clients who approach me via LinkedIn or Twitter have already been exposed to my tone of voice.”
What about social media?
We all know there is an inherent difference between LinkedIn and TikTok. So how are we adapting our content? Mat lends a shrewd insight, as someone who’s been in the business for more than 20 years.
“At the start of my career there was no social media, so you would have to be ‘light-hearted’ using a channel for business communications. This would have felt out of place or too try-hard.
“The blurring of boundaries between people and brands has seen the formality vanish from most channels.”
We’ve seen examples like this time and again. Take Yorkshire Tea’s ‘human’ response to those controversial Rishi Sunak tweets back in February 2020.
Speaking directly now, as the person who’s been answering these tweets, I know it could have been much worse. It’s easier to be on the receiving end of this as a brand than as an individual. There’s more emotional distance and I’ve had a team to support me when it got a bit much.
— Yorkshire Tea (@YorkshireTea) February 24, 2020
Despite this “blurring of lines”, many larger corporations aren’t following suit. In fact, Campaign revealed that many brands wouldn’t allow this ‘human’ Twitter reaction, despite it working for companies like KFC.
Keep it consistent – but not too personal
Ellen adds that, while she’s more light-hearted on Twitter, there’s definitely no corporate lingo on her LinkedIn. For Josh, it’s all about being consistent.
“I have a public Facebook page, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube. You get the same Josh across all platforms – not just in wording, but with colours, fonts and logos.” There’s a line, though – he adds that your personal brand is not an invitation into your private life.
“I wouldn’t accept a Facebook friend request from somebody I didn’t know. You have to keep your business and private life separate.” Nick adds that the extent of his Facebook use is to “wind up his son”. Classic Nick.
So, how do we build the perfect brand?
It was refreshing to get such an eclectic range of opinions. Clearly, there is some debate over the value of personal and company branding. This could come down to:
- Business size
- Personal/brand values
…to name but a few. That said, we can all agree on the fundamentals of building up a successful brand:
Leverage content to build up your company profile
You might not keep your brands separate, but content will always support your business. Diversify with blogs, podcasts, videos and more.
Be authentic in your values
Whether you’re an individual or a company, you should espouse your principles in everything you do. Transparency, quality, reliability – whatever it is that serves the customer.
Maintain your brand
“Maintain your castle. Refine it. Care for it and those that helped you build it. Make it known,” says Mat. Stay consistent with your content and maintain your tone of voice across your channels.
Grow with it
Brands develop and evolve all the time. Ellen says: “I think as my business grows, I’ll start to differentiate my branding, but my core values will remain the same.” Evolution may mean “looking bigger” for some, or it could simply mean adapting to changing customer views.
Remember – it’s all about people
“Your brand values are about more than just the CEO or marketing manager,” adds Mat. People are what makes a brand, so acknowledge a diverse range of opinions to build a strong foundation.
It’s safe to say we’ve all learnt a lot here. Expect to see the following lessons in action at Katie Lingo:
- Being more “personal” to engage with people – thank you Ellen!
- Not hiding behind a “filter” on social media – thank you Mat!
- Putting out consistent, valuable content – thank you Josh!
- Maintaining a strong personal reputation to support my brand – thank you Nick!
Learn more about natural and “adapted” styles – with thanks to Nick.
Discover the “two different types of people” – with thanks to Mat.