What will happen to Virgin if CEO Richard Branson (pictured above) steps down is a question branding experts often ask themselves. And will Apple retain its cache if charismatic chief executive Steve Jobs walks off into the sunset listening to his iPod?
These questions have been raised because of personal branding. If done right, regardless of age, position and occupation, personal branding can set us apart in this world of 6.6 billion people.
In the words of branding guru Tom Peter: “We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.”
So what is personal branding? Speaking to Emirates Business, Toby Southgate, Managing Director, Brand Union, said: “People branding is the creation of a certain image or personality around an individual in the minds of the people and also the media if you are a celebrity.”
Olivier Auroy, Managing Director of Landor Associates, said: “Personal branding does not only apply to celebrities, it is as relevant to us. Branding is what people say about you when you have just left the room. It is all about your behaviour, what you wear, what you say, what image you offer to your environment. Branding is all about perception so personal branding is defining yourself instead of letting others define you.”
Good examples of successful personal branding are Prince Al Walid bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, Queen Rania of Jordan, Oprah Winfrey, Tiger Woods, David Bowie, Sean Connery, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Susan Sarandon, Jaques Cousteau, Michael Jordan and Yannick Noah.
Auroy said: “Some of these people are natural brands. They are consistent in everything they say and they do. They do not necessarily need a marketing team to codify their behaviour. A good example of this in the Middle East is Nancy Ajram.
“When you put your name next to Coca-Cola or Pepsi-Cola, it means your brand is becoming strong. Neither Coca-Cola nor Pepsi would accept a brand that does not reflect their values and their success.
“Also, take CEOs such as Jack Welch, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Michael Dell or Donald Trump. Jack Welch and GE were one. Richard Branson and Virgin are one. Sometimes the brand does not survive the CEO’s career ending. Or let’s say, it takes time to recover. That was the case for GE. Jack Welch managed to build his own brand through GE.
“Everybody wonders what will happen to Virgin if Richard Branson gives up. Virgin is such an expression of what Branson is about – audacity, boldness, freedom and fun.”
So how is people branding different from product branding? Toby Southgate of Brand Union said: “While products are mostly packaged goods that are sold or marketed for a specific use or purpose, people brands are individuals using their public or media persona to promote themselves or another product or service brand.”
Auroy said: “It’s different because the person you are trying to brand is a living thing. You cannot control it. This unpredictability makes it a risky business. So many product brands co-branded with famous people have had problems because the celebrity misbehaved or did not act according to the product brand values and image. For example, it became a problem for H&M when Kate Moss’s drug addiction was revealed. The best examples of failure are probably people like Michael Jackson, OJ Simpson and Britney Spears. They all show that person branding is fragile if the person is fragile.”
However, people branding is done in the same way as product or service branding is conducted. The branding company looks at the person, his life, behaviour, values, ambitions, appearance, the visual codes, the competition, how different the person can be from others, what will make them special. And then they define a territory, a positioning for the person.
“Apart from the fact that personal branding helps you to stand out from the crowd, it also has its monetary advantages for both the individual and the company.”
Southgate said: “Any person who through their association with a company or product is able to improve the perception of that company/product to deliver value, is a brand. Brands rely on awareness and this is true for people brands. So very simply, famous people who create interest and following in the public eye are people brands. Celebrities who are well known are typical examples of people brands. They are generating enormous amounts of money through endorsements and associations with companies. Companies would not pay these fees if they were not generating incremental sales for their business. What would Nike Golf be without Tiger Woods? What would Gillette be without Beckham?”
However, personal branding is different worldwide due to cultural differences. Auroy said: “What makes the difference is the intensity and the density of the media exposure. That is why the United States is the country for person branding. From newspapers to TV, the media exposure is massive.
“Some other European countries are following the same track: United Kingdom, Italy and France, where President Nicolas Sarkozy is adding a new dimension to personal branding. Some journalists even say that Sarkozy does not need the media – he is the media. It’s different in the Middle East. You are not encouraged to put your picture all over the place. There are limits and restrictions and it can limit the impact of person branding. However, things seem to be changing now. For a long time, the most famous person brands in the Middle East came from the political world. Now it is changing, and you can see strong people brands in the corporate world emerging like the leaders of Emaar, Dubai World, Orascom, Global Investment House and Olayan Financing.”
But the Middle East does not want to restrict itself and is trying to make its presence felt in the rest of the world. So what should firms in the Middle East keep in mind if they want to market a person internationally?
Southgate had this piece of advice: “The challenge is to generate appeal across global audiences without compromising your own values, that is to say be true to yourself, and do not try to be everything to everyone.”
Specialisation: Focus on your core strength
Leadership: It stems from excellence, position or recognition
Personality: You have got to be good but you do not have to be perfect
Distinctiveness: You need to be different
Visibility: You must be seen over and over
Unity: Private conduct must mirror the public image
Persistence: Be unwavering and patient
Goodwill: The person must be associated with a value or an idea that is recognised universally
Nothing sells like a good brand name