Content marketing: Telling Meaningful Stories

Should we be afraid of people building their own personal brands?

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No. For the most part – especially in marketing-related businesses.

Let’s dive into the topic of brand building…

One of the most asked questions I get is if I run my own agency, am a freelancer or independent.

I get it. I’m loud. I blog. I speak. I tweet. I likely will come on your podcast if you ask me nicely. Ask me a question and I’ll give you my – often educated – opinion.

Those are things solopreneurs do. Or at least what some of us expect only them to do. But for me, I’ve never been on my own. Nor do I have immediate plans to do that.

I just joined Stamats Business Media as their director of content. Couldn’t I make a go of it alone? Maybe. But even going at it alone still requires help from others. Plus, teamwork makes the dream work.

Anyway, that’s not the topic here today. Some companies – not the ones I’ve worked for obviously – seem afraid of personal brands. I find that interesting and even puzzling. Having strong personal brands in-house can help the business and the person.

Sometimes, it comes down to perceived control. Who owns the brands? And some employers want to own brands. Or at least they want to feel like they are in control. But who actually owns brands?

brand interactionThe real answer, of course, is: Our audiences. Some might call them communities. You know what I mean: The people that listen to us and that we interact with. They own our brands. Whatever they say our brand is is indeed our brand – no matter how much we might disagree.

For example, I like to say my brand is storytelling and some might even agree. But the most read articles on here are all about social media. That’s kind of storytelling, but not quite.

So the real answer is that our audiences own our brands. And then there’s the question of who owns the accounts associated with our brands.

And there are certain levels of brands.

The business brand

This one is easy. It’s the business brand and related accounts. Company A is owned by its owners, shareholders, etc., and the accounts are clearly identifiable and have the business name in them. The business (let’s hope) has a strategy and a person or team update this account in line with that strategy.

The leaders brands

This is the first of two kinds of accounts that involve people as the public face. You may notice that I don’t call them personal accounts. Having true personal accounts will become harder and harder as work and lives integrate more and more and become more open online. Especially for leaders in an organization, it’ll be hard to see a difference between their “personal” and “professional” identities. If those two identities don’t align, it’s hard for employees and external audiences to align them with each other. One’s trustworthiness could suffer.

The people (employees) brands

I call these people vs. employees brands because for many people nowadays it’s less and less likely to work for the same company for an entire career. The people brands are company independent, but when all three brands truly align internally and externally that’s when companies, their leaders and employees can all help each other by:

  • Strengthening each other’s brands
  • Acquiring more customers
  • Learning from each other
  • Being a participant in our communities

Smart people build their own brands and then integrate them with the companies they lead or work for. Smart companies and leaders encourage it and even help the three circles work together authentically and transparently with simple rules outlined.

Where there might be a rub

In the past, I’ve heard about journalists and other communications professionals who have established their brand on social media and then the organizations they work for claim they own those people’s social media brand. Usually, they just call that “the accounts.” Probably because it’s hard to argue for owning somebody else’s brand.

Typically, this is only a topic of discussion, of course, when an employee with a strong brand is planning on leaving a company that was reaping some benefit of the strong personal brand.

On one side, there might be some truth to that, that an organization helped an individual built their brand. But the organization’s brand also benefited from the person’s brand. And what would an organization do with a person’s accounts when that person leaves anyway? It’s not like they can have somebody else take over.

“Hi, I’m your new @ctrappe.” Right, that doesn’t make any sense at all.

When these discussions happen they are really a holdover from a time when (some) business owners thought they could control everything. In a world of abundance, there’s no reason we can’t all have our own pieces, which can operate on their own at times and at other times come together and support each other.

It’s a world of abundance. When we all encourage individuality, community and authentic storytelling, we can fill our lives with meaningful experiences.

Can personal branding techniques be used in the corporate world?

I hear this quite often still – usually from VP or C-level leaders:

Yes, yes, so and so is really good at branding themselves on social media. They even say interesting, useful and educational things. I follow them. But, but, but, I doubt that they can do that for an organization.

Of course, I ask why they think that, which usually prompts a variation of this:

Personal branding and authentic storytelling is different from doing it in an organization. It’s easier than organizational storytelling. In personal storytelling, there’s just one person you have to work with and that’s yourself. So that should be fairly easy to get approval from that person. In organizations, like ours, there are many more people and approvals required. So they can’t do that. We have processes.

That is indeed a problem and a dilemma. But, people who have run successful personal (themselves or others) branding and storytelling campaigns can totally do the same for organizations. The basics do not change. At all. It’s still about sharing relevant information that your interested communities (aka target audiences) will find interesting.

It won’t work if you bring in the branding expert and set them up to have to fight through approval hell, play only politics and are left with no time to actually story shop and then share those great stories for your organization.

So, here’s my recommendation:

  • Find the best storytellers and branding folks out there
  • Hire them into a role with some say (so this isn’t entry-level)
  • Allow them to find, produce and then actually tell those stories
  • They may need a team
  • Let them be successful

It’s possible. It’s not necessarily easy. Nothing worth doing really ever is. But, it pays off long-term – on the bottom line, in meaningful experiences and customer and even employee advocacy and retention.

Get the best talent, get out of their way and let it be a wild success.

 How to protect brands

Once you have the brand you want, life’s humming along at a good pace and  you are making meaningful connections, it can be easy to think that we now need to protect the brand. And that’s true, but how do you protect a brand in an ever-evolving and fluid digital world?

People can blog about other people. They can even rate them. I can’t wait for people to start proclaiming that they are a five-star person. Ha. Don’t be friends with him. He’s one-star. Yikes.

I’ve had people disagree with me – online and offline. Some exchanges throughout my life were positive and some weren’t. One guy from middle school Facebooked me once to let me know I wasn’t nice to him back then. Sorry. We learn as we grow (and go).

But how do I protect my brand – let’s call it the brand of The Authentic Storyteller? Here are some of my guiding principles:

  • All decisions are made in line with my values – honesty, authenticity, openess, curiosity, learning, empathy, etc.
  • I try to understand other people’s situations and viewpoints – even when I can’t or won’t budge on my opinion.
  • I communicate quickly. Yes, sometimes that leads to saying something not vetted or thought-through for 19 days. It does allow me to be authentic. I do reserve the right to change my opinion.

Recommended reading for you: 

We build relationships over agreement 

What to do when not everyone loves us 

TV interview: What’s authentic storytelling

Protecting our brand in this still new digital world – which connects more and more with our offline selves – isn’t actually about building up that wall to keep out intruders. It’s about:

  • Understanding what we stand for.
  • How we participate publicly.
  • How we explain ourselves.
  • Knowing when to bow out of a discussion.
  • Living by our values – relentlessly.
  • Being willing to change our opinion.

I’m protective of my brand, too. Sure. If somebody misquotes me, that can hurt my brand. I can choose to respond quickly on here or on another channel. But aside from protecting, I’m much more interested in being secure in what my brand stands for and participating in a meaningful way. When that happens maybe our advocates even protect our brands on our behalf.


Knowing what others are saying about your brand 

One thing to remember is that it’s good to keep an eye out for what people are saying about us. Some tips on how to do that:

  • See who is linking to your site
  • Set up Google Alerts for brand mentions
  • Check mentions on social accounts

The options and tools are endless when it comes to monitoring, but these three easy items are a quick way to stay in the know.

With that, best of luck building your brand, evolving it and aligning it with the right people.

Pieces of this article were written and published in 2015 and 2016 and repurposed and repackaged here.

Edited by Lindsay Schwab. Connect with her here.

Disclaimers: The information provided in articles is for informational purposes only and not personalized advice. It's accurate to the best of my knowledge at the time it's published. Enjoy and best of luck telling the best stories in your organization and life!

Christoph Trappe

Hello and thanks for stopping by. I’m Christoph Trappe.

I’ve written two books, speak at conferences around the globe and blog frequently on here. I love sharing my stories and helping organizations share theirs.

If you need help, just visit the Contact Me page in the navigation and drop me a note. I’m always happy to chat!

Thanks for reading!

– Christoph

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