The Ultimate Guide to Executive Branding
Discover everything you need to know to launch your personal brand and how other executives and entrepreneurs have done it.
By Andy Seth
Expert entrepreneurs and executives need to have a different approach to executive branding than those earlier in their careers.
When your experience hasn’t yet translated to wisdom, thought leadership is not a good personal branding strategy. Instead, sharing your journey and being open to receiving advice and help is likely a better approach.
However, if you’re an expert in your field, chances are that you’ve got a lot more experience and skills to call upon than more junior-level competitors, but there’s a chance that they’re better at marketing than you.
They’re all sizzle, and you’re the steak.
I’ve written this article to guide seasoned experts so because most of the advice out there is generic and doesn’t come from experience.
I built my personal brand over 15 years ago to help me grow my businesses and while my messages have evolved, I walk the walk and talk the talk.
The History and Purpose Behind Personal Brands
The author Tom Peters first introduced “personal branding” in 1997 with his article “The Brand Called You”, published in Fast Company. He introduced the idea that you’re not confined to your job description and you’re not confined to the job. You, yourself, are a brand.
Over the years, this concept has evolved. No longer is personal branding simply acknowledging that you are a brand – but learning how you can develop that brand to relate with others.
In behavioral economist Danial Kahneman’s book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, he suggests that personal brands ask themselves:
How do I make people feel?
This question is the basis of modern personal or executive branding.
- How do you want people to perceive the value you offer?
- How can you help them?
- How can you use your knowledge, personality, and characteristics to benefit others?
Having a personal brand isn’t about drawing attention to yourself. It’s outward-focused, utilizing your inherent brand to help others along their path, while simultaneously opening yourself up to new, continuous opportunities.
Does This Mean I Have to be an Influencer?
Absolutely not. Executive branding and influencer marketing are quite different. Influencers are social media brand ambassadors — they have a large following and monetize that attention through endorsements and product placements.
With executive branding, your goal is to help others. The natural byproduct is that people will buy your ideas, products, and services. You’ve already benefited from success in your career. The next step is to share the experiences you’ve had and the knowledge that you’ve learned with others who could benefit from it.
Remember: In this part of your story, you are the teacher, not the hero. Recognizing this quells the pressure you may feel about putting yourself “center stage”. You’re not there to show off… you’re there to help your audience.
Executive branding is not about “fame”. It is not influencer marketing. It’s about creating relationships and helping others, and it’s all based on trust.
Executive Branding Requires A Strong Inner-Self
It’s nerve-wracking to put yourself in the public sphere. It can feel like you’ve entered back onto the middle school playground as the new kid in class, ready to be judged… and possibly rejected.
But does this matter?
Ultimately, if it matters depends on you. When you share your story and experiences, some people will appreciate what you’re saying, but others won’t. Those who do may express their gratitude to you, those who don’t may express their dislike. And those who are indifferent will remain completely silent.
How you process people’s reactions is your choice.
Finding balance between reaching your audience and not letting other people’s perceptions affect your wellbeing isn’t an easy sport. Strong personal brands aren’t focused on whether people love them (or hate them), they’re focused on the impact of what they’re doing.
Once you realize that your personal brand is something strategic in your life, it’s easier not to allow people’s words and actions to disturb you. You don’t need to care what people think, but you should be mindful of how you’re helping them and how you’re processing people’s feedback.
In summary: Should you care? No. Should you be mindful? Yes.
How Does Executive Marketing Help Me?
Besides the new opportunities that you might find as an executive, creating your personal brand can be incredibly helpful if you want to get promoted, join a new company, or increase your compensation package.
When you’re being considered for a new role, the company will take a look at your digital footprint, knowing that the public will focus on it if you’re promoted (or hired).
If you don’t have a branded presence — or if your presence isn’t curated — it’s a PR risk for the company. On the other hand, if your presence is authentic and in line with your career goals, it will most likely be in line with the company’s image, too.
Having a personal brand can also help you achieve longer-term career goals, such as earning stock options, grants, or Restricted Stock Units (RSUs) within your company.
Executive marketing is an investment that gives you a leg up on the competition and paves the way for more opportunities in your career journey.
I’m a Business-Owner. Should I Create a Personal Brand?
Long story short: Yes.
Developing your personal brand can help attract leads and opportunities for you, and for your business.
When you put yourself in the public space and begin building relationships, you’ll find new opportunities that you hadn’t necessarily predicted: channel partnerships, referral agreements, centers of influence, affiliate agreements, mergers, acquisitions, and even investments.
Picture an investor who is deciding between two companies. One CEO has a presence, a personal brand. The other CEO doesn’t. If all things between the two companies are equal or generally similar, whoever has more public notoriety in their space will be the differentiating factor for an investor.
When you share yourself authentically (in a way that creates a good impression), people feel that you’re trustworthy. Ultimately, that’s what an entrepreneur is in the business of: Creating relationships based on trust to advance company goals.
Your personal brand will give you a new avenue for building these trust-based relationships.
It’s Not Who You Know, But Who Knows You
Just like everyone has a personal brand, everyone has a network. You might have an open network, where multiple people in your network know each other, or you may have a closed network, where there are groups of people in your network that come from different walks of your life. In closed networks, people may know each other within each group (like your college classmates, for example), but they don’t know people from the other groups in your closed network.
In your open network, it’s likely everyone has similar viewpoints because they’re from the same background, same workplace, or the same industry. With a closed network, on the other hand, you can draw advice from a greater breadth of diversity and experience.
Long story short: Closed networks are of greater value to you.
Having a personal brand will help you create new, meaningful relationships without filling your schedule with an insane amount of face-to-face coffee and lunch meetings. When you strategically share your wisdom, you allow people to get to know you as a person, which in turn inspires trust and cultivates new opportunities.
Creating and expanding this closed network is one of the largest strategic advantages of having a personal brand. When you place your personal brand in the public sphere, the number of people who can get to know you is infinite. As you provide value to your followers, you’ll begin creating relationships with them — relationships you couldn’t have found and developed otherwise.
Personal Brands Compliment Corporate Brands
As an executive, it’s important that the values you display align with the company you’re a part of or are trying to join. That way, when the company researches who you are, they’ll find that you’re a great fit for their team. Be a good student of what the company values, then authentically integrate it into your brand.
This process can be slightly reversed for an entrepreneur because you already own the company. As Flow’s CEO, I have experienced this myself.
The personal brand I built wasn’t about marketing. It was about staying mindful — using flow state as a competitive advantage, focusing on helping others, and different forms of self-development.
These values flowed into Flow.
I had to make sure my messages were on-brand with Flow’s messages, but this didn’t mean that I became Flow. Instead, I used my personal brand (sharing my values, personality, and beliefs) to give the public a subtle behind-the-curtains look at why my company operates the way it does.
By sharing my personal brand with the public, I was able to display the company’s core values — and connect with potential clients on a personal level.
Examples of Entrepreneurs and Executive Branding
Three Household Name Personal Brands
1. Ray Dalio
Ray Dalio is the billionaire hedge fund manager who founded Bridgewater Associates. Bridgewater is the largest hedge fund in the world so what’s a guy like Dalio doing with content marketing? The answer: legacy.
Ray has plenty of money, but he’s interested in the impact he’s making on the world and the legacy he leaves behind. He started off publishing a YouTube video in 2013 that’s amassed 18.5MM views, and since 2017, he’s published one book a year with a fourth on the way for 2020.
2. Bozoma Saint John
With a background as Apple & iTunes’ Head of Global Consumer Marketing, Endeavor’s Chief Marketing Officer, and now Netflix’s Chief Marketing Officer, Bozoma Saint John has made waves in the marketing field.
She’s also established herself as a thought leader who helps others realize the attainability of success—and teaches them how to get there. She’s become a go-to for anyone who’s learning how to “be a badass” in the professional world. It’s part of her brand. Full of passion, spunk, and honesty, Bozoma has established herself as “@badassboz” on Instagram and Twitter, and has even become the curator of her very own “The Badass Workshop”.
3. Richard Branson
His blog is also one of Virgin.com’s main menu items, and if you head to their “About Us” page, you’ll notice that he’s the primary focus of their company story. Virgin is known to be whimsical and fun, while staying cool and providing high-quality service. It’s a description that’s synchronous with the Virgin brand…and ultimately, synchronous with Richard Branson himself.
Three Personal Brands You’ve Likely Not Heard of Who Own Their Niche
1. Ryan Harris
Ryan Harris spent 10 years in the NFL, and when he walked away from the field, he had gained great knowledge about how successful teams operate. He wanted to share his insights with leaders who potentially lacked a critical understanding of team dynamics.
Ryan Harris used his professional experience to teach valuable lessons to others, beginning with a blog that helped business leaders build their championship teams. From there, he secured a publishing deal for his forthcoming book, created a newsletter with a dedicated audience, and now speaks about leadership, mindset, and financial literacy at Google and other organizations around the nation.
2. Dr. Sheryl Ziegler
Dr. Sheryl Ziegler has extensive experience in helping children and families navigate anxiety, depression, divorce and parenting. She used her digital platforms (social media and content on her website) to grow her reputation as a thought leader and trustworthy source for parenting information before her new book, Mommy Burnout, was published in 2018.
Not only was she able to prepare a receptive audience for the launch of her book, but now she’s able to share information about her website and social media accounts during her media appearances, which in turn helps more people learn from her valuable knowledge.
3. Chris Schwalbach
As founder and CEO of AVL Growth Partners (a Denver-based fractional CEO firm), Chris Schwalbach knew he needed to market his brand—and himself. He had organized his firm using the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS), and determined that he could provide a unique perspective by applying a financial lens to EOS.
With personal branding, he was able to increase awareness about AVL and frame the organization as an authority in the EOS community. Yes, the organization itself was developing content, but what really backed its credibility was CEO Ryan Schwalbach’s body of work that showed he was passionate, dedicated, and well-versed in this concept.
Four Steps Entrepreneurs and Executives Can Use to Develop Their Personal Brand
As an entrepreneur or executive, you’ve already done the heavy lifting. You’ve established yourself. There are multiple people who know your name. You have a network. So you’ve basically already done this… right?
You’re one-of-a-kind, but have you built your brand into what you want it to become? How do you evaluate it? Do you have ways that you measure its efficacy, both for yourself and your organization (or the organization you’re wanting to join)?
Read on to learn how you can use your past experience and current expertise to develop an impactful personal brand from the ground up.
Step One: Make Yourself Known with Content Marketing
Content Marketing — specifically, thought leadership — is the foundation of your personal brand. When we say content marketing, we don’t mean sharing photos from your most recent vacation or the meal you just ate. (Although, we’re sure both were great).
We’re talking about thought leadership: sharing your wisdom, experiences, and personal stories in a way that teaches people something valuable.
What do I know and how can I share it in a unique way that resonates with others?
We’ve seen B2B personal brands thrive on LinkedIn more than Instagram and Facebook, but this really depends on where your audience resonates most with what you have to share. Sharing content will help more and more people get to know you, and will help you get to know more and more people.
At the end of the day, thought-leadership content marketing could look like social media posts, blogs on your website, videos on Youtube; whichever is the right way for you to share your knowledge and begin building relationships with your audience. For fans of working smarter, not harder, you’ll want to utilize blog posts… because then, you can turn it into a book.
Step Two: Write a Nonfiction Book (Using Your Blog)
As you’re making yourself known, you’ll notice that your audience resonates with certain topics. You can take these top-performing topics and turn them into a book.
If I have so much knowledge to share, why can’t I write a book first?
We know, we know. You’re an expert, and the masses are hungry to learn. But without a foundational audience, it can be incredibly hard to publish a book that will be successful. With the content marketing wheels turning (and your dedicated audience waiting in the wings), you’ll be able to hit the ground running when the book hits the stands. Better yet, your audience will help you spread the news and amp up sales.
When you’ve learned what your audience likes and have an idea for a book, there are two ways you can go about writing it.
- Sit down. Write the book. Publish the book. Promote the book.
- Sit down. Write the book outline. Turn the outline into individual blogs. Market the book while you’re writing the blogs. Stitch the blogs together into a book. Publish the book. Celebrate.
If you can’t tell, we prefer the second option (and think you will, too).
As you’re developing your personal brand with content marketing, you can take the book outline you’ve created and segment it into different blogs that showcase your thought leadership. At the end of three to six months, you put all the blogs together, edit them accordingly, and voilà — you have a final manuscript ready to be published. And an audience that’s waiting to read it!
Related: Flow’s Book to Blog Services
Step Three: Make Media Appearances
After your book is published, you’ll want to begin scheduling TV interviews, radio talk shows, podcast guest appearances, Instagram takeovers — basically, any form of media that you’d like to use to share the news about your new book.
Whoever sees you (or listens to you) should be able to find you online and become part of your audience. This only works if you’ve already established your foundation (step one).
You don’t only want to use your media appearances to promote your book, but also use them as a way to promote your platform. Although it’s great to be seen and heard during one-off segments, the real goal in this step is to further develop your personal brand.
During every media appearance, don’t forget to mention where watchers and listeners can find you online.
Step Four: Speak Publicly
When you’ve developed your authority as a personal brand and have content, a book, and media appearances under your belt, you’re ready to begin public speaking.
There are a lot of people (a lot of people) who are willing to speak in front of a crowd for free, because it’s an opportunity to create new business connections or sell a product. You, unlike those people, will have already created those connections and sold that product. You don’t need to speak for free.
But here’s the deal — Most often, when entrepreneurs and executives speak, they get paid somewhere between $5k to $15k. The people who speak for free? They’re pushing these entrepreneurs and executives out of the speaking sphere.
That’s where you come in. You’ll be unique because you have an extensive audience. You have a platform. You have media coverage. You’re well-known and making an impact. And that solid, strategically-built foundation will help you land speaking gigs that put you in front of your target audience and that pay $15,000 and above.
Next Steps: Measure the Effectiveness of Executive Branding
There are a number of ways to measure the effectiveness of your personal brand and they include:
- Articles: views, time on page, bounce rate
- LinkedIn Posts: post and article views, likes, comments, shares
- Website Traffic: number of sessions, average time on page, bounce rate, traffic by channel, goal completions
- Backlinks: number of backlinks, referring domains, trust flow
- Organic Search Queries: clicks by article, impressions, average Google rank, click through rates
- Social Media: likes, comments, shares, follower growth
- Email List: open rates, click through rates, list growth
All of those metrics will tell you how well your content is performing in order to build an audience. Now let’s get to brass tax and determine what to measure that translates to opportunities:
- Number of Leads: this could be for customers or job opportunities
- Sales Rates: close rates will increase, sales cycles will decrease
- Revenue Generated: average client size will increase, cross-sell and upsell opportunities increase
- Compensation Packages: increase in total comp offered including bonuses, stock options, and RSUs
The one metric not on here but that our clients also value, is the impact they are making. How does one measure this? Simply by the number of people who reach out proactively to send fan mail, ask for advice, and build a relationship with you.
Don’t Forget: Executive Branding is a Personal Journey
As an executive or entrepreneur, creating your personal brand is not about developing who you are as a person — you already know that. Creating this brand is a time to refine who you are, something that will happen as soon as you begin sharing who you are.
This is a part of your ongoing personal journey, a part that requires strategy and time. We have several tips for creating your brand on a quick timeline and if you’d like help, we’re happy to schedule a call and see if there’s a good mutual fit.