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BW Businessworld

Finding The Fine Balance In Personal Branding

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Richard Elliot and Larry Percy in their book, Strategic Brand Management, observe: “Building a corporate brand demands that major attention be paid to employees, bringing them along with the brand strategy so they understand it, believe in it and also practice it in their behaviour towards customers and other stakeholders”.
How does this mesh with the trend towards corporate executives being advised to project their own ‘personal brand’? With modern social media tools, every executive in every organisation has media vehicles available for building their personal brand. And we are being advised by the experts that each of us should understand that we are, each of us, a brand and we need to see how to build this brand.
In the book, Living The Brand, Nicholas Ind observes that every member of an organisation needs to be a brand champion and the organisation needs to empower employees to become vocal advocates of the corporate brand. 
So if we are to build our personal brand, and become a mouthpiece of the organisation, where should we draw the line? How do we find the fine balance, if we can call it that?
Masters of the trade, like Lee Iacocca (when he was CEO of Chrysler), Anita Roddick (Body Shop) and Steve Jobs (Apple), managed to fuse their personality with that of their company. In India, we have seen Anand Mahindra (of Mahindra & Mahindra) and N.R. Narayana Murthy (Infosys) do that very well. In the political arena, Mahatma Gandhi understood the power of personal brand more than anyone else. We are now seeing our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, proving to be a fine personal brand builder. But you may say that they were founders/CEOs of companies or senior leaders of political movements, and they did not have to find the balance. They set the agenda. 
I think that is a rather simplistic explanation to the challenge of finding the balance. Yes, you need to find your voice, but you also need to find where the corporate brand stands. A consultant in a large strategy consulting company may want to project himself, through social media, as a comic genius. While doing so should he make fun of consultants? Or, say, a brand manager at an FMCG company who wants to build his personal brand as a great movie critic. Should he criticise the ads made by his company and its competitors? 
I think every organisation today is aware that it needs diversity and interesting people (we in advertising start with an advantage, the industry attracts interesting people) to make the workplace vibrant and exciting. So, I am sure the strategy consulting company loves to have a comic genius working with them. Likewise, the FMCG major may want its resident movie critic to host weekly film club screenings. But these very same companies will not take it lightly if the said executive did something that could hurt the company’s brand.
So if you are setting out to build your own personal brand, it may be worthwhile to understand what will be encouraged by the company and what will be frowned upon. Many global companies have had to come out with social media policies to ensure their employees understand the pros and cons of personal brand-building. 
I believe helping employees build their own personal brand, as long as it is acceptable behaviour in society, can have positive rub-offs on a corporate brand.  But there is a fine balance that needs to be maintained!  
The author is an advisor at FCB Ulka Advertising
(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 01-12-2014)