The Marketing Strategist:

ITSMA's Marketing Big Ideas 2011: The Rise of Personal Brands

March 10, 2011

Social media have increased buyers’ expectations for intimacy at all stages of the buying process. We marketers must start thinking of ourselves as paparazzi, complicit in making our subject matter experts’ personalities and accomplishments more visible online. Of course, this is not how it usually works. When we spend millions to build brands, why do we want to let individuals horn in on the action with their own brands? Won’t they just use our hard-won brand image to make themselves rich and famous and then just leave us? Yes, but you have no choice but to market individuals as well as brands. Statistics show that just 23% of the Fortune 1000 has corporate blogs—not exactly overwhelming. Corporate blogs are stalling because we put traditional brand walls around them and try to control the messages. The brand comes first, not the people. That’s not going to motivate employees to participate. Let Thought Leaders Rise Organically Companies need to become comfortable with subject matter experts building their own personal brand presence in social media—and marketers need to help them do it. Featuring big pictures and bios of your subject matter experts on your website is a good start, but it is the equivalent of paid search. It’s relevant but still a step removed from the truly personal connection. We need the equivalent of organic search, where our people rise to the top on their own, independent of their corporate affiliations. Then as marketers, we create an advantageous cycle that links these personal brands to the corporate brand. But this will mean letting these people roam free outside of the corporate firewall. All of the best blogs are personal. By picking some individual stars and helping them build their passionate followers, we present a more intimate face to all buyers—not just the ones who know us. The better known these stars become, the more people they can reach. But first we have to get past the fear of individuals taking our brands with them when they leave. What Makes a Thought Leader? If we’re going to make stars out of thought leaders, it helps to know how to pick them. Recently, we’ve been interviewing ITSMA members about their thought leadership programs as a follow-on to our thought leadership survey , asking about what makes a good thought leader. Based on these interviews and our experience working with thought leaders, we’ve identified three attributes that we think matter most (for the rest of the list, see my blog post “Eight Attributes of a Thought Leader” ):
  • Relevant experience. At a minimum, thought leaders must have experience that will sound relevant to your target audience. But they can’t merely seem like peers; they need to be perceived as experts. Usually, that means they have experience that is deeper than the target audience has or breadth of experience working across multiple companies or industries, or all of the above.
  • Synthesis. Thought leaders see the threads of insight lurking within a complex stream of information and use them to create a new idea or a new way of looking at an old problem.
  • Empathy. Good ideas alone aren’t enough; those ideas need to be informed by a wide-ranging exposure to other inputs and opinions. ITSMA research shows that buyers want ideas that are specific to their needs and their businesses. You can’t do that without walking the proverbial mile in their shoes.
What are you doing to make more personalized connections with customers and prospects? Please tell us .

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