Have you ever stopped and thought about how self-promotion has evolved over the years? Back when I joined the workforce decades ago, you promoted yourself via a fully-stocked resume. A college degree. An internship with a reputable company.
These days, it’s just as common to see someone brand themselves as an entrepreneur and launch a startup based on their TikTok presence and facility with YouTube tutorials. Not that there’s anything wrong with that — we should all be in favor of the entrepreneurial spirit, regardless of how it manifests itself. And we’ve all been taught that we should mold our brands around ourselves, that we should love what we do, that our companies deserve our passion.
And that’s right — at least, to a certain degree. Once you get past that point, though, there can be a downside to molding a brand in the entrepreneur’s exact image behind it. There’s a dangerous trap in this that could hinder the growth and development of your brand.
Personal branding vs. company branding
First off, when I talk about personal branding, it isn’t that I’m against it. As an entrepreneur and CEO of a logo design company, I have first-hand experience of the importance of personal branding. If you are your company — if you’re an entertainer, an artist, if you do something inherently dependent on your personality — then it’s necessary.
Sometimes it seems like individuals can take it a little far, monetizing every little aspect of their lives, but that’s a personal decision. The road diverges, though, when company branding comes into play. Personal branding is about the individual; company branding is about the larger brand as a whole.
Company branding requires cohesiveness from everyone involved in the brand. Personal branding really only requires that the individual behind it follows through.
The two may seem easy enough to keep separate, but when a brand has a big, bold personality behind it, things can start to get complicated.
Take Tesla as an example. Generally, the perception in recent years has been that Tesla owners and fans are also big fans of the company’s CEO, a name you may have heard of — Elon Musk. Musk is inextricably entwined with his brands, and his name is one that most will think of when asked to provide an example of a successful entrepreneur. He’s built brands on his ideals, ideas, values, and spirit of exploration and innovation — and he’s made some controversial decisions, to say the least.
However, an interesting survey by Escalent notes that the CEO is actually one of the biggest factors against purchasing a Tesla for most potential consumers. Think about it. If there’s someone who understands personal branding, it’s Musk. And he’s very upfront about his personality, likes and dislikes, etc., all especially obvious if you follow him on Twitter. But his out-loud opinions and failure to use an inside voice, metaphorically speaking, have caused his personality to bleed into his brands’ perception.
That’s one of the clearest examples I can think of where a brand is just too closely linked to the entrepreneur behind it.
Related: The Basics of Branding
When an entrepreneur’s personality overshadows the brand identity
It isn’t always this clear-cut, of course. Some entrepreneurs have larger-than-life personalities; it isn’t their fault, necessarily, but there is something that can be done about it.
What it boils down to is the awareness of prioritizing brand over the individual. For an entrepreneur, pouring our hearts into our startup and trying to get everything just so that can be difficult to remember.
That’s part of why it’s so important to keep going back to your original goal with your startup. If you set out with the goal of company branding rather than personal branding, analyze your marketing, social media use, and other interactions and see whether you’re sticking by that.
Not every entrepreneur has an out-loud personality, of course. But there can be detractions in other ways, too. Too closely identifying your brand with your own personality runs the risk that if someone doesn’t like you as the entrepreneur, they’ll avoid your company, too. Whether you’re loud or quiet, your reputation becomes the reputation of the brand.
Note that this is going to happen to some degree, regardless of what measures you take. But it’s better, in the long run, to focus on building the brand personality; it will mitigate the impact that your own personality has, to a certain extent, and allows you as the entrepreneur to cultivate a brand that reflects your values and passions — not your opinions.
Balancing the cult of personality with brand growth
If you’re one of those entrepreneurs with a charismatic personality, able to talk your way out or into anything, with a winning smile and a whimsical charm — well, congratulations. Not everybody is born that way.
Charisma is a bonus for an entrepreneur, but it isn’t a requirement of entry to the world of startups and product launches.
It’s perfectly fine to leverage personal charm on behalf of your brand. As any entrepreneur knows, we need to use all the tools we have at our disposal to make a success of our business.
But it’s smart to be cautious about how much emphasis you put on yourself as a person at the brand’s expense. A big, bold personality doesn’t have to be negative — it just has to be appropriately channeled.
As the entrepreneur behind your startup, you may consider yourself the face of the brand, but don’t forget that the brand personality has to shine through. That’s the best way to avoid wearing your brand’s reputation on your sleeve, and one of the best things you can do to help your brand has a life of its own — even beyond yours.