Your personal brand is not so different from your business brand — it’s an image you present to the world. For better or for worse, people will start to personify a brand that they interact with, and your face as a representative of the company will start to matter.
Think about Elon Musk of Tesla, Gwyneth Paltrow of Goop. They both have a very distinctive, public personal brand that resonates with the people who patronize their company. They embody their brands even when they’re not acting in a business capacity.
Be True To Yourself
People don’t want to buy their cycling equipment from a company run by someone who doesn’t cycle. That goes for the values and principles of your company, too — if they associate you with your company, your values and principles need to align.
Don’t overthink it — this should be easy! Think about why you got into the business in the first place. What is your company’s purpose? What are you trying to accomplish? Your brand should reflect what’s true and authentic about you as a person, and people will notice that.
Take Patagonia, for example. Patagonia stands for a love of the outdoors, environmental advocacy, and responsible production. Yvon Chouinard, the company’s founder, has been embodying those principles for decades.
As early as 1970, he was inventing new forms of climbing gear that didn’t damage the rock as much as traditional pitons. In 1984, Patagonia opened a cafeteria serving “healthy, mostly vegetarian food,” and in 1986, Chouinard committed one percent of sales or ten percent of profits, whichever was greater, to environmental activism causes.
By founding a company that aligned with his personal values, Chouinard was able to make his brand and the brand of the company he founded align.
Your Social Media Presence Isn’t Just Personal Anymore
When you become noticeable enough that your personal brand is associated with your company’s brand, you’ll have to keep an eye on your personal social media accounts.
What that means is that your social media profiles will need to reflect your branding, both personal and professional. Are your profiles consistent? Are they well-kept and professional? If you brand your company as thorough and fastidious, misspellings and sloppiness on your personal accounts will reflect back on the brand in a negative way.
You’re Only Good As The Company You Keep
The more you associate with other brands who share the same values as yours, the better. Whether it’s partnership events, donations to charity, or publicly using other brands that match your values, the way you conduct yourself in public will circle back to what people think of your company.
When you become the face of a company, stories about you become stories about your company, and can be similarly helpful or harmful. Your reputation and your company’s reputation become intertwined — after all, customers and investors want to trust that you can make good on your business promises and goals, and they won’t trust you if you go too far off script.
Take Elon Musk, for example. Recently, he appeared on Joe Rogan’s podcast. Rogan is known for conducting very long, loosely-structured interviews, wherein guests can talk about whatever they want. They’re also live, with little to no editing involved.
During that interview, Musk smoked what appeared to be marijuana. Smoking marijuana is of course legal in California, but it’s illegal on a federal level and still seen by many to be a moral failing. Tesla’s stock dropped upon release of the footage, and the problems haven’t ended there.
"Mr. Musk's behavior is well documented (taunting short sellers, NY Times interview, cave diver accusation, earnings call outburst, Joe Rogan podcast) and likely contributed to the onslaught of executive departures in recent months," he said.
"Notwithstanding improving fundamentals, we believe that Tesla is in need of better leadership (an about face) and are moving to the sidelines until we see what happens with management."
No Going Back
Building and projecting a personal brand can be a great boon to your company. It humanizes you, gives your company a face for people to identify with, and allows them to relate to your goals and vision more readily than if you were some bland, faceless company.
But it also carries risk. If you decide to cultivate a personal brand — or even if you don’t, and your personal brand becomes well-known enough whether you cultivate it or not — your reputation and behavior are tied to your company for as long as you’re involved there.
Of course, lots of companies have strong corporate brands without strong personal brands behind them — most of us have no idea what the CEO of Target or Coca-Cola are like as people, and that’s by design — but if you want to tie your personal brand to that of your company, you’ll have to decide if it’s worth the risk.