Companies Still Struggle to Embrace Personal Brands


The perception gap: It's been a dozen years since the publication of The Cluetrain Manifesto. Millions of printed and digital words later, companies are still struggling to reconcile how to deal with the personal brands of the popular individuals who write or produce for them

Organizations do hire individual stars on the strength of their knowledge, experience, and connections. All appealing qualities. However, they often find it challenging to leverage them on behalf of their brand(s) and business.

The two critical points at issue are:

(1.) A corporation usually has a broader line of products and services it seeks to trade — individual talent being just one asset.

Based upon its level of investment, the organization wants to realize a return across as many lines of business as possible.

Take for example one of the Web’s first independent blog superstars, Andrew Sullivan. He was hired from Time magazine to the Atlantic to Newsweek/Daily Beast, before finding his way back to running his own site without a corporate owner#.

The media world has produced some examples of personal brands and media properties working well — think Oprah with O and Martha Stewart with Living. In both cases, the celebrity and media brand are closely related though.

Nate Silver's move from the New York Times, as the Strategy+Business article indicates, may provide an example of a better transition from personal brand to part of a team.

In fact, ESPN and Silver will relaunch Silver’s website under the ESPN umbrella and the plan is for Silver to build a team of journalists, editors, analysts and contributors and build a center of interest, acting as editor- or brand-in-chief.

Another media example of where this concept works is Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher’s All Things Digital, which has grown into a distinct franchise within the Wall Street Journal brand.

One could argue that media anchors and TV stations have created similar successful models in several markets over the years.

Can this model exist beyond the media and entertainment industry? As social matures as a way to integrate experiences on company online properties as well as extend the voice of the customer both ways as users of the company's products and services and advocates in social networks and offline, will organizations find a way to also embrace star or known associates among their ranks?

(2.) The official hierarchy of a corporation, public or private, remains the visible and named part of the organization — even as many industries are now flattening organization structures.

Companies do want to capitalize on the relationships and recognition of individual contributors, especially to get the word out on products, services, and customer success stories in social networks. However, they often seek to direct and manage closely speaking opportunities, event participation, publishing, etc.

The comfort level with individual activities conducted on behalf of the corporate brand depends very much on organizational structure, culture, as well as internal practices.

The power of yes is the road to connection. Many organizations however are still grappling with walled gardens and departments of "no". As industry and market contexts change, organizations suffer
from misalignment and fragmentation that impacts their ability to make
decisions grounded on present-moment reality.

This presents a conundrum for many a business. B2B or B2C both end up being P2P or human being to human being. With the now widespread adoption of social tools and online habits and mobile technologies on the go, people want to either hear from other people, or get in, do what they need to do efficiently, and get out.

The problem with the latter is that getting out often means going from project to project, behind the scenes, and rarely from project to relationship. An issue that eventually affects valuation and talent retention.


In an age when it's become increasingly difficult to stand out, to get attention in a sea of seemingly sameness and noise, signal is not based on rational results alone. Connections and relationships are a contact sport — human, personal, and emotional.

Will we get better at parsing the real items at issue with personal brands? Who would object to anyone taking their work and accountability to deliver excellence seriously and want to help their organization build awareness through their own recognition?

Okay sponsoring celebrities and known athletes across channels, not okay to support known/popular company staff?


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Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover
the value of promises and its effect on relationships and
. She is also frequent speaker at
conferences and companies on a variety of topics. To book her to speak click here.

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