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BLOGBrand Balance: Personal vs Organizational Brands

by Randall CraigFiled in: Make It Happen Tipsheet, Blog, TrustTagged as: , ,

Which is more important: a leader’s personal brand, or the organization’s brand? The answer is both, but there is nuance: as a leader’s personal brand develops, the relationship to the organization’s brand should also evolve.

Brand Balance: Personal vs Organizational Brands

Smart leaders (and boards) recognize that brand balance choices are as strategic a decision as any other marketing one. Here are the five levels of brand balance, and why each may have a role.

Level Zero, Irrelevance: At this level, a leader’s brand makes no difference, internally or externally. While this sounds undesirable, there are benefits: no one is ever offended by bland. And the focus is on the corporate brand, not the individual’s.

Level One, Alignment: When there is alignment, the leader would exemplify (and model) the corporate brand… since it is also their brand. The leader is visible, and is a reminder of what the brand represents (and vice-versa). Most leaders are in this category.

Level Two, Leverage: The leader is a more public face of the company. They are more visibly involved in promoting the company, and less so their own personal brand. Examples include Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos.

Level Three, Differentiation: The personal brand of the leader is exceptionally well-developed and becomes an engine that powers the company’s brand. The most well-known examples are Steve Jobs and Richard Branson, but differentiators can be found in every niche — they are often the innovators and thought-leaders in their sector.

Level Four, Dysfunction: When the personal brand of the leader is so well-developed that it has eclipsed the corporate brand… AND their brand has diverged enough to cause the corporate brand harm. The best-known example of this is Elon Musk.

[Back to] Level Zero, Irrelevance: After a period of time with a leader with a dysfunctional personal brand, some organizations will choose a new leader who is effective at being invisible. The rationale: market focus will return to the corporate brand, not the leader’s.


What is true for leaders is equally true for everyone in the organization: this week, consider your own personal brand in conjunction with your organization’s: Are you irrelevant, aligned, leveraging, differentiating, or dysfunctional?

Branding Insight: The impact of Level Four Dysfunction is surprisingly wide. A few of the downsides:

Others within the organization begin to resent the outsized space that the leader’s brand takes. There is no “space” for them.

The corporate culture begins to take on a “cult-of-personality” vibe, which may squeeze out other more important cultural values.

When the leader leaves, there is a vacuum that is exceptionally hard to fill. (Consider the corporate brand challenges Apple faced, after the passing of Steve Jobs.)

The personal activities of the leader begin to attract the attention of external entities. (Elon Musk’s disputes with the SEC, for example.)

Related post: Personal Branding Early Warning System, Brand Building and Brand Transfer

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