When American professional boxer George Foreman launched an electric kitchen grill, he made an infomercial that went quite viral during the television era. The ad read: "I'm So Proud Of It, I Put My Name On It"!
There are several other entrepreneurs who went on to create successful businesses by attaching their personal brand to them. Barbara Corcoran is a great example of the 21st century.
Now, here is the pressing question? How can a personal brand of its founder help a startup grow? Why is a personal brand relevant today when social media stories and live videos are in vogue?
Turns out most customers and prospects equate a founder’s personal brand to the startup.
Personal brand = Augmented trust.
Also, having a strong personal brand shows that you are willing to put your name on the line as a representation of the business and its quality. You are equating the business’s credibility with your own.
An early-stage startup needs credibility to grow its customer base. Usually, startups are trying to enter a market that is either non-existent or is crowded with players who are offering inferior service.
In either case, it is necessary to position itself as a credible player. A strong personal brand of the founder(s) helps with it.
Along with it, it provides several other strategic benefits that your marketing and PR team will approve of.
How your startup can & will benefit from your personal brand
1. Your prospects will trust you more
For any business entity, building trust is a long-term process. It is like growing bamboo. For years together there is no sign of growth, after the third or fourth year if you manage to treat your customers right, you are seen as a trustworthy brand. Your business might even win some awards on that note.
However, for startups time is of the essence. They must build trust and credibility quickly and also make it visible. It is here that the startup founder’s personal brand comes into the picture. Customers and prospects see the founder as synonymous with the startup itself. If the startup founder has a strong personal brand, stakeholders can quickly make judgments and decide on how to partner or transact with the business in the short-term and long-term.
Take Neal Taparia for example. He’s a successful entrepreneur and currently runs a new gaming startup called Solitaired. He often pitches custom solitaire games to organizations. While making the pitch, he always talks about the past companies he’s sold and his experience as a public company executive to establish credibility and get a response.
2. Your brand will have a personal identity
According to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Your brand has the power to make unknown people talk good or bad about you. For a startup that is such an advantage.
The founder’s personal brand gets attached to the startup’s brand identity as well. Also, it will be unique since the founder’s views will give it a unique flavor that no marketing campaign can achieve. Imagine cutting a hefty check for a brand awareness campaign? Your startup can save that cost if the founder has an identity that your target audience easily resonates with.
If the founder has been active on social media, it is easier for the startup to gain quick traction in its initial days. This is exactly how it panned out for SparkToro — the brainchild of Rand Fishkin.
Rand’s active presence on Twitter, his popular blog (moz.com/rand) all helped SparkToro gain instant popularity when it was launched.
3. You can directly communicate with customers
A strong personal brand lets you connect and communicate with customers directly. It is like having a broadcasting tool or a digital loudspeaker of your own to propagate a message. In the hands of a startup founder, it acts as an amplifying tool for the startup.
The content that the founder pushes out, including Facebook statuses, Tweets, Instagram images, etc. can act in boosting the brand of the startup. In fact, Drift’s former CMO Dave Gerhardt (a.k.a DG) is very popular on LinkedIn and Twitter which has helped Drift communicate its values to customers directly.
To quote DG, "You don't need to hire a six-figure agency or team of creatives. You can create your brand yourself."
His social media handles are always active with posts that will make anyone think. Needless to say, it has worked to the advantage of Drift’s branding and overall marketing strategy.
4. You can showcase brand alignment
Larry Kim is the founder of MobileMonkey, Inc., WordStream. It is easy to say that he is someone who is an expert with startups and their marketing. After all, he turned WordStream into the World's top PPC marketing software company. His social media newsfeed is rich with snippets on digital marketing, entrepreneurship, and also a sneak-peek into his personal life.
According to Larry, to become a successful entrepreneur, “You need to believe in and project your vision with such conviction that others want to join you for the ride.”
You need a strong personal brand to showcase your values that will attract others. The values could be personal or even related to an industry, business function, or work ethic. The key is to project it to the outside world. Through the power of personal branding, the startup will also get noticed and will develop a similar brand identity in the eyes of all onlookers. There is no marketing gimmick that can achieve that. Think Elon Musk and Tesla.
5. It lasts longer than any brand-building campaign
There is nothing wrong with running a brand-building campaign. It is essential for startups that are looking for early-stage growth and also have deep pockets to afford it. But, how about those startups that are running the show on a shoe-string budget? They have to dig into organic ways of building a brand. The personal brand of the founder is a good starting point.
The upside of the personal brand is that it lasts longer than any marketing campaign. Every paid marketing campaign has a finite shelf period. It is either stipulated by the campaign budget or by the channel’s behavior (like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, etc. The reach just fizzles out after a period of time.
Darshan Somshekar, who has sold companies to Facebook and Chegg, has built a brand around being a product expert. He explains, “When I started my latest company, a word-finding and bran training platform called Unscrambled Words, I had investors willing to invest even without understanding what I was trying to build. My personal brand made all the difference.”
But, a personal brand is an evergreen asset. It remains on the top of the mind of the target audience. Also, it doesn’t cost a bomb. All you have to do is to publish content consistently. Also, the content from a person unlike a company profile will be more humane and easy to interact with.
The Final Word
Tesla. What’s the first face that came to your mind? Bet it was Elon Musk. Let’s try it with Amazon. How about Microsoft? Or Apple? The founder's face must have flashed in your mind in an instance. That is the power of a personal brand. These founders who have grown billion-dollar companies have a personal brand of their own.
Whether they built on purpose or not is a topic for another discussion. However, those brands whose founders have a strong personal brand seem to have done well. So should your startup.
As a startup founder, you need a strong personal brand that can be tied back to the business. Your startup relies on it for its initial growth stages. Your social capital is what will give it wings to take off. In a way, we can safely assume that the founder’s social capital is the initial investment for the brand’s growth.