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If you think of Warren Buffett, what are the first few things that come to mind? Self-made billionaire? A man of few words but those he does say are hung on to and dissected by millions? Someone who wears expensive suits that somehow still look cheap? A grandfather-type personality who still lives in the same house he bought in 1958 for $31,500?
Yes to all of these.
The “Oracle of Omaha” has built his personal brand as being someone who is down-to-earth, approachable, conservative, dependable, stable and even risk-averse. He’s the “everyday American” who made some smart investment decisions early on in his career: that “anyone can do.” It’s the perfect brand positioning for someone who has made a large chunk of his fortune convincing everyday people to back his investments.
Now let’s pivot to Richard Branson and talk about his personal brand. Never one to follow the herd, his most famous quote is “Screw it let’s do it.” His brand, Virgin Airways, uses one of the most emotionally charged terms in the English language, paired with aviation to boot. He owns his own island, has explored space and has even circled the world in a hot air balloon. Always tanned, always sporting a wild crop of hair – Richard’s personal brand and the brands of all the businesses he’s founded are centered around taking a traditional model of doing anything, throwing it out the window and replacing it with something more efficient and outrageously fun.
These two men illustrate the genius strategy of building a corporate brand from the founder’s personality. Unfortunately, most companies, from Fortune 100s to start-up, skip this vital step and then wonder why no one remembers their brand.
At its essence, a great brand is a personality for a business. When this strategy isn’t a fit, the important thing is to build a brand that’s personality infused. It was Aristotle who said we are what we repeatedly do — which, by extension, means that every action we take, every interaction we have, every piece of marketing we approve says something about us, our personal brand and the brand of the businesses we run.
That old website you have that doesn’t show up properly on mobile? That says that your brand is outdated. It doesn’t matter how modern your marketing says you are, or if it looks homemade and is clunky to navigate and slow to load (well that doesn’t say anything good either.)
The physical location of your office — in a gorgeous high-rise building in the most sought-after part of the city, or located in an aging secluded business center — speaks volumes about who your clients are, and who you want them to be. From the car we drive to the way our assistant answers the phone, they all speak loudly about who we are.
Brand building is about strategically deciding what you and your company want to be known for and then relentlessly executing on that decision to build consistency and trust. When inconsistency happens, your business is damaged too. Just look at Elon Musk for example.
So what are some of the best ways to build your personal brand as CEO?
As always, start with strategy by taking a 30,000 ft view. What is it you want to be known for? It’s a simple question with a million different possibilities.
Next ask: What do I want my business(es) to be known for? Who are we serving? Just as importantly, who are we not serving?
Where these two answers intersect is where your personal brand-building journey begins.
Whether you’re the CEO of a Fortune 100 or a fledgling start-up, building your personal brand is just like your university education — an investment in yourself that you take with you wherever you go. If you are an entrepreneur, your personal brand is the brand that anchors the brands of your other businesses. If you’re a CEO, your personal brand is the one the media look to, your employees know you for, and the Board of Directors knows they can rely upon.
The worst thing you can do is pretend you have no personal brand. We all have one. Now the question is: Are you going to let your personal brand just happen by default? Or are you going to take the bull by the horns, like Warren Buffett and Richard Branson?