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Is Yours a Personal Brand or a Business Brand?

July 26, 2010

And why does it matter?

In creating and carrying on with your niche-y enterprise, it matters whether you’re a personal brand or a business brand {also called a corporate brand}. Mostly, it matters to you, because how you classify and conceive of your business impacts how you market, how you network, how you interact in social media, and how your right people talk to you and about you. Or about your business. The choice is yours. {Just one of the many bright spots of an entrepreneurial life. You get to choose the shape of the Thing you put out there into the world. Pretty cool.}

A girl stands at a crossroads, contemplating her decision. Is yours a personal brand or a business brand? The decision will impact your travels in entrepreneurship.

What’s a personal brand?

Gen Y personal branding expert Dan Schawbel says that:

“Personal branding, by definition, is the process by which we market ourselves to others. [Italics mine.] As a brand, we can leverage the same strategies that make…celebrities or corporate brands appeal to others. We can build brand equity just like them.” – from Personal Branding 101: How to Discover and Create Your Brand, on Mashable.com

Chris Brogan discusses the elements of a personal brand in this oldie-but-goodie post. Here’s just one of the really great points he makes:

“It’s really important to be yourself in building a brand. Coke never set out to be just like somebody else. Madonna didn’t try to be someone different. The brands we know and love work because they are their own identity.”

What’s a business/corporate brand?

According to the all-wise and all-knowing Wikipedia, business branding encompasses the identity {both visual and intangible}, personality, values, and mission of a business, and by extension, all of its products and its marketing.

So in short, a personal brand refers to how one might “package” and market onesself in the marketplace, while a business or corporate brand takes the focus off of any one individual and causes prospects to identify with the business entity itself.

Why do we need to know what type of brand we want to be right from the start?

Okay, you might not need to know what type of brand you want to be the second you dream up your idea for your business, but the sooner you can settle on which type feels right to you, the better off you’ll be.

Why?

So that you can start creating a strong, cohesive, compelling brand identity that connects with your right people right from the start. And when it comes to that, it’s never too soon to start strong.

What are the major differences I’ll feel as a personal brand versus a business brand {or vice-versa}?

How You Use Social Media

Nowadays, all viable brands should be stepping up to the social media home plate: blogging, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. It’s becoming more and more of an essential piece for showing customers and clients that you are serious, savvy, and interested in connection. But there are some notable differences in how personal brands and business brands might use these social networking platforms.

For instance: an interior designer with a personal brand might take her blog readers to the New York Gift Show with her as she shops designer showrooms or scours fabric houses in the city. She might also include a pictorial on where she dined in the Meatpacking District and a video post of her explaining what makes the window display in the boutique behind her on the street so awesome.

Can you imagine a business brand, such as Pottery Barn, doing this? Usually, corporate brands like to maintain the “great and wonderful Oz”-ness of their brand and wouldn’t dare to let customers behind the curtain of how work gets done and how creativity happens. They just want you to buy their Thing.  {However, more and more, we’re seeing that the personal and “barrier-less” nature of social media is pushing business brands in this more behind the scenes, up close and personal direction. I find it refreshing, fun, and inspiring. How about you?}

How You Use Your Voice in the Marketplace

Every business needs a voice. {Hey, did I mention I’m creating a product to help niche-y enterprises tap into the business voice that works best for them?} The voice you embrace as the “voice of your business” has got to come from a natural, authentic place whether you’re a personal brand or a business brand. But how you use your voice will differ. What issues do you choose to address or to keep quiet about? Do you get political, or stay mum? Do you call people out on bull, or always be the nice guy? What types of clients are you hoping to attract? If your desired right people are corporate-y suit wearers, you’re going to want to find a more straightlaced, professional voice that works for you than you might if your right people are energy workers and spiritual healers.

Also, whether you veer toward a personal brand or a corporate brand may affect which point of view you take in your marketing copy. For example, the copy on my site is written in 1st person — I say I, and me. This is because as a copywriter and a coach, I work very closely with my clients and develop one-on-one relationships with them. I want them to feel who I am and feel that they can trust me and my judgment.

However, when I had my retail shop, all of the copy on my static website {which is no longer live} was written in 3rd person — I said we and THE BLISSFUL as if the shop were an entity bigger than any one person {and that’s how I saw it — I didn’t want the focus on me}. I chose 3rd person on purpose to allow potential right people to identify with the store and its brand identity, not with me the Proprietor.

How Much Skin You Show

Each entrepreneur has to decide for herself just how “naked” she gets in front of her right people. How comfortable are you with sharing personal details with people online? Will you share about your family? Your friends? Your past career life or your current “other job”? Your neuroses?

Obviously, the above details are more appropriate for personal brands than for business brands. {You don’t generally catch the brand director of Anthropologie tweeting about hiring a new nanny — although that might be cool.}

Especially as a personal brand, you have the advantage of feeling over time like you “know” your customers and they know you. This can be pretty powerful, especially if the work you’re doing is bespoke, creative, or personally transformative in nature {think coaching, some types of consulting, healing arts, design}.

On the flipside, as a personal brand or a corporate brand, you always have the option of creating an impermeable screen between you and your customers. They’ll know you as a thinker, a creator, and an entrepreneur, but you’ll keep the private parts of yourself…private. This is easier to do as a corporate brand because prospects identify with the business, not so much with a person’s name and a face. They’re less likely to wonder about the person behind the brand.

Why My Corporate Brand Made Me Feel Stifled & How My Personal Brand Helps Me Feel Free

My first business, a French-y lifestyle boutique called THE BLISSFUL, was a corporate brand. Customers and blog readers knew me as Abby the Proprietor, but I shared very little of my personal life on my blog or anywhere else. I always led with the store and what was up with it. In the big picture, this was a great move because theoretically, as I’d grow the store I’d be able to recede into the background and allow employees to run the show. {That’s what I wanted, but I didn’t hang in there long enough for it to become a reality.}

The ironic thing is, my desire to take the focus off of myself had me feeling bound by the image of the shop and all that it represented to customers: travel, romance, whimsy, bliss, peace, relaxation, wonderment. Needless to say, I didn’t always feel this way inside or while I was at the shop, but I felt as if I had to maintain the illusion that all was well, that I felt like the luckiest girl ever, that this was exactly what I wanted and why wouldn’t someone want this if they could have it? {Customers often told me I should feel that way, after all.} I realized, after a while, that I was hiding behind the brand and the brand I created wasn’t close enough to a good appoximation of myself and how I wanted to feel in the world. This may sound like a lot of navel gazing, but I advocate that one of the perks and prerogatives of entrepreneurs is getting to shape our work in the world to be as palatable to ourselves as possible. After all, it’s our work.

Now, in my current business model, I feel free to evolve. I’m talking entrepreneurially, creatively, professionally, even spiritually. Because Abby Kerr Ink is me. I won’t ever pretend it’s anything other than that. I’ve embraced a certain degree of transparency with my right people that feels comfortable for me. From the moment I posted my first update on the Abby Kerr Ink Facebook page {which happened before my site went live}, I was ready to talk real talk with my right people, not business-ese. For me, a personal brand is where it’s at. I like how connected I feel now to my work, to my clients and prospects, to my blog readers.

Entrepreneurs, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic of being a personal brand versus a corporate brand as it applies to your own enterprise. Have you struggled with deciding how much skin to show?

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