Originally published by 4imprint on April 1, 2019

When you hear the word “brand,” what comes to mind? Golden arches? An apple with a bite missing out of it?

How about a woman known for her TV hosting, acting, philanthropy, magazine and so much more? Of course, Oprah Winfrey isn’t the only individual in the world with a personal brand. Fashion icons, actors, CEOs, marketing gurus and a host of other experts all have distinct personal brands.

And it isn’t just the rich and famous who have personal brands. Your employees have them as well. And helping them define and refine them is important to your business. Why? Personal brands can make or break a corporate relationship. Research shows 53 percent of decision makers take a vendor out of consideration due to information they found or didn’t find about an employee online.

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In a world filled with electronic devices, a big part of personal branding is visual. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, your employee’s visual brand can tell your customers just as much about them (and the company) as a blog post or speech.

In this latest Blue Papers®edition, we walk through the basics of personal branding:

  • What is it?
  • Why is it important for your employees?
  • How can you help your employees build their personal brand visually, while also branding them as part of your business?

What is a personal brand?

At its core, a brand is anything that separates one thing from another. This could include a symbol, a reputation, a business niche, or any other differentiator that separates A from B.

personal brand is how a person is perceived, based on that individual’s experience, expertise and achievements in a community or industry. Much the way Oprah can be viewed as an expert in almost every form of media, an individual’s personal brand can be anything they’re an expert in—from fixing cars to selling office supplies.

Because our careers and the companies we work for shape our personal brand, it’s important to realize that an employee’s brand not only reflects on your company’s brand—it also enhances it! But how do you embrace your employee’s personal brand while enhancing your own?

Why businesses should care about employee brands

While it might seem like encouraging employees to develop their personal brand could take the focus away from your business, the opposite is actually true.

While the size of your company, your industry or other factors might prevent you from sharing the personal brand of all your employees, you can encourage certain employees to develop their brand, like:

  • Managers and members of the C-suite
  • Employees in a department where a strong personal brand can help them build connections, such as sales
  • Employees with a specialization that can make your company stand out in your industry

Regardless of which employees you choose to focus on, remember that your business is made up of people who work with other people. And while studies show that 33 percent of buyers trust messages from a brand, 90 percent of buyers trust messages from individuals they know.

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And that’s far from the only reason to back your employees’ personal brands. A few of the benefits include:

It strengthens your company’s brand

Helping your employees strengthen their personal brand can be a true win-win-win.

  • Your employees become more visible and trusted in their business niche.
  • Customers and potential customers can see their expertise (and their face), which helps to build or advance the relationship.
  • When your employees are the experts in your field, it builds the reputation of your company.

It makes them better at their job

Much of the legwork of personal branding involves public speaking, networking and writing. Working on these three essential work skills will make them better employees, managers, sales reps and CEOs.

It brings positive word-of-mouth to your organization

Praising your employee’s outside-of-work accomplishments or sharing their personal blog posts will show your employee that you value their accomplishments and expertise. A valued employee is a happy employee, and a happy employee will share their positive experience with others.

It helps the hiring process

Employees don’t just engage with your customers, they also engage with potential employees. If your employee’s personal brand has a wide social media or community reach, it’s going to make it easier to attract potential job recruits when you’re hiring. Encourage employees to share new job postings on social media and to talk about their work experience to friends, family and the community. Your employees not only give a face to the company but can also help give potential hires a glimpse of what it is like to work there.

How to support your employee’s visual brand

There are a variety of ways you can assist your employees as they define and spread their visual personal brand.

Offer them brand training and brand makeovers

There’s a reason that Oprah appears on every cover for O magazine: her face is the visual part of her brand.

Help establish a visual brand for your employees by featuring their photos, expertise and personality on your website and in your newsletters. This helps your customers “meet” and connect with them.

You can also work with a designer to create a consistent brand feel for your employees across digital and physical spaces. After all, one study showed that 94 percent of the time, someone’s first impression is based on design.

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This will help give your employees’ platforms a professional on-brand look that reflects their personality, from a website profile to their business cards to their branded promo items.

Bernadette Soehner has been learning about promoting a personal brand since she was a child watching her dad run his store. “He was always buying more pens,” Soehner said. “I grew up seeing my last name all over the house.”

Soehner is an international bestselling author (pen name Bernadette Marie) and CEO of 5 Prince Publishing and Books, LLC. An entrepreneur from a young age, she decided to become an author in 2007. “When I speak at conferences, I tell people, ‘You are what you say you are,’” she said. “If you say you’re an author, you become one.”

5 Prince Publishing shares information about both its staff and its authors, helping them to share their life and their work with the world.

As an author and publisher, Soehner is a strong advocate for promotional products, even going to far as offering a presentation for other authors called “Swag that Works.” She’s a firm believer that the best swag is swag that sees everyday use. “Chip clips and jar openers are something that I can touch and that gets used every day. If I give out a bag, someone is going to carry it around for an entire conference and then use it to carry their groceries that next day.” Branded giveaways for employees to use and hand out helps spread the company’s brand.

More recently, she gave out a Bright Flag Set. “Anything people can keep on their desks is always good. I have mine on my desk right now.”

Encourage employees to create content

Encourage your employees to create content for your company’s blog or website. Putting an employee as the blog author (name, headshot, link to bio) gives them an opportunity to share their personal brand and demonstrate their thought leadership on industry topics.

At 4imprint, category managers regularly blog about the major trends in their industry. “Our category managers are really the experts in their product areas,” explained Becky Dillenberg, 4imprint marketing manager. “They work closely with suppliers to see what’s new and trending and attend many industry shows. Having them blog for us truly creates a winning scenario for all, as they get to share their knowledge with readers who can literally see the face of experts in the field.”

As they work to build content, provide training on social media to discuss how to share content on social media platforms, what information is appropriate to share online, and how to use social media to best share their personal brand. Pro-tip: Consider providing branded headshots for employees to use as their social media profile pictures. When associates share their content on social media, it will have the branded company look associated with their personal brand.

Pictures build a visual connection

Using a platform like Instagram® can give your employees a chance to share their personal brand in a simple, engaging way. By sharing their passions, they’re certain to create more engagement with their brand and yours.

Video gives employees a voice

Recently, video surpassed blogging as the most commonly used social media asset. With users consuming hundreds of hours of video each week, it’s the perfect medium to showcase your employees’ knowledge (and personality), along with your company’s expertise.

Offer opportunities for growth

In addition to sharing your employee’s expertise online, it’s also valuable to share their expertise in person. Allowing employees to attend lunch-and-learns or networking events gives them an opportunity to increase their knowledge and make connections.

Even better, encouraging them to speak at public events gives them the chance to share your company’s knowledge as well as their own. It also presents another opportunity to tie their visual brand to yours—provide them with a promotional polo and a variety of promotional giveaways they can share with the community.

4imprint values the importance of community involvement for all employees. Everyone at 4imprint is offered eight hours of paid time off to volunteer within the company or as a company ambassador in the community. “Many team members use their time for causes that are meaningful to them, from presenting at a local school event or volunteering as a committee chair, to working with animal shelters,” said Mary Curtin, Senior Vice President of Administration at 4imprint. “All of these activities expand their skills, and most importantly in the process they are making a difference at many worthy causes.”

Consider taking their personal brand to the next level by imprinting a key message or quote specific to the employee’s focus area on promotional items. By doing so, you are not only promoting their personal brand within the company brand, but you’re also solidifying them as an industry expert. Employees can pass out these branded giveaways during presentations and networking or sales events. It’s a great way to create a personal connection with your brand.

Their personal brands boost your company

Helping your employees develop and share their visual personal brand—and incorporating branded giveaways—creates a big win for them and for you. As their reputation grows, your business will benefit with customers seeking you out to learn more.

Posted by Shay Sibley

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