When Developing Communication Strategies, Should the Emphasis Be Put On Building The Personal(ized) Product/Service Brand…..Or The Corporate Brand?


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Historically, people have tended to think of brands in terms of corporate logos, slogans, and even colors. From a macro corporate standpoint, that was the intention of enterprise targeting and image-building. But, that goal is also applicable at the micro, individual product/service brand level; and it may well be the case that we’ll never go back to a time and a place where macro strategies dominated. Let’s look at this from the perspective of what is desired as a set of objectives for brand impression in the first place:

– Awareness – the building of name recognition, and the overall association of the name with desired values and outcomes

– Trust – further emotional and memory association of the name with veracity, truthfulness, fairness, and honesty

– Loyalty – ideally, advocacy and passionate behavior by all brand stakeholders

The idea of personal branding is to build, and sustain, an identity that has real value and meaning which leads to a set of desired actions.

Because of digital and mobile communication, we’ve moved from broad, push-style repetitive impression marketing to targeted, pull-style engagement and relationship building. Much of the connection between brand and customer, as a result, is at the personal, and more intimate product/service brand level. There are select circumstances where personalized product/service gets more-or-less co-equal branding treatment with corporate branding, such as xfinity and Comcast and FiOS and Verizon in cable/telecom. And, there are other circumstances where corporate branding takes precedence over personalized product/service branding, such as Microsoft and Windows 10 and Apple, with its assembly line of new iPhone models.

Although corporate branding is still extremely important, we can view the impact of this move to personalized branding in multiple industries, the most obvious of which are automotive, OTC/and ethical pharmaceuticals, and consumer goods industries.

Note: We are also seeing it among the current crop of presidential candidates, where personal branding of folks like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders has significantly overtaken traditional, i.e. corporate, political party tenets and values.

Connectedness through personal branding, evidenced in demographic groups like Millennials and GenX’ers, would have been peculiar and challenging just a few short years ago; but, today it has become the accepted norm. The folks in these population segments use multiple sources to collect and process information almost real-time, at speeds so high that brands can be made successful, or can be destroyed, almost overnight.

Those of us who come from more traditional, pre-Internet marketing were schooled to create multiple outbound impressions through advertising and promotional flighting, with the understanding (and belief) that doing so would (eventually) cause prospective customers to act. As marketers, we’ve had to change……quickly. Today, the advertising and promotion that we were used to doesn’t really come into play nearly so much, as brand impressions are created predominantly by consumers themselves. And, if the impressions are strong, they can go viral, as they say in a song from My Fair Lady, “with the speed of Summer lightning”, i.e. pretty much immediately.

There are, of course, some advantages to corporate branding, and they should be identified. First, the corporation is, perhaps, able to be more protected if or when there is a product or public relations miscue. For instance, Johnson & Johnson received less backlash from the Fall, 1982 Tylenol tampering scare than the brand itself. Also, a corporation’s organizational communication machine often has the ability to construct a “ring of privacy” around the enterprise more effectively than a brand under its individual product or service umbrella.

What personalized product and service branding requires is much more than the narrow-objective halos corporate brands seek within the marketplace. It begins with having a good offline and online social communication strategy, one which can build the opportunity for stakeholder engagement and advocacy behavior. It sustains, and hopefully increases, by creating an emotional connection where customers and employees can be ambassadors for the product or service because consumers have been determined to be less and less influenced by grapeshot advertising and promotion, irrespective of channel.

That said, studies by the ESCA Ecole de Management, have offered companies a number of ‘rules’, or guidelines, for personal brand management. These include:

– Anything a brand posts on line can be used for or against it

– Personal branding requires a strategic commitment, not ‘touch and run’ execution

– Corporate and personal branding must complement each other, and both must be supported by all employees

– Senior executives must be the standard-bearers, taking the vocal lead for both personal and corporate branding

– Personal branding must be genuine and accountable to all concerned, including the customer base and community at large

– Those involved in product and service branding must recognize the difference between buzz, communicating, and just ‘making noise’

– Personal brand developers should focus on creating relatable, human stories around the products and services they represent

Inundation with mass media messages doesn’t connect and doesn’t create the memory that moves customers to action. More than ever, companies are coming to understand that they can sell more, and more effectively, by connecting with their best customers and also by finding new customers with similar interests and behavioral proclivities. They are using carefully targeted gamification and content marketing approaches to give their brands almost human personalities so that consumers feel they are engaging and interacting products and services on an emotional level. Leaders recognize that the way to build strategic value is through optimizing customer relationships, and personal branding of their products or services as well as, and in parallel with, corporate branding is an important component for reaching that goal.

Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC, specializes in customer and employee experience research/strategy consulting, and brand, customer, and employee commitment and advocacy behavior research, consulting, and training. He has authored seven stakeholder-centric strategy books and 400+ articles, white papers and blogs. In 2018, he was named to CustomerThink's Hall of Fame.


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