Few people think of the Virgin group of companies without picturing their founder Richard Branson. Similarly, Michelle Mone is closely associated with her lingerie company Ultimo. And, even though Stelios Haji-Ioannou now only has a part share in Easyjet, the airline he founded, his is the face most people imagine when the orange-coloured brand is mentioned.
Business owners promoting themselves as the face of their company can be a powerful marketing tool, bringing a company to life, differentiating it from its rivals and giving an otherwise generic enterprise a distinct personality. But is it always a good idea to put yourself at the front of your small business’s marketing efforts? And how should you develop your own cult of personality?
Are you the person for the job?
First, think seriously about who’s the best candidate to front up your business. In many cases, this will be the company founder or its current boss. But wait a minute. Are you really the most attractive person to represent the spirit of your enterprise? Are you a good spokesperson with a degree of charisma to win over the fickle public? Be honest with yourself if you’re more of a numbers man than a persuasive orator. You may need media training or a makeover to look and sound the part.
Consider what sort of customer you want to cultivate. If yours is a young, fashionable brand aimed at twenty-somethings, but you’re a sensible-looking man or woman in your forties, it may be more effective to elect someone else in the organisation who looks and sounds more like your target audience. But they need to have a deep understanding of the industry in which you operate and the ins and outs of your business structure. Inevitably, many company bosses will be reluctant to allow someone else to take the public plaudits, but you could content yourself with running things behind the scenes, while your figurehead goes out to engage with the wider world. But also be aware that the person who’s the face of the company will also be held accountable for any mistakes it makes. Do you really want this for yourself or anyone else?
Tell your story
Assuming that the buck has stopped with you, consider what you want to say as the business’s public face and what you hope to achieve from this self-branding exercise. A great place to start is why you founded the company. This may involve stories of personal trials you’ve overcome to create a successful firm, how you raised the start-up and development funds, plus valuable business lessons you’ve learned along the way. You could impart this wisdom through your website, regular blog posts, tweets or even put your story at the heart of all of your promotional efforts.
People are attracted to tales of success over adversity, may respect your ability to admit your failings, plus you can appeal to those who aspire to business ownership and want to hear how it’s done first hand. Many is the business success that’s been founded on an inspirational tale – Steve Jobs starting computer behemoth Apple in a garage, for example, has passed into business lore.
Getting personal on social
Social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have radically changed the rules of marketing. And this is one sphere where a visible chief executive or business boss can put a company ahead in the social stakes.
Many SMEs have embraced the world of social media marketing and regularly tweet or post messages on their platform of choice. But having an individual who makes regular observations about his or her business, its rivals, general news that’s relevant to the company’s industry sector or even the occasional more personal comment can attract many more followers and really bring a brand to life. A real person can engage in a way that a faceless company really can’t, so use this to your firm’s advantage. And don’t stop at written content – create video and picture posts with you as a talking head explaining your company’s ethos, products or services.
As with all approaches to social media, your business needs to have a digital marketing strategy, plus a plan to post regular content, as we’ve outlined on our blog before. And while the chief executive may send out regular messages on his or her personal account, it’s still sensible to have a feed that’s specifically for the business, too. The two can link to each other regularly to generate more traffic.
Create a character
Are you going to be true to your real character or create an exaggerated version of yourself, perhaps even a caricature? If yours is a serious nature, you might position yourself as an industry expert, giving tips, advice and comment on business matters. This may also be more appropriate to the type of business you run. If a jokey persona could fit with your style of operation, you could take this to an extreme and devise a character to represent the business. A good example of this is the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream brand that uses a cartoonish version of the business’s founders, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, on much of the company’s packaging and promotional material.
However you decide to distinguish yourself, your mission should be to convey your passion for what you do. If you prove successful, this should be infectious, with others flocking to your business with similar enthusiasm. You also need to be genuine to create an aura of trust around you and your brand. And be committed – it’s not enough to market yourself and the company in an occasional and half-hearted manner. People will rapidly lose interest and you may come across as not being sufficiently interested or excited about the business. If you’re not, then why should other people be?
Finally, don’t let your ego get in the way. If your business would be better suited to a generic identity, step back and let your good work do the talking. Could strongly aligning your firm with an individual limit its future growth for any reason or if you wanted to sell it? If yours is a strongly team-based business, it may also be inappropriate to let one person stand out when, in fact, a number of people run the show. You may crave the limelight, but part of the responsibility of being the boss is deciding what’s best for the business – and the truth is your face may not be it.