27/09/21 Jack Foster

Great Influence: The power of personal brand

Personal branding is a hot topic right now, you can’t scroll through LinkedIn or Twitter without seeing it mentioned in some form. Personal branding, both for marketing professionals and for employees, has come a long way over the last decade. I've seen many large corporations embrace the concept of personal branding to advance their workforce, which is a great change from their "faceless corporate" past.

I recently spoke to Ash Jones from Great Influence, a person at the forefront of the topic. With clients such as; Julian Hearn, Sacha Lord, Steven Bartlett and Umar Kamani, Ash has been building the personal brands of some of the UK’s biggest household names. In this post he shares everything personal brand, and lays out how it can positively affect your business and career.

What is a personal brand?

I think that personal branding is just a term that the business world has attached to the activity of building a public profile. We’ve seen it for decades now, anyone in popular culture that is a name of note, whether that's a musician, an actor, a politician, they’ve all built personal Brands and it's going back decades now. 

I think that Business and Entrepreneurship is now catching up to the rest of popular culture, it’s becoming part of popular culture now. If you look at the last 10 years in particular you’ve got films like Wolf of Wall Street and TV series like Suits, where entrepreneurship is glamorized. On Instagram people want the life of the entrepreneur and all these things coming together has meant that there's just more of an interest in Business and Entrepreneurship.

We're now more than ever interested in the stories behind how businesses are being built. If you look at Theranos, the really famous Silicon Valley Failure, or behind the scenes of Fyre Festival. We're fascinated by the people building businesses and the stories they have to tell, and it's trickling down into the real world. We want to know who the founder is, and we want to know the story of the business. 

Not so long ago building a personal brand was something that you needed a budget to do, you needed to be able to convince somebody to let you do a public talk at an event, you needed to convince somebody to let you write a book, you needed to convince someone to put you on TV to interview. That’s how you used to build a personal brand.

And then social media comes along and decentralizes the whole thing, where you just need LinkedIn login to start. So with the rise of the glamorization of Entrepreneurship, combined with the rise of social media it means that building a personal brand is 10x easier than ever before. 

So that's kind of a Crux of it for me, human behavior dictates that we want to be a fly on the wall of things that we find interesting. Why was big brother the biggest TV series in the UK for like five, six, seven years in the early 2000s? Why are the Kardashians the biggest family on Earth? It’s because we were allowed to be a fly on the wall. Personal branding is the art of letting people be a bit of a fly on the wall.

What makes a successful personal brand?

I think the hardest and most important thing is consistency, you see it with anyone who has to create for social media suffers burnout. We’re seeing it now with YouTubers that have been creating for years and they are just burnt out and they're not making content anymore. You'll see it now with TikTok influencers who are smashing it right now, but in a year or 2 they’ll get burnt out from putting themselves at the forefront of social media platforms for so long. 

You think of anyone who’s managed to build a successful personal brand, look at Gary Vaynerchuck for example, he started making content in 2007 and if you look at his channels now he’s actually picking up the pace of which he’s doing it, 14 years later. So it’s consistency that wins. 

You gain consistency from having a very clear ‘why’. It’s kind of like going to the gym. Your ‘why’ needs to be really strong, otherwise you’ll fall off and stop going. When your ‘why’ is paper thin such as ‘I want to get fit for summer’, you get fit for summer and then summer goes and your goal is gone. 

For me, it’s about creating more opportunities for Great Influence, which kind of takes me out of it. So having a clear why is the first one.

The second part of what makes a successful personal brand is understanding what that personal brand is. Personal brand is deciding what part of you you're going to put out to the world. We’re all multi-faceted, we all have multiple interests, we all have different sides of ourselves that different people see and when we’re building a personal brand, we have to decide what part of ourselves we want to show to the world. 

I’m a huge Manchester City fan, but you're probably never going to see me talk about (Manchester) City on Linkedin because it’s not going to help me achieve what I want out of building a personal brand. Whereas you’ll see me talking about what it’s like running Great Influence and telling the story of that and the thinking behind personal branding and stuff like that because that version of me ‘the guy who’s really interested in personal branding’ and ‘the guy who’s running Great Influence’ is the personal brand that I want to build. 

So, going to the (Manchester) City game on the weekend, doesn’t really add value to that, it’s still a part of me, it’s still something that I’m interested in and it’s still something that I’m passionate about, but it doesn't make it into my personal brand really because it doesn't fit why I’m doing it in the first place. 

So understanding what part of yourself is going into that identity that you’re trying to create online is the second thing.

How can employee personal branding affect the business brand?

Massively, we’re seeing it with Great Influence now where Claudia is an employee of Great Influence and she’s built a personal brand over the last 6 months, which is part of the reason she stood out to me in the first place. She’s bringing attention to Great Influence through her telling her story of what it’s like being part of Great Influence. 

She did a talk yesterday with Rory Sutherland and Grace Beverley, who are 2 huge names, and it was down to the fact she has a personal brand that she was invited to do those things and because Claudia is part of Great Influence and she wants to share her thoughts and her voice, she’s naturally at times going to be talking about Great Influence and her experiences there. So I think it’s a win win for both.

I encourage anyone who wants to at Great Influence to build their personal brand and we’ll resource it, because it helps both parties. The person creates more opportunity for themselves, builds a network (which is really important), builds credibility and in turn, there's awareness for the business as well. You’re seeing it with more and more companies, I’m preaching to the choir here but, businesses are starting to realise the power that their employees have in terms of influence within their industry and they’re encouraging them to build that influence. 

There is a very fine balance, a business can't tell their team to post on Linkedin, but they can encourage them to build their own personal brand through giving them the right resources, like we’ve bought video equipment for the office and if anyone wants to film videos that they can post on Linkedin. You can encourage people in the right way, without being too pushy.

What do you think is the future for personal branding?

I don't want to sound like that guy who says that it's crucial for business, because history has proven it’s clearly not. But I do think there's going to be a trend of it happening more and more and more as the years go on and that's solely down to the rise of social media. 

So right now the majority of CEOs and founders are over the age of 30, and maybe even more towards over 40, 45, 50. Their understanding of social media is different from the younger generation. Whereas in 2040, the typical 40 year old CEO (who is 20 today) will have grown up with social media. It will have been a core part of how they’ve grown up and how they’ve grown their business.

We’re already seeing young entrepreneurs who are telling their story through social media because they understand the power of it. They’ve seen instagram influencers, they’ve seen TikTok influencers, they’ve seen Youtubers. They know how it works and they’re now starting to realise that and leverage it for themselves. 

So I think that’s the future, I think the future CEO is also a creator and influencer rolled into one.

If you could roll back time, what would you tell yourself on your first day of your career?

Tell the CEO he’s got an unbelievable personal brand *laughing*

Really understand the role that you’re doing. I’d actually ask the CEO, what is the one thing that this company needs me to do more than anything else. And then further to that I’d say, and what do you think are the best ways that I can deliver that over the next 3 months.

Jack Foster

Head of Brand with over 10 years experience delivering campaigns across a range of channels including; web, social, email, print + video.