Personal Branding

The 3 Biggest Mistakes CEOs Make With Their Personal Brand (and How to Turn Those Mistakes Around)

Don't wait until you're managing a crisis to decide who you want to be and what values you want your company to espouse.
The 3 Biggest Mistakes CEOs Make With Their Personal Brand (and How to Turn Those Mistakes Around)
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The term "personal brand" denotes the phenomenon of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands. I know, because I’ve spent a number of years perfecting mine.

Related: 8 Reasons a Powerful Personal Brand Will Make You Successful

I wear jeans and cowboy boots at every event I go to, for example -- no matter how fancy the occasion. That wardrobe choice is just another way I present my brand, the C-Suite Network, as being brash and bold -- like me -- and refusing to do things a certain way just because they've ways been done that way in the past.

But what about other CEOs? Do they "own" their own brand? Should a CEO cultivate his or her own brand, separate from the company? The short answer is … yes!

There are good reasons why: A study by Burson-Marsteller concluded that 48 percent of a company’s reputation can be attributed to the standing of its CEO. These leaders represent their company’s vision, so both should exemplify the same traits and values. However, a CEO won’t stay CEO forever of that same company. That's why it’s essential to create a brand identity CEOs can own -- a parallel brand of sorts.

A personal brand will travel, in other words. And while the public may have a fascination with a particular company, it’s the people in that company they feel the biggest connection to.

So, why do as many as 61 percent of CEOs, according to CEO.com, lack a personal brand because they have no social media presence? Because they don’t think that move will have an impact, personally or professionally. They couldn’t be more wrong.

A study by Weber Shandwick and KRC Research estimated that 44 percent of a company’s market value can be directly linked to the CEO’s reputation. The same study highlighted other benefits when CEOs have a positive brand reputation, including: attracting investors (87 percent), positive media attention (83 percent), crisis protection (83 percent) and [the ability to] attract prospective employees (77 percent) and retain employees (70 percent).

The takeaway here, of course, is that more CEOs need to own their brand. So the next question has to do with personal branding mistakes. Here are three common ones:

Thinking you don’t need a personal brand

If this phrase describes how a CEO thinks about his or her personal brand, that person has no business being CEO of anything. This isn’t about “I don’t want to” or “I hate talking about myself.” This needs to be about what defines you as a leader and what defines you outside of your day job. What are your beliefs and values? How do you want to drive growth and innovation? Basically, this is anything that makes you, you.

Related: The 5 Keys to Building a Social-Media Strategy for Your Personal Brand

Dave Newman, founder of Do It! Marketing, told me once that when a CEO “doesn’t own their brand, they lose control of the company’s story.” Therefore, “no story, no distinction.”

I stated before that your personal brand is forever yours, so it's your responsibility to create one that blends your leadership style, ideals and values with your company’s brand. Together, these two brands should comprise the perfect complement, but should also be able to exist separately. Remember, you won’t always be the CEO of that company.

Thinking you can delegate your brand

I get it: As CEOs, we’re busy people, but that doesn't mean you can tell your PR or marketing team to "create" a brand for you. There’s no shame in using your PR or marketing team to help you craft aspects of your brand, such as talking points, content or a new, improved bio. It's just that shaping and creating are two different things.

Many executives believe that the hardest part about building a brand is not knowing what to write about and that that’s something your team can help you with. However, if you don’t know who you are by now and or what you stand for, no PR team can help you.

Sure, they can create a persona for you, but what comes through won’t be authentic, and it will cause irreparable damage, not just to your personal reputation, but to your company’s, too. Creating a brand persona shouldn’t be transactional; it should be (and feel) incredibly personal.

Thinking you don’t need a social media presence

Again, wrong! A 2016 report by BRANDfog said that 75 percent of those surveyed believed the executive leadership of a company is improved by those leaders being active on social media. If you're a leader yourself, you don’t have be present on all platforms, but you should be highly present where most of your target audience lives; and you must use that platform well.

If you’re a strong writer, think about writing a blog -- either on your company’s website or for a magazine that covers your industry. Also share the published article on your company’s platforms, including LinkedIn. The content you write doesn’t have to be lengthy or overly technical. It has to be accurate, thoughtful (or thought-provoking), entertaining and educational.

Think of the different social platforms as TV channels; you don’t have to watch all of them, but you do need to present in several mediums to get your message across. 

Here’s the good news, then: It’s never too late to turn the ship around. Here are some steps you can take to do that.

Think about claiming your URL. Sounds simple enough, but we still sometimes forget to do it. I have my very own -- which includes a small bio, social media information, TV interviews I’ve done, a link to my podcast, listings of my books and more. That’s mine and mine alone. No one can claim to be me (as they do on other platforms). 

It is also through my social channels that I get more "personal" with my followers. Dave Farrow, CEO and founder of Farrow Communications, told me, “Your brand is just an image of who you actually are. Today, any difference between the two is seen as a betrayal.”

The message here is that people make connections with people. So, give them an insight about your thoughts, opinions and style. Everyone I do business with knows what I’m about. I live my brand 24/7. Everyone should. As Hall of Fame speaker Mikki Williams said, “Don’t be different; be unique. Anyone can be different, but no one can copy 'unique.'”

Get in front of the media. This is the part where your team comes in handy. Its members should have the connections to get you in front of a camera. I have been a frequent guest on several national shows and networks. One thing I used to do at one of those networks was have my team look at the “news of the day” and then pitch me to the show.

The producers knew I could be ready in a pinch, so it was a quick turnaround between prepping and going on air. In short, staying on top of the news is critical to getting yourself out there. CEOs need to be topical and, according to Linda Popky, president of Leverage2Market Associates, “use situations as they arise as an opportunity to reinforce the brand and tie the brand to what’s happening on a day-to-day basis.”

Write a book! I’m now writing my fourth book, The Hero Factor: How Great Leaders Transform Organizations and Create Winning Cultures. As any author can tell you, books are a long, drawn-out process, but one that should help establish you as a knowledgeable and credible source.

Related: The Keys to Building an Influential Personal Brand

In short, we live in a world that’s connected all the time. One simple click of a button can tell people nearly anything they need to know about you. So, in that kind of world, having a strong CEO brand is no longer a luxury, it's a necessity. That's why you should get on this.

Don’t wait until you’re managing a crisis to decide who you want to be and what values you want your company to espouse.

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