Should entrepreneurs advertise or advocate their brand?
"Be known for WHY you started your venture and not just the venture you started…'
Entrepreneurs are the custodians of a belief - in an opportunity or purpose. But soon enough we get consumed by the activity of executing the idea or realising the opportunity, the features of our products/services, selling, customers etc., and spend most of our efforts in "advertising' these. It just becomes another task – and we call it marketing and sales.
Undoubtedly, "advertising' helps sell the product or service and build the "enterprise brand'. But, the entrepreneur's personal brand merits an investment by the entrepreneur – to actively "advocate' the larger purpose, cause or need. This often helps strengthen the enterprise brand as well.
Entrepreneurs need to understand that products/organizations may come and go – you start or exit or restart a company. But advocacy will create entirely new categories and genres. For example, Steve Jobs is not just Apple, he advocated a whole new genre of consumption led through sheer design, technology and innovation.
So how can entrepreneurs advocate the larger purpose or belief?
Entrepreneurs reflect the larger purpose when they advocate, not advertise – when they walk the talk, and advocacy is entirely proportionate to the conviction of their own belief, which needs to be deeply internalised and articulated. It is imperative that they keep sounding off their own beliefs within their circles of influence. Also, this belief must be convincing and apparent to all the relevant stakeholders of the organisation – internally and externally.
To become a good advocate, it is also important that entrepreneurs first build a strong personal brand that customers can identify with. This personal brand is what helps generate a feeling of loyalty and trust in the mind of consumers. Their confidence in the brand is infectious and gets passed on to potential customers, job seekers and everyone else they come in contact with. It's a multiplier effect.
When building a personal brand, what is important is that the message should be consistent every time, everywhere, and should reflect the values and beliefs of the individual and what they have to offer. Most importantly, it should highlight "What makes them unique', because that is what will make customers remember you at the right time when they wish to buy something that you offer.
For instance, when you think of anything to do with aviation, you can't forget Richard Branson, the CEO of Virgin Airlines. He is known to be a risk taker and has even launched the world's very first commercial spaceline, that'll fly people to space and back.
Advocacy is a way of life - a commitment that comes out of a deep belief. It is 24x7.
Achieving advocacy through personal branding is far easier today, than in earlier times. The social media is an easily accessible tool that can come handy for entrepreneurs to build a strong personal brand; but one that needs to be used with care and caution. Similarly, there are alternatives like speaking at relevant and diverse conferences, engaging in policy making or writing guest blogs for established online business magazines/sites.
It will be safe to say that, apart from the CEO, the strongest advocate of the brand is also the employee. A team that whole-heartedly believes in the business they are in – automatically becomes a brand advocate! The way to build a wonderful brand is to advertise, but the way to build a credible brand is to advocate – inside out and outside in.