Executive branding essentially means focusing on the same branding techniques you’d use for entire companies and narrowing it down to the single individual; the executive leader. By focusing on their knowledge, passions, and authority, having executives in the public eye can strengthen a brand’s credibility.
Executive branding was included in a Forbes list of the top trends in marketing B2B companies need to watch out for in 2017.
While many CEOs and other top executives prefer to “stay off the grid” when it comes to their own personal branding, doing just the opposite can have significant benefits for their organizations. Examples include: more exposure, better press, and a more transparent company culture between the business and target audience.
Below are some of the ways executive branding can help increase the impact of your broader B2B marketing efforts, using real-world social media and blogging examples.
Promote Company Happenings
Because executives can be so fascinating to target audiences, they often have a higher outreach than the company itself. A study from MSLgroup found that when employees share company news, they have a 561 percent higher reach rate on average than simply sharing from the official corporate platforms.
Audiences may be more like to engage with an executive instead of the brand itself. It feels more personal.
For example, Martha Stewart follows a set format and voice, which makes the channel more authentic. If the tweets were a little too polished, you might start to expect that it’s a social media team behind the scenes, carefully approving tweets before they go out.
On today's https://t.co/PaKhJ8WIq0 photos from my Memorial Day weekend up in Maine with my family and friends.
— Martha Stewart (@MarthaStewart) June 1, 2017
While someone may still be reviewing her posts, Martha’s voice on Twitter and her blog do a great job of promoting her content and brand in a simple and effective way.
Martha Stewart’s blog shares lots of photos, and on the sidebars you’ll notice ads, brand name Pinterest and Twitter accounts, and links to her primary, branded websites.
While Richard Branson’s method of having his personal blog on the main Virgin website is better for SEO, many could argue that having a separate blog for the executive allows them to be more personal. This can lead to higher executive and brand sentiment, as if the audience is reading their journal instead of a scripted blog post about their life.
George Colony, the CEO at Forrester Research, does a good job of intermingling Branson and Stewart’s approaches to blogging.
His blog on Forrester’s site, The Counterintuitive CEO, shares monthly posts about business, leadership, news, and his opinions on specific topics. The blog does a great job of representing the brand from its CEO’s point of view. Colony is able to share his opinions while also eloquently standing up as a figurehead for the organization.
Source of Exposure
As Dallas Mavericks and co-star of Shark Tank, billionaire Mark Cuban knows a thing or two about promotion and spending the time to make branding count. Cuban does a great job on Twitter of promoting not only his own press coverage, but happenings from the many companies he has invested in through Shark Tank and other channels.
He frequently retweets this news, which is a more personal touch. We can imagine Cuban on his phone, retweeting news from his companies or others that have mentioned his Twitter username:
By frequently sharing what’s going on with his companies (as well as giving his opinion regularly on politics, business, and world affairs),Cuban is frequently a guest on radio shows, podcasts, and news channels. This only increases his exposure for his many businesses, as well as his own personal brand.
By using executive branding to share his slice of the world,Cuban is making it easier to get pitched and gain visibility across several different media platforms.
If your executive leadership is more active on visible marketing channels, they will seem more approachable and open to exposure opportunities, like speaking gigs, interviews, and cited sources in articles.
Work with your executives on maintaining an ongoing presence online and coordinate with press and conference organizers to get their names out there more often. Once the executive has spoken at a conference or attended an event, make sure to share photos, recaps, and videos to further awareness and extend the online life of what they shared.
Become a Thought Leader
As executives grow their visibility online, they will become a thought leader in the space, which can only grow their own influence and their company in their industry. Audiences like to see thought leaders grow into their own, sharing their personal experience, anecdotes, and following along with the brand’s ups and downs.
Pete Cashmore, the founder of Mashable, is a good example of this. When he launched Mashable all on his own, his personal twitter account was @Mashable. That handle has now been redone as the official handle for the publishing giant, which initially started focusing on marketing and technology news and continues to branch out into pop culture, current events, and more.
Even though Pete Cashmore is no longer the sole owner and user of the @Mashable username, he has done a great job of building up his personal brand on his newer Twitter account, @PeteCashmore. In addition to retweeting Mashable news (much like Mark Cuban), he also retweets and shares photos of his recent speaking engagements:
Because Cashmore started Mashable on his own, he had no choice but to be his own advocate when it comes to exposure, visibility, and branding. As his website grew, he has transitioned into still an avid online activist for everything Mashable.
Even though he hasn’t bylined a post on Mashable since 2014, having an author page on the site is a valuable presence. It shows that Mashable’s executive leadership is still involved in the site’s day-to-day bread and butter: its content.
Your B2B business doesn’t have to be a publisher to employ the same tactics. If executives can’t write their own posts, have a ghostwriter sit down with them for 15 or 30 minutes to outline a topic idea that can be flushed out with research and actionable points.
Or, do a quick video of the CEO sharing their thoughts or answering questions. This can be transcribed and shared across social media channels. Executives have a big pull on target audiences because they represent authority and the final word on what is going on behind a brand.
Not Using Social Media = Not Being Transparent
Career and site Work It Daily suggests that CEOs and other executive that aren’t on social media could have a negative impact.
They suggest that “not us[ing] social media as part of your Executive Branding strategy screams one or more of the following messages:
- I’m not technology-savvy enough to use social media.
- I think I’m smarter than the rest of the world.
- I have something to hide.”
While the tech-savvy point is less of a concern (especially if your CEO is in their golden years and didn’t grow up with technology), having your customers, the press, and employees think that CEOs don’t have anything to share or learn could affect brand sentiment as a whole. Whether it’s their personal or professional life, not being visible online could make audience members think that they have something to hide.
The same goes with not using social media or other marketing platforms to respond to rumors, accusations, or breaking news. By keeping quiet, executives could make it look like they don’t care about what their customers think, which can lead a giant backlash.
In addition, the opposite can ironically also be true. Speaking out but doing so without regard for how it could impact the business can also be a terrible blow to B2B executive branding efforts.
A classic example of this is Gawker’s 2011 story on Bob Parsons, the founder and former CEO of GoDaddy. He was outed as an avid big game hunter, killing elephants and other exotic animals for sport. Instead of considering the backlash he received and how it could impact his business, he spoke with TIME magazine, saying that he didn’t regret killing the elephant that was mentioned in the Gawker piece and that he planned on continuing to hunt.
Combine this with their blatant sexist ads, and GoDaddy’s executive branding problem turned into a company-wide brand sentiment problem. Many customers protested by dropping GoDaddy in favor of other hosting and domain companies.
These challenges are part of what lead to GoDaddy bringing on a new CEO in 2014 and working hard to reverse their negative connotations in the industry.
This 2015 Wired piece highlights the programs and changes they are focusing on in order to improve their image.
CEO is More Trustworthy Than The Staff Writer
Luckily for more brands, snafus like GoDaddy’s don’t happen as often as happy stories do. Companies that have a well-liked and knowledgeable CEO can strategically use their influence to get more visibility and interest in company products and services.
After all, when the audience likes the CEO, they are going to trust more of what they have to say over a staff writer that doesn’t have as much power and influence.
Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin empire, is a good example of this. He maintains a blog on the main virgin website, where he shares his thoughts. He also occasionally ties in Virgin products, as he mentions in this tweet:
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) June 2, 2017
Because this blog post about hen parties (also known as bachelorette parties in the United States) came straight from Richard Branson, website visitors may be more willing to read it compared to an unknown writer (even if it’s the same content).
Branson has done a great job on his own personal branding and enjoys a reputation as a generous, outgoing, laidback CEO. As a result, his followers feel more comfortable trusting him and give him more consideration when it comes to the content he’s producing.
Getting content and updates from a single individual instead of a company will likely lead to a higher CTR and engagement rate. According to Social Media Today, employees receive 8 times the engagement on their social media posts over the corporate accounts for their employers, due to their personal network, branding, and activity. What’s more, this statistic is an average for all employees.
An executive (especially a CEO) will have much more pull, as they are responsible for the future and direction of the company they are leading. Whether they like it or not, executives are the main focus for press, customers, and the general public when it comes to a company’s actions and offerings.
By using executive branding effectively, you can use this notoriety for company gain and publicity.
The digital space has given B2B organizations and individuals more opportunities than ever before. Being more active on social media, blogs, and other B2B marketing platforms has a plethora of benefits for both the executives and the brand.
Executives will get to build up their own personal brand that they can take with them, should they ever decide to retire or focus on another business. Organizations can use executives as individual figureheads that represent their company, which makes audiences feel a more personal connection to what they have to offer.
Leverage social media, content, and other media to get your executives more visible in your industry. Work with them in the format they like best (for example, video if they hate writing or transcribed phone calls if they hate being on video), which will allow them to shine in the best possible light.
Repurpose executive content when possible and don’t be afraid to ask executives to get more involved in your company’s public relations, marketing, and branding efforts. After seeing the positive impact it could have on the company’s bottom line, they should be more willing to take an active role in visibly representing the company.
Screenshots taken June 2017. Featured image via Pexels.