Companies now trawl through social media when recruiting and selecting, to check in many ways what is our brand equity. Also, many of us are being asked to pump out corporate messages through social media, including within our own personal networks. That means being the sort of communicator who can seamlessly switch between voices and tones. So maybe it's time for companies to rewarded staff, from the boardroom to the front desk, for having a personal brand and useful social media network; and to go a stage further by helping employees make their branded profiles even stronger?
If companies acknowledge the value of employee branding; and professionals are serious about seeing themselves as brands too: maybe we should be moving towards a new system and brand architecture - where we actually calculate the brand value of more professionals, and then incentivize and reward their social media network activities?
Industries more than ever need connected people who are both arts and science, being a manager isn't enough, and leadership is essential. The age of 'Mad Men' mavericks has been replaced by those who undertake formal study. The idea is that with such large organisations, geographies, and markets - they necessitate professionals with subject specific skills, formal qualifications and training.
If I was to be cynical or critical, then there's a real risk that this produces butlers and engineers. People in many ways designed to fit in and serve like butlers, and tinker around with existing processes, like engineers.
However, with so much disruptive innovation, global competition, and increasing cross-sector extensions - being agile, lean, lateral, and hyper-responsive have become the mantras of large and small organisations. Plus, with the advent of social media platforms, tablets and smartphones - work/life balance is a blended reality. iPhones not so long ago weren't serious business phones, they were toys and a work distraction; and Blackberry was the default instrument. Now, Blackberry Messenger can fuel Arab Springs; iPhones and others are your remote office, research tool, media broadcaster, and a whole lot more.
What else has changed: avatars, social media, and concision as a result of democratized information overload have pulled us further into a branded reality. Employer and personal branding are also in vogue. Strong Theory messaging has given way to Weak Theory - it's about incremental gains, and long-tail economics that are achieved through the sum total of nudges, shares, and reciprocity as an opening gambit.
That's: 'I'll help you to be great in the hope that you'll help me to achieve greatness - somewhere, somehow, and to someone'.
So brands are attempting to resonate and embed themselves into our psyche by being more human, like Pinocchio - an identity, personality and all the rest. And humans are attempting to become more like brands. There's never been a greater call to stand out, whilst fitting in - collective individualism. That means being liked by diverse networks and connecting them, so that they see your Gestalt reality.
My take is that this brings forth a reality of encouraging singularity and surrogacy through branding and transformational leadership. This means one emotive and cogent offering, decoded from the sum total of experiences and interactions. But most importantly, delivering cultural authenticity - in a way where adoption results from demonstrating a willingness to stand side-by-side, as a native and equal.
With all of this in mind, should we be applying and extending brand thinking in the same way to professionals? Brands are no longer just reflective of an architecture made up of a corporate identity and portfolio of products and services. They are driven and humanized by the employees and consumers.
Having said all of this, if it was this easy, then studying and following the rules would work, right? So what about those that break, reshape and make the rules? And are these rules actually just too nuanced and perishable?
"I'm not a businessman - I'm a business, man" - Jay Z lyrics
For example, Metallica are a brand that wasn't cooked out of an agency. Not so long ago, I can also remember colleagues marking assignments wrong, where students suggested that Jay Z was a brand; and billboards in car video games, or YouTube user generated content videos were adverts. "Jay Z is not a brand, Coca Cola is - he is a celebrity endorser"... "an advert is a paid for piece of communication in a pre-designated space"... or at least, that's what the text books used to say.
But at the same time now, entertainers have raised the bar for other professionals. Have we all become performers? The pressure on staff across an organization to be intuitive communicators and decision-makers - with the speed of wit of a stand-up comedian and the ability to present every pitch like a TED talk.
And, like rock and rap stars, the argument stands for controlling your professional image to present a 'corporate' cool - as everyone is Googling, checking and searching for authenticity. I've remarked on how with elite athletes it makes sense to spend time away from the training ground, working on image, personality and communication; and even considering retiring early - in order to protect an accrued brand equity, which translates to earnings, desirability and reputation.
Okay sure, if brands want to become more human, and professionals are becoming and behaving more like brands, what are the implications and perhaps what should we be doing?
Well employee branding as a concept has been around for a while: but should we be assessing the sum total activities of individuals; not just by how much they do for the corporate/product/service brand - but by all of these in conjunction with an employee's brand value?
Now, we're used to rating athletes, musicians, celebrities, sponsorship endorsers, and entrepreneurs in this way; but perhaps the conversation becomes a little uncomfortable when we look at professionals like us in the same way.
Logically, we should be encouraging people to improve their LinkedIn and other social media profiles, giving employees training in this. The aim being that they become more active on social media, for the benefit of the organisation. It's good cheap promotion, and the days are gone when professionals can separate their private social media lives completely from their professional identities - everything is in the public domain.
Also, as companies are on LinkedIn they should be pushing the profiles of their staff, as part of their corporate branding and promotional activities - because LinkedIn is doing this, making links and presenting network bonds anyway. This would give a boost to existing branding activities, attracting business, raising the corporate profile, and attracting new talent.
However, there is a perception/guilty secret/fear here, that this gives too much power and 'brand value' to the people, which they may cash in on and take elsewhere. If we apply relationship-marketing theory to our staff, as we have to consumers; then this healthy competition and these brand exchanges should be embraced and encouraged.
So for us professionals what does this mean? In order to fulfil personal and corporate obligations - it's about focusing on the individual. We should be doing more to create our own brand architecture, and to bring and embed that into an organisation's. That's more time communicating and practising the spoken and written word; and not being afraid to stand beside our professional activities and offerings - because professional and corporate authenticity will be demonstrated ultimately through real people.
The difference now is that this isn't just the domain of board members; it extends throughout the organisational hierarchy. For example, I encourage my students to create YouTube short documentaries and presentations, to rework their assignments into magazine style pieces and whitepapers on SlideShare - to stand out, claim that space, and demonstrate authenticity beyond a degree certificate.
Business today means leading and empowering professionals towards branding themselves, and being less precious about top-down control. Help people to be themselves and trust that they will return the favour by bringing brands and campaigns to life, just like Pinocchio.
Finally, if companies are serious about branding their staff and employee branding; and if professionals are serious about seeing themselves as brands - maybe we should be moving towards a system where we actually calculate the brand value of more of our professionals, incentivize and reward it - and not just leave that approach to the footballers?