Despite the $183 billion that’s projected to be spent on advertising in the U.S. alone this year, some of the most influential messaging will come directly from company executives; and, when leveraging the power of the Internet and social media, will cost virtually nothing.
Executives, particularly those in the digital marketing and technology space, have embraced the concept of executive branding for many years now: Rand Fishkin of moz, Matt Cutts of Google, and of course, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Executive branding has even made its way to the highest office in the land—in the form of tweets from President Trump that dominate the news on a regular basis.
B2B buyers, especially, expect to see and hear from company executives in a real, personal and authentic way. More and more, it’s a big part of why they ultimately decide to buy. Here’s how (and why) executive branding builds invaluable trust among customers, plus four ways to thoughtfully execute your own executive branding strategy.
You’re the voice your customers want—and need—to hear
Thought leadership as a marketing best practice is far from a novel concept, and nowadays, it’s not really even the primary motivation for executive branding strategies. That’s because trust—an obvious cornerstone of relationship marketing—is “in a crisis around the world,” according to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer.
“Two-thirds of the countries we survey are now ‘distrusters’ (less than 50% trust in the mainstream institutions of business, government, media, and non-government organizations to do what is right).” - Edelman Trust Barometer
Executive branding, then, has become a vital means companies can use to help stem this decline. In essence, executive branding, and a heavy reliance upon the Internet and social media as delivery methods, is central for promoting more honest, transparent communication with customers who now need and demand it more than ever before.
But the renewed emphasis on executive branding is also due, in part, to an emergent trend where buyers—and especially business buyers—want to know and trust the leaders of the companies with whom they do business. Traditional rules are out, they say, and instead, “The pendulum has shifted dramatically to individuals—individuals as buyers and individuals as the voices of their companies.”
4 components of a well-designed executive branding strategy
While the reasoning for executive branding has evolved beyond just establishing subject matter expertise to now include developing familiarity and breaking down emerging trust barriers, the procedure has remained largely the same. What follows are the core components of an executive branding strategy that serves to establish meaningful connections during all phases of a buyer’s journey.
Writing/publishing online content:
The creation of thought-provoking and even controversial content is how names, reputations, and entire brands are made today. For executive branding purposes, be forthright, transparent, and perhaps even vulnerable in order to humanize your company’s executives in the eyes of customers. Aim to put an executive byline on every piece of applicable content you create.
Active social media presence:
Don’t just use the company’s social media outlets. Instead, develop and utilize your executives’ personal and professional networks to increase exposure, reach new audiences, and build the trust. Just be sure to create a solid distinction and maintain variety between your personal and corporate accounts by posting content that’s strategic and unique to each one.
Tried and true media relations can help your audience feel more connected to your company executives. Pitch executive interviews and quotes or sound bites to relevant media on a regular basis. In this connected age, companies might even use social media or various other online methods to pitch news-worthy stories and ideas to reporters, so make networking with the press and influential media figures a priority of your executive branding strategy.
Still the most intimate and personal form of communication, speaking gigs at trade shows, industry events and seminars convey authority and carry additional importance since they seem rare and special. Maximize these opportunities by delivering valuable information (i.e. content) and interacting firsthand with customers, key industry stakeholders, and any media and press in attendance. Becoming a sought-after speaker is an excellent complement to your overall branding strategy and will inevitably help build your online profile as well.
What are some examples of executive brand building activities that you would like to emulate?