Business Advice, Startup Advice

Where personal and organisational brands collide

Michel Hogan /

“Where does the individual end and the organisation start?”

A version of this question was asked last week by a group working on a new business, and there’s nothing like a good question to get my thoughts churning.

I’ll start with the individual. Everyone has a brand, even if you’ve never thought of it that way. You make choices every day. Those choices are guided by things you believe and what you care about. The result of those choices is your brand.

Ever asked people the question, “so how would you describe me to others?”? Yep right there — your brand.

Your brand goes wherever you go. Those identity elements of purpose and values that drive organisations work the same way for people. The combination of people in an organisation and what those things are for each of them, play a big part in determining the brand.

They are like the proverbial Gordian knot. You can’t find where one begins and the other ends.

In the beginning, the people starting the organisation use what they care about and believe as a foundation for the organisation. They bring in other people who also have things they care about and believe. If those things are in harmony, the foundation gets reinforced. If they aren’t, the push and pull process shifts them until a new frame emerges. More people come in, and the process continues to play out.

After a few years, more stability emerges. The remnants of the earlier things are still there in some form, or sometimes still strongly present. And that structure results in the brand.

I often say that organisations can’t have a brand until they have been around for about three years. And the process I’ve just described above is why.

Sure, from day one you can slap a name and logo on it and wrap it all in some sexy marketing, and that’s fine. But behind the closed doors of that slick veneer, things are going to be a mess for a while. Read any startup story and that’s the tale they tell.

In the early days, the strongest, most resilient brands all have equally powerful personal brands at their heart. You can’t think about Apple without Steve, Microsoft without Bill, Google without Sergey and Larry, Telsa without Elon, Zappos without Tony … you get the idea.

This can be a good and bad thing; recent events and furore around Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick show the potential negative impact an individual can have on the organisation brand, even once it has seemingly become more stable.

“Well”, you might say “that’s not me, I’m no Steve”. But whether you have a local business or a global one, the principle is the same. The role their personal brands played in their organisation’s brands are writ large only because they play on a big stage. The scale doesn’t change it.

So the question isn’t where does the individual end and the organisation start. In the early days, it is the collision of the two that shapes the organisation’s brand result. The question is, how do you harness the energy of the collision so it doesn’t destroy things before you get started?

See you next week.

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Michel Hogan

Michel Hogan is an independent brand thinker and adviser dedicated to helping you make promises you can keep and keep the promises you make — with a strong, resilient organisation and brand as the result. You can find Michel at michelhogan.com.

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