As an entrepreneur, you’ve faced countless challenges. From the most basic level of making payroll to leading new product launches and visionary projects, it can be incredibly difficult to know where your business ends and you begin. This of course has led to a new obstacle – is your brand’s only equity YOU? Celebrity CEOs are nothing new, dating back to the time of the oil barons, but personal branding dictating business trajectory en masse is a distinctly modern phenomenon. From Elon Musk to Martha Stewart, the behavior of prominent leaders has never been more closely tied to the success of a business.
That doesn’t change the fact that you might be tired of having turned your personal feeds into your own selling tools. Perhaps you’re even ready to launch another venture, but you’re too closely tied to your first business. Succession planning used to mean figuring out an exit strategy, but how do you prepare your brand to stand on its own two feet – with or without you?
Define Your Value Prop
The first step in distinguishing your personal brand from that of the company is getting clear about what exactly you’re offering your customers. Your value proposition should clearly and succinctly convey what your product or service does and define why you do it better than your competitors. Where this can get muddled is when companies jampack a simple statement with unnecessary jargon or a laundry list of features.
A prime example of a company that has done this exceptionally well (no surprise here) is Apple. While there are plenty of smartphone manufacturers, Apple has dominated the space since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, under the leadership of Steve Jobs.
Succession planning used to mean figuring out an exit strategy, but how do you prepare your brand to stand on its own two feet – with or without you?
Recently, the company introduced the iPhone 13, and while we’re all familiar with the iPhone at this point, Apple melds two messages that work – the aspirational and the technical. Here’s an excerpt from the announcement press release:
Apple today introduced iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in a smartphone. iPhone 13 Pro and iPhone 13 Pro Max, the most pro iPhone lineup ever, introduce all-new camera hardware, an intelligent display with ProMotion, the best graphics performance ever on iPhone, and amazing battery life.
First, Apple uses some lofty – yet true – language in “pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in a smartphone.” This has been accurate of the product since it hit the market, and is something Apple’s consumers expect from the brand. Today’s Apple users may soon not even remember who Steve Jobs is (despite several underwhelming biopics), but they can instantly comprehend the value of Apple’s beautifully designed and ultra functional iPhone.
Start – Even If It’s Messy
As Winston Churchill said, “Perfectionism is the enemy of progress.” Many entrepreneurs struggle with waiting for the right moment to officially uncouple themselves from their brand. While strategic planning is necessary, slowly testing new messaging – in new business conversations, on social media – helps to ease your audience into any sudden changes. A prime example of this is Vaynermedia, the media company established by the internet’s favorite hustler, Gary Vaynerchuk. A prominent media figure for years, Gary Vee’s empire was built on the rise-and-grind mentality, creating shareable sound bites like “Stop Whining, Start Hustling,” and “It’s easy to dream about it … Much harder to execute it ….Work!”
Your value proposition should clearly and succinctly convey what your product or service does and define why you do it better than your competitors.
If you’ve been paying attention, however, the messaging from the Vaynerchuk empire has shifted in recent years to a much softer tone. While much of the brand was built on Gary’s brash takes, the diversification of company spokespeople, including leaders like Claude Silver, Vaynermedia’s Chief Heart Officer, has made success seem less like a blood soaked battle, and more like a vulnerable journey of growth and personal transformation. The change has been subtle, but it has primed a new audience that may have been previously turned off by Gary’s approach.
People Expect a Rebrand
Customers are savvier than ever when it comes to branding. Be it their favorite social media influencer getting married (or divorced!) or the startup they’ve been a religious customer of since day one getting acquired and renamed, younger generations are not expecting everything to stay the same forever. Why? Because nothing ever has.
The first step in distinguishing your personal brand from that of the company is getting clear about what exactly you’re offering your customers.
While it may not be considered a technical rebrand, differentiating yourself from your business still constitutes a change. Luckily, the average customer should be willing to follow along on your journey as long as the product quality doesn’t disintegrate. As the positioning of your business moves away from being tied to your personal branding, your focus should be on quality control, stability and creating as much value for your customers as possible. For instance, a price increase for your most popular product should not coincide with you launching a new company from your personal channels. Customers will read this as a lack of focus on the business, and the cascade of changes will diminish their trust in your brand overtime. Any new ventures should ideally be a natural extension of your primary business, or be celebrated as a new chapter that you’re excited to bring your audience along for the ride.
Adopt the Failure Mindset
According to the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy, only 50% of businesses make it past the 5 year milestone, and only 1/3 of businesses survive the first ten years. If so many companies fail, and beyond that, countless projects and initiatives, why isn’t there a stronger focus on beating failure?
When we think about failure, we’re prompted to expand our field of vision and prioritize differently. Stopping to ask yourself and your leadership team “What will cause our business to fail?” will help you to prioritize and address the most pressing issues once you begin to differentiate the business from your personal branding.
Getting clear about what factors and forces can cause failure, specifically conducting a Priio® session, creates a roadmap for success. Drawing on the pre-mortem methodology designed by cognitive psychologist Gary Klein over 20 years ago and used since then by many of the world’s most successful companies, conducting a pre-mortem can revolutionize your approach, internal culture and business. And more practically, a 1 hour meeting with a pre-mortem on the agenda can save you a year of surprises, assumptions and misalignment – all things that kill your potential for success.