Personal brand is something that I believe every natural leader has. It is a sort of charisma or energy that serves as the basis for our relationships, professional or otherwise. I’ve spent the last several years thinking about my own personal brand and what it means for our business.
I'm the CEO of hackajob, an end-to-end hiring platform for technical roles, that I co-founded at 20 years old. As a young entrepreneur, I was keen on exploring how my personal brand could help or hurt our business. Specifically, I wanted to create a public-facing persona that aligned with my optimistic and energetic demeanor while simultaneously trying to avoid coming off as “too green.”
As a result, our business has seen tremendous growth over the last year. In May, we announced a sizable series B fundraise that has propelled our US growth and the expansion of our hiring marketplace. Now more than ever, I am conscious of my brand and the ways that it helps—or hurts—our momentum.
What Is Personal Brand?
Personal brand is the conscious effort made by an individual to be seen as an authority in their industry, elevating their credibility. As an extension of one of modern business’s core values, it is a strategic asset to build trust and loyalty and rally your base of followers. But, when building your brand, it’s necessary to strike the right balance between being an advocate for yourself and your company, and authenticity—especially when talking to digitally-native Gen-Z.
Personal brand is the dovetail of your industry reputation, expertise and ability to instill confidence in the products and services you endorse. Like any brand, it’s built over time and relies on consistency, effort and connection.
Personal vs. Corporate Brand
While personal branding and corporate branding can serve the same purpose, personal branding has the benefit of being flexible and adaptable as individual opinions change. Like in a sports broadcast, if a corporate brand is the play-by-play commentator laying out the facts, your personal brand is the supporting color, responsible for putting corporate decisions into context.
Personal brand enhances corporate brand equity by tying positive perception, insightful industry knowledge and a user or follower-tailored experience to the brand. Before the digital revolution, personal branding was confined to traditional media and networking events and was limited in scope and impact.
But the advent of social media and the ability to have information readily available 24/7 has revolutionized personal brand development. LinkedIn boasts roughly 1 billion users as a solely professional platform, positioning personal branding as a need more than a want in many work environments.
Consider Richard Branson, whose personal brand as a maverick entrepreneur has evolved with the times. He is what he is selling—a charismatic adventurer daring people to bet on him. When you buy from one of Branson’s brands, you are buying into the experience. From his early days challenging the music industry with Virgin Records to his endeavors in space tourism with Virgin Galactic, Branson's personal brand has remained a key element in his success.
How Influencer Marketing Has Sensationalized Personal Brand
There is a lot to be said about—and a lot to be learned from—the role that influencer marketing played in tying personal brand to commercial success.
Today’s young consumers, ironically the same group that was raised on the infomercial, seek out first-person anecdotes before deciding to invest in a product. Customers want to visualize how and where they will use the product within their own lives but are wary of marketing jargon and baseless promises.
This natural wariness and desire to buy from people we trust has been a catalyst for influencer success, and executive leadership stands to benefit from employing these same strategies when marketing themselves and their companies. In fact, 92% of consumers trust recommendations from their favorite influencers over traditional advertisements.
Like a bloodhound on a manhunt, consumers are sharp—sniffing out insincerity and ready to abandon their brand allegiance when they find it. The content that executives create must walk the line between authentic and intentional. Falling too far to one side or the other—like in the case of outlandish Tweet-ers like Kanye West or Elon Musk—can leave consumers questioning whether they align with your personal values and, by default, the corporate brand you spearhead.
A Case Study: Gymshark
Others, however, have found success channeling their authenticity on social media into organic growth for their brand. Take Ben Francis, co-founder and CEO of athletic wear brand Gymshark:
The ambitious 20-something began screen printing and selling fitness clothes out of his parent’s garage. Eager to show the product’s usefulness, Francis began chronicling his health journey on YouTube and Instagram. Like many fitness vloggers in the early 2010s, his popularity skyrocketed—and thus, so did the clothes he was wearing: Gymshark.
In 2023, at age 30, he joined the Forbes Billionaires list, making him one of the UK’s youngest billionaires ever. Though Francis has undoubtedly changed over the last decade, he has not lost the same air of authenticity that keeps his followers coming back for more.
Similarly, executives should identify their most authentic, enduring qualities and let them serve as personal brand pillars as they evolve.
The Role of the Executive’s Brand
In practice, an executive’s brand serves two core functions within the company:
- It supports the company’s reputation
- It enables them to act as a spokesperson and influencer for the brand
Rare Beauty’s CMO, Katie Welch, is a shining example of what this looks like done well.
Welch’s team of 23 only invests in digital marketing—a strategy, she told The Verge, that pairs well with the brand’s target audience. She said, “Twenty or so years ago, you would push out a marketing message with a traditional media plan; you would have a one-dimensional target you were trying to reach, and that was it. It was flat. Now, it’s really a two-way conversation.”
Paired with the brand’s dedication to connecting with its audience, Welch has built an audience of her own. With nearly 100K followers on TikTok and 34K on LinkedIn, she uses her platform to share career advice—talking candidly to her followers about how she got where she is. Aspiring marketers invest in her and therefore invest in the Rare Beauty brand.
Finding Success in a Changing Market
Improving personal brand regularly has a positive impact on business outcomes. Speaking opportunities, sharing personal anecdotes on LinkedIn and giving followers an inside look at your day-to-day—when rooted in authenticity—all bring visibility to the brand. Many of those loyal followers ultimately convert into repeat customers and clients. They are organic advocates of you and the work you are doing.
Any member of the C-suite, whether it is the CEO, CMO, etc., has the power to be perceived as the frontman of the business—you are a team captain. But more than a leader, you are a marketing asset. People will buy from you because they believe in you as a person. Leverage your natural leadership charisma to get people to buy in, to take part in the conversation.
The key to developing a strong personal brand is posting authentically, engaging in communities that you feel passionately about, and being regularly accessible to followers who take a genuine interest in your growth. Whether posting on LinkedIn, writing thought leadership or talking into the camera for TikTok, the medium is up to you.
For me, it is evident that my strategic investment in personal brand development is not just a luxury but a necessity. The ability to amplify my team’s work extends beyond my individual success to contribute to organizational resilience and growth. Leading a platform of over 500,000 users seeking employment has given me unique insight into the ways that we differentiate ourselves and an understanding that differentiation can be the difference between an offer and a lost opportunity. The journey of personal branding is not a static one; it's a dynamic, ongoing process that mirrors the agility required to thrive in today's competitive marketplace.