Have you ever wondered why your toaster looks like it’s smiling at you? It’s not because you haven’t had your coffee yet; it’s the result of a psychological phenomenon called pareidolia.
Our brains want to see faces in everyday inanimate objects. And we’d much rather engage with faces than stale brands on social media. One report from the Georgia Institute of Technology found that photos on Instagram that show faces are 38 percent more likely to receive likes.
Although the online world can feel impersonal, brands can cut through the static by engaging with their audiences as humans. And it starts with developing an executive branding strategy.
Executives at companies can utilize their expertise, personality, and genuine ability to connect with others as a way to engage with their company’s audience and produce real business results.
For that purpose, Influence & Co. defines executive branding as:
The act of sharing your expertise in your industry in a manner that educates and engages your target audience and drives value to your business.
So how does sharing your expertise apply to your company?
Studies have shown that 70 percent of people prefer to get to know about a company through articles rather than advertisements. One reason is that articles, unlike advertisements, are authored by individuals behind the company and emanate their personalities and real-world anecdotes. Plus, experts can respond to their comments, one human to another.
More CMOs are beginning to realize the experts within their organization are their biggest marketing assets. Matt Preschern, CMO of HCL Technologies, believes emotionally connecting with prospects and customers is more important than ever, especially in the B2B space.
“I’d go as far as to say that we need to provide authentic points of view about our respective companies, comment on ‘hot’ industry topics, or provide assistance and technical expertise — often in real time,” Preschern says.
From a sales standpoint, executive branding can also funnel in new leads, especially when paired with speaking opportunities. Speaker and social branding consultant William Arruda has experienced this effect firsthand.
“As a public speaker, my most powerful marketing tool is the speech I am delivering,” Arruda says. “It’s a way for future clients to ‘try me out’ and determine relevance. If done right, each keynote can lead to one or two others and the sale of my products, eliminating the need for outbound marketing.”
By publishing content, you’re showing audiences you have value to add, which can open the door to speaking opportunities and put your brand on the map. And when you secure a column in an online industry publication, your bio can also lead readers to your company blog to learn more about your offering. This generates engagement and brings in new inbound leads.
Every time you write an article or blog post, you’re also creating social media fuel. By blasting out your articles to your audience, you’ll gain even more exposure for your content and company.
We work with many executives and marketing departments that aren’t always sold on executive branding. Here are a few common concerns we hear and how to combat them:
Your C-suite doesn’t have 10 extra hours on their hands each week; we get that. Luckily, executive branding requires minimal work from the actual executives — if done right. Your marketing team can make this easier for executives by creating a knowledge bank, using a spreadsheet or free custom template to manage the executives’ insights, and putting together an editorial calendar. Or if it all seems too foreign, you could outsource the content creation process to a firm like Influence & Co.
We don’t think you should do that, either. We’ve seen the best results with companies that choose at least three to four individuals with expertise in different areas of the company. Doing so allows them to accomplish different goals by solidifying their executive brand.
For example, your head of HR could focus his executive brand on attracting top talent. Or your vice president of sales could speak to and engage with big-ticket prospects.
Executive branding isn’t just about the executive. Explain to your C-suite how an executive branding strategy can actually further the company’s agenda and doesn’t only stand to serve executives.
Chris Thornham, co-founder of FLO Cycling and a client of ours, believes that sharing your expertise doesn’t have to be a power move. Conversely, it allows you to tap into new networks and build relationships.
“Executive branding isn’t egotistical when the information is presented in the right way,” Thornham says. “Properly executed, it shows your customers that you’re passionate about your industry and committed to helping them fully understand where they’re spending their hard-earned dollars by giving them up-to-date information. Great content — that also happens to be free — spreads quickly and is an excellent way to reach new audiences.”
Want to grow your team’s executive brand as part of your content marketing strategy? Here are four action steps you can take to get started: