This is the year that the personal brand begins to do battle with the corporate brand. I think we need to let the personal brand win—especially in B2B.
Featuring big pictures and bios of your subject matter experts on your website is a good start, but it is the equivalent of paid search. It’s relevant but still a step removed from the truly personal connection. We need the equivalent of organic search, where our people rise to the top on their own, independent of their corporate affiliations.
Then as marketers, we create a virtuous cycle that links these personal brands to the corporate brand. But it’s going to mean letting these people roam free outside the corporate firewall.
Pitting the corporate brand against the personal brand
Forrester Research is testing both sides of this argument. Now, awhile back I wrote a post criticizing Forrester’s decision to prevent its analysts from hosting their own personal blogs. I still believe what I said is right, but that’s not the purpose of this post.
The reason I bring up Forrester again is because they are actually so far ahead of the curve on this issue that they are the Sputnik dog of personal and a corporate brand testing. It’s a good problem to have, to be grappling with this issue as Forrester is.
Testing the popularity of content
If you follow social media, you probably know most of the story already. One of Forrester’s former analysts, Jeremiah Owyang, developed a big following on his personal blog “Web Strategy” in part because he hits on all cylinders of blogging: frequent posts, engaging content, and an active audience that contributes interesting and insightful comments. (And it should be mentioned that he started his blog before he came to Forrrester.) Another reason for his popularity, at least more recently, was because he was a Forrester analyst, and that brought instant credibility and gravitas to his words, because Forrester has such a strong brand.
But Owyang didn’t just post on his own blog; he also posted on a Forrester blog that was created around his business line. In other words, you had two avenues of attention and traffic that both complemented and competed with one another, at least from a branding perspective. In the early days, Owyang’s personal blog was driven by his personal brand and enhanced by the Forrester corporate brand. First you found Owyang, and then you found that Forrester was behind him.
Meanwhile, the Forrester corporate blog that he contributed to was driven by the Forrester brand and enhanced by Owyang’s personal brand. First you found Forrester, and then you found Owyang.
What better a, b test of personal vs. corporate branding could you get?
I wish I had the numbers to prove it, but my sense based on my own experience in social media is that Owyang’s personal brand won that battle. It certainly did in my own view. I found him on his own blog before I found him on Forrester’s and the conversation on his personal blog was more interesting and his community more engaged than on the Forrester blog.
What happens when your personal brand quits?
Of course, then Owyang left Forrester for a startup, Altimeter, that was started by a former Forrester analyst and which has since scooped up a number of other Forrester analysts. Right around that time, Forrester announced that it was ending the cross-posting experiment—no more personal blogs for its analysts. Any blogging would now be done from behind the firewall. I don’t want to assert cause and effect here, just pointing out the change.
Co-branding the individual and the company
As part of the change in its blogging policy, Forrester revised its blogging strategy as well, making its analysts more visible and giving them their own personal blogs behind the Forrester firewall. For example, Owyang’s replacement, Augie Ray, has his own personal blog, but his posts also appear on a group blog targeted at the business line he serves, “Interactive Marketing.” It’s a kind of co-branding strategy: individual analyst, line of business, and company brand all have equal billing at the top of the blog. So when Ray leaves, Forrester banks that people will want to follow the replacement analyst in interactive marketing for Forrester.
Meanwhile, Owyang still has his personal blog and it is as popular as it ever was—if not more so—than when he was at Forrester. And that’s a really good thing for Owyang’s new company, Altimeter Group. If you don’t agree, just go to Alexa and compare traffic at Owyang’s personal blog, the Forrester site, and the Altimeter site.
For smaller companies like Altimeter, the personal vs. corporate branding decision should be a no-brainer. Owyang’s traffic dwarfs that of the company. They should be thrilled that Owyang is still blogging, because he is constantly driving traffic to their site and exerting an upward pull on the corporate website’s traffic chart. People are going there to find out what company is backing Owyang and what they offer. If he left, would that traffic diminish? No doubt, but in the meantime, it’s all good for Altimeter.
For well-established brands like Forrester, the decision is less clear. The site already has lots of traffic and most people have heard of Forrester. Forcing analysts to start over again to build a personal following after they leave the fold may make it easier for replacements to follow acts like Owyang—at least from the corporate brand’s perspective
No doubt some will say that that proves that Forrester should never have allowed Owyang to keep his own blog. When he left, so did a lot of traffic that could have stayed with Forrester had he been surrounded by the corporate firewall.
The legacy of the corporate brand in the personal brand
But who’s thinking about the customer here? Will they really think less of you if one of your stars leaves? Was it a waste of time letting Owyang promote himself like that?
I don’t think so. Owyang’s blog is still packed full of references to Forrester and his work there. It’s clear searching on his blog today that Forrester played a big role in bringing him to prominence. And that association will never go away unless Owyang decides to one day just erase all traces of his past. There’s a very positive association there that underscores Forrester’s ability to nurture talent.
Now let’s look at that from the opposite perspective. Let’s say Ray builds as big a following through his Forrester blog as Owyang did through his personal blog. What happens to that content when he leaves? To me, the association is less positive over the long term. Do you really want a former analysts’ content to dominate your corporate brand’s search rankings after he or she leaves?
What about the customer’s view?
Now, I think that if we look at this from a traditional corporate branding perspective, your immediate reaction would be to expunge the analyst from your audience’s memory and start pushing the new content instead. And no doubt since the blogs are all behind Forrester’s firewall now, they can decide what stays and what goes, and can probably create ways through SEO to make the newer stuff more prominent in searches. I don’t want to speculate too much here because I’m not an expert on SEO.
But looking at it all from a customer’s perspective, I think Forrester looks better being a legacy on a star’s personal blog than having a star that leaves a void in content upon leaving. Let me underscore again that this is a good problem to have.
But as social media raises the ante for putting a personal face to the corporate brand, we are going to have to work through the issues that Forrester is grappling with right now. And we will need to avoid making knee-jerk decisions based on traditional brand thinking, because, like it or not, the brand game has changed forever.
What do you think?
Courtesy: www.christopherakoch.com (Reproduced with permission)
Image Courtesy: dreamer07