Role of Personal Branding in Innovation

Role of Personal Branding in InnovationI’ve been thinking a lot lately about personal branding, in part because several people have told me that I seem to do it pretty well, in spite of the fact that I would never call myself a personal branding expert or endeavor to make my living as a personal branding consultant.

The other reason the topic has come to my mind is that I’m about to begin a new commissioned white paper and so I’ve been re-visiting my popular white paper for Innocentive – Harnessing the Global Talent Pool to Accelerate Innovation, and what I wrote about personal branding there:

“… the world continues to move away from being a place where employees expect to have jobs for life, and fight against any change to this paradigm, to a world where portfolios, personal branding, and project-based work will become more common in an increasing number of industries. The evolving world of work is becoming a world in which individuals will need to be really good at collaborating and playing well with others, while also honing their skills at standing out from the crowd. At the same time, the external perception of your network value will expand from a focus on internal connections to also include the talented minds you might know outside the organization that can be brought in on different projects or challenges.”

While I think the personal branding topic is an interesting one, it is more because I am curious about:

  1. The role of personal branding in helping organizations achieve innovation success
  2. Whether or not organizations should be factoring in personal branding strength as part of their recruitment considerations

Let’s look at each of these two topics in turn, and start with the one that directly links to what I had to say in Harnessing the Global Talent Pool to Accelerate Innovation.

What is the Role of Personal Branding in Achieving Innovation Success?

The power of the individual versus the power of the collective. This is a tension that has been around longer than the practice of human resources and talent management as an occupation. While the organization is concerned with achieving success for the collective, too often we forget that the collective is made up of a collection of unique individuals, and that each of these individuals have a collection of unique skills, talents, and abilities that may or not directly fulfill the needs of their role and the organization’s goals and brand promise:

“To build a brand, you must start a conversation with your customers. Your customers have to know that you stand for something and that they can count on you to deliver upon your brand promise.” (April 20, 2012)

While the role of the individual in helping to fulfill the organization’s brand promise is often not considered, it should be, at the same time that the organization considers whether its chosen individuals adequately fill the defined job requirements that the organization believes are necessary to fulfill the collective’s mission to achieve revenue and profits for its shareholders, value for its clients and donors, or benefits for its constituents (depending on whether you’re talking about a for-profit, non-profit or governmental organization).

If we look at each role in an organization as an attempt by management and human resources to find a perfect match for the job requirements that live within a certain circle, the fact is that for every role, the circle of the individual’s skills, talents, and abilities will never perfectly overlay the circle of the job requirements, it will always look like a Venn Diagram with a good candidate possessing a large amount of overlap, but with always some of their skills, abilities, and talents lying outside of their job requirements’ circle.

But most organizations (referred to as Typical Organizations in the graphic below) fail to harness the skills, abilities and talents of the individuals they have in their organization to achieve greater performance as a collective. In my mind this is painful, wasted human capital – painful for the organization (lost potential revenue and profitability) and painful for the individual (boredom, stress, and disappointment).

Wasted Talent and Human Capital

But, a handful of more progressive, innovative organizations are trying to do better to harness the passions AND the skills, abilities, and talents of their individuals to better achieve the collective’s ability to generate revenue and profits (or other appropriate benefits) by engaging their employees in the innovation efforts of the organization, and allowing their employees to take some of their skills, abilities and talents and apply them to help fulfill other job descriptions. This looks something more like this:

Building an Innovative Organization

But in the most progressive organizations, they not only provide a way to better harness a more complete set of their employees’ skills, abilities and talents to more than one job description, but they also find a way to harness more of the skills, abilities, and talents that employees are currently realizing outside the organization in their hobbies, volunteer work, or other places.

And the successful organizations of the future will not stop there. They will also harness the connections their employees have outside the organization to increase the innovation capacity of the organization, and better engage not only partners in helping to fulfill the needs of different job descriptions, but they will also even engage their customers in achieving the work of the organization.

Where customer or partner skills, abilities and talents intersect with the job requirements, work can get done, and where customer or partner skills, abilities or talents intersect with employee skills, abilities or talents intersect, communities and connections have the chance to form and be nurtured. This is what organizations of the future will look like:

Organization of the Future

In this scenario, where innovative organizations begin to move beyond better harnessing the internal innovation capacity of their employees, to also harnessing the external capacity to work (and to innovate) of individuals outside of the organization (and to expand the scope of the collective), and to attract partners and customers to participate, organizations that allow and even encourage employees to develop a personal brand and greater external connections, will claim an outsized share of the potential benefits to both the mission of the organization and to its innovation efforts.

If your employees lack the external exposure, the external connections, and the external personal brand equity and awareness, how much harder will it be for your organization to:

  1. Attract the best partners to your innovation efforts
  2. Recruit the best customers to co-create with you
  3. Build a strong pipeline of potential future internal talent

Through this lens you can see that in the future, innovation success will be determined not just by how strong the brand of your organization is (or the collective), but also will be shaped by the strength of the personal brands of the collective’s component individuals.

Does your organization recognize the value of your personal brand to the innovation success of the collective, and foster it, or attempt to prevent you from growing your personal brand equity?

Role of Personal Branding in Recruitment Considerations

Role of Personal Branding in Recruitment EffortsNow that we’ve hopefully made the case for the role of personal branding in helping organizations achieve innovation success, let’s investigate whether or not organizations should be factoring in the strength of personal brand as part of their recruitment considerations.

Is the personal brand of an individual important to the brand of a collective and the brand equity that the organization is trying to build?

Well, look no further than organizations like Nike and Adidas that harness the personal brand equity of elite athletes like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Derrick Rose.

Look no further than organizations like Target that harness the personal brand equity of Michael Graves, Isaac Mizrahi, Mossimo Giannulli, Jason Wu, and Phillip Lim. Meanwhile Macy’s has the Martha Stewart Home Collection (but JC Penney, Sears and Kmart also have Martha Stewart collections). So, harnessing the personal brand of designers and celebrities is obviously seen as beneficial to the brand of the collective in the minds of these organizations.

But it doesn’t stop there, the University of Phoenix is attempting to harness the personal brands of Clayton M. Christensen, Jeff Dyer, and Hal Gregersen to try and save their accreditation, London Business School harnesses the personal brand equity of Gary Hamel, Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management harnesses the personal brand equity of Philip Kotler, and several consultancies harness the personal brand equity of famous professors to lend credibility to their consulting brands.

So, if at the highest levels, the organization’s brand equity benefits from harnessing the strength of the personal brands of certain individuals, shouldn’t organizations be considering the personal brand strength of applicants in the hiring process?

Not just for the reasons detailed above in relation to the increasingly open and interconnected organization, but also as content marketing becomes an increasingly important way for organizations to tell their brand story, and as innovative organizations seek to do the value translation component of innovation, shouldn’t the strength of personal brand equity be a consideration?

Now I don’t want to make this about me, or to say that my personal brand is nearly as strong as any of the individuals referenced before, and so I’ve made this as generic as possible:

  • Wouldn’t a McKinsey, Booz & Co., Deloitte, PWC, Bain, BCG, Innosight, Strategyn, ?WhatIf!, IDEO, Frog, Idea Couture, Fahrenheit 212, Jump Associates, or other consulting firm be better off (all other things being close to equal) hiring a consultant that could not just do great client work, but also a public evangelist for the firm at conferences and events, and bring visibility to the firm in print in the various media outlets that their personal brand has given them access to?
  • Wouldn’t a university be better off bringing in a candidate into a PhD research effort that would not just create a purely academic piece of research, but benefit more by partnering with a candidate that has a pre-existing publishing track record, pre-existing public visibility to help promote it, and whose personal brand equity could also bring potentially greater visibility to the degree granting institution?
  • Wouldn’t a company (all other things being roughly equal) be better off bringing in someone to lead their innovation efforts who has a strong personal brand in the innovation and/or startup communities, than someone who might have great program management capabilities, but limited personal brand equity and visibility? I mean, if one of the goals of an innovation program is to gather more insight-driven dots than your competitors, shouldn’t you base part of your selection criteria on the insight capacity of the individual and the connections that their personal brand equity brings?

These are just three examples of where organizations (and HR professionals) should be factoring personal branding into their recruitment criteria, but there are many more.

I have to say that too much of the focus on personal branding these days is from a social media perspective and making sure that the individual is not damaging their personal brand with careless social media involvement, or is focused on encouraging people to gather as many ‘friends’ as possible, or on the clothes that someone should wear, as if these things by themselves create a personal brand.

I’ve already given my thoughts about what the organization should do with personal branding.

Now here are my personal branding recommendations for the individual:

  1. Determine what your personal brand is. Start by thinking of the three words that define you. What do you want to be known for?
  2. Once you determine what your personal brand stands for, then make sure that all of your online profiles and other kinds of digital and physical assets (including your appearance) reinforce it.
  3. Create content for your online portfolio on the topics related to the three words that define you.
  4. Join the communities that intersect with your personal brand and your passions.
  5. Get out there and meet people. Look for those intersections of skills, abilities, talents, and passions that you have with others that are also consistent with your personal brand.
  6. Look to pursue activities that will strengthen your personal brand, not weaken it.
  7. Be authentic!
  8. Have fun!

Let’s close with a few questions:

  • What would you add to this list?
  • What is your personal brand, how strong is it, and how are you going to leverage this to power innovation in your organization?
  • How is your organization viewing personal brand when it comes to its recruitment efforts?

Keep innovating!


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Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is a popular innovation speaker, embeds innovation across the organization with innovation training, and builds B2B content marketing strategies that drive increased revenue, visibility and inbound sales leads. He has recently begun distributing Innovation eLearning and is the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. He tweets from @innovate.

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23 Responses to Role of Personal Branding in Innovation

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  10. Anyone interestged in personal branding should get: Personal Brand Planning for life, available on Amazon to determine their unique skill set and persona so that they can market themselves more effectively.

  11. SGRuby says:

    You might find this interesting from my own blog site :

    http://entrepreneurialpractice.com/personal_branding_strategy/

  12. Well said. Personal branding indeed is a very powerful tool in innovation as it provides clear and consistent details about who your are and what you offer.

  13. RobS says:

    There is another part to all of this that should be explored. We are hired by companies for a specific function(s) to fulfill the business objectives, but these same companies ignore or deem irrelevant the fact that we bring so much that they could leverage. It speaks loudly to what is being said here.

    So, this hiring can be represented by a “T” where the horizontal is breadth of knowledge and the vertical is depth of knowledge (I have to give credit here to Doug Morse – while I don’t think he invented the concept, he introduced me to it!). Again, to the point being made here, it would be better for everyone (customer, company, team in company and individual) if that “T” went away and was replaced by “TTT…TTT”. Grow, cultivate, develop and leverage breadth and depth.

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  19. Diana Swan says:

    Thank you so much for this article and am completely on side with you. Personally Branded Employees as Brand Advocates prove excellent ROI.Businesses of the future will be Powered by Employee Brand Advocates as companies realize that personal referrals are the keys to success as mainstream advertising loses its shine.

    Thank you again

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  23. Nwaike Charles emeka says:

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