- Personal brands, which are brands used to market an individual’s experiences, skills, and values, are changing how we think about branding and marketing.
- Personal brands are so effective with consumers because they are actively sought out by consumers, are inherently more authentic than traditional brands, and they are masters of creating and managing communities within their audiences.
- Traditional brands have a lot to learn from personal brands, including how to optimize their social media strategy, how to effectively hide marketing in entertainment, and how to build fan-based communities.
The definition of a brand, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a public image, reputation, or identity conceived of as something to be marketed or promoted”. Traditionally, this applied to companies that were looking to sell goods or services. To differentiate themselves from competitors, companies needed to define all their elements under one united image such that they had a discernable point of view and ‘personality’ that made them easily identifiable. In today’s world, however, these are not the only kinds of brands making an impact. Personal brands are becoming ubiquitous; there are now estimated to be over 50 million influencers and content creators in the world, with nearly $5B invested in personal brands during 2021, making the total creator economy market worth over $100B. In this Direct Hit, we explore exactly what a personal brand is, what makes them so effective, and what lessons traditional brands can learn from personal brands.
PERSONAL BRANDS DEEP DIVE
If you Googled the definition of personal brands, you might get a definition such as ‘personal branding is the process of defining and promoting what you stand for as an individual… your personal brand is a culmination of the experiences, skills, and values that differentiate you’. What this means, in its most basic form, is that a personal brand is a cultivated image or public persona that is used to market one’s skills, services, or products. Today, these brands tend to be, first and foremost, digital-facing brands. Social media has facilitated this rise in large part because it allows individuals to use those channels as a mass communication method. Influencers can create content and then instantaneously distribute that content directly to their audience, receiving feedback instantly from said audience. So how do personal brands stay afloat? Creators can receive ad revenue from social media platforms through their content, revenue from brand partnerships and sponsorships, or through selling their own goods and services via their built-in content distribution network. Personal brands market themselves and their content first and use that exposure to drive revenue gains. These new revenue opportunities have major implications for traditional brands, which we explore more below.
WHY PERSONAL BRANDS ARE SO EFFECTIVE
The number of personal brands has grown, but why exactly are more and more consumers investing in them? We’ve identified three key elements that make personal brands so effective at reaching and ‘influencing’ consumers.
1. Consumers Actively Seek Them
Whereas traditional advertising is for the most part interruptive, personal brand content is voluntarily consumed. When you watch TV, you watch TV to consume the show or movie at that moment; any ads that you see are inherently disruptive to that content. Creator content lives on its own, and while the algorithms of these social media platforms may position content differently based on your preferences, you still need to voluntarily click on it to view it (and you can stop viewing it any time you like). This disruptiveness means audiences are inherently more receptive to personal brand content. Over 40% of US respondents said they spend more time watching user-generated video content than they do TV shows and movies on video streaming services—a sentiment that increases to around 60% for Gen Z and Millennials.
2. Personal Brands Are More Authentic
Authenticity in brands has been a talking point in marketing for a long time. One of the main reasons is that traditional brands struggle to be as authentic as personal brands. Traditional brands often have no face or human touchpoints to interact with, at least not ones with any personal attachment or stake. Personal brands are built on the face or personality of that person, letting you as the consumer really get to know these creators and know exactly who they are and what they stand for. This is why 92% of consumers trust word-of-mouth recommendations from friends, family, and influencers they follow. Even more importantly, authenticity is a key driving point for consumers more generally; 88% of consumers say that authenticity is a key factor when deciding what brands they like and support.
3. Packaging Marketing Through Entertainment
Content creators are inherently in the business of making content. The reach of that content directly correlates to how much revenue that creator can earn, so the name of the game is creating content that their audience wants to watch. This means that any marketing they’re doing is baked into the entertainment factor of their content. This is something that corporate brands strive to do, but often fail at because of their perceived lack of authenticity and trust. In fact, creators often make content about traditional brands that is highly entertaining, and in doing so outperform these brands from a social engagement perspective. Take Subway as an example, where creator Ben Mofitt made a single TikTok about the brand and his video had an engagement rate that outperformed Subway’s average TikTok engagement rate by over 400%.
LESSONS THAT COMPANIES CAN TAKE FROM PERSONAL BRANDS
Having discussed the growth of personal brands and why they have become so effective in drawing in consumers, here we look at what more traditional brands can do to emulate the strategies and tactics of personal brands.
1. Solidify your brand’s presence and strategy
Social media is the primary method, particularly for younger generations, of how consumers communicate and consume content. According to Forbes, “the ability to build a social brand will determine whether many are positioned to succeed in their careers”. By creating an identifiable point of view and organic personality on social media, you identify a reason why consumers should trust you and follow your brand online. This is because unlike traditional marketing, consumers get something more out of the value exchange by being entertained by your content vs. being interrupted by your traditional advertising. However, social media is not the only way that consumers choose to interact with your brand, and so it is important that your digital strategy be aligned with how else you show up for consumers. By meeting consumers where they already chose to consume content, you lower that barrier to entry and become more trustworthy and authentic in the audience’s eyes.
2. Create content that is interactive and entertaining
By solidifying your content strategy, traditional brands can focus on the entertainment value of the content they produce, particularly content that is distributed through social media. This can be done either by the brand itself or through content creator partnerships, where brands use the entertainment factor of personal brands to draw in new audiences. This focus on entertainment creates a more human and relatable touchpoint for consumers, helps to build brand trust, and makes your brand seem more authentic. Consumers are savvier than ever and can distinguish when they are being marketed to vs. when they are being entertained. Putting content out that is entertaining can also serve to build general brand affinity, as that content is more likely to be circulated between consumers than just traditional marketing efforts.
3. Create and facilitate communities
When you have a community that actively seeks out your content and offerings, that community can foster increased engagement – both with the brand and amongst themselves. This, in turn, creates more interaction and avenues for consumers to build relationships with your brand outside just passively viewing your marketing efforts. Niantic is a perfect example; the Pokémon GO subreddit has 4.3M members, making it the 49th largest subreddit in the world. This massive online community helps drive engagement with Niantic’s real life annual events, which routinely bring tens of thousands of participants from around the world.
Content creators aren’t just becoming their own brands, they’re also changing the paradigm of how consumers want to interact with brands. This means that traditional brands need to adapt in order to maximize consumer engagement. Furthermore, expect this trend to only become more relevant over time. “It’s an exponential difference in frequency and visibility that will inevitably lead to a switch where social media influencers will become the A-list celebrities in popular and mainstream culture” according to Forbes. This should not be something to fear for brands, but rather a new and exciting era for how brands and consumers choose to interact, where both parties are part of a new value exchange that will change the course of brands and consumers for years to come.