CEO Branding: What It Is And How To Do It

Certain people come to mind when we think of well-known CEOs. Richard Branson. Sara Blakely. Elon Musk. Tim Cook. Logan Roy.

Okay, one of those is fictional. But the rest aren’t. And one of the reasons that everyone knows who they are is that they’ve built a successful CEO brand.

What CEO branding is

A CEO’s brand is different from a personal brand or a corporate brand.

Personal branding showcases an individual’s strengths and expertise. Meanwhile, corporate or company branding encompasses the image, reputation, and identity of a company or organization.

A CEO brand is a mix of the two. Also known as executive branding or personal branding for CEOs, a CEO brand reflects the authority, influence, and expertise of the executive while communicating a passion for their business’s mission and values.

Importantly, a CEO’s personal brand may diverge from their company’s brand in strategic ways — expressing their individuality, interests, and values. In some cases, this means mixing personal anecdotes or family images with business-related content.

Another key difference is that the CEO takes their personal brand with them from company to company. For example, former Ulta Beauty CEO Mary Dillon brought her thought leadership status and inspiring social media presence to her new role as head of Foot Locker.

 

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Mary Dillon (@ceo_footlockerinc)

Why it’s important for a CEO to create and maintain a brand

Creating and maintaining a personal brand should be top of a CEO’s to-do list for several reasons.

LinkedIn research shows that 56% of professionals say a business executive’s presence on social media positively influences their purchase decision. 66% say they would be more likely to recommend a company or brand if they followed a company executive on social media. And a study by Entrepreneur found that personal branding can help entrepreneurs raise funding, attract customers, and differentiate themselves from competitors.

There are many key reasons for this halo effect. A CEO who shares insights, opinions, and industry news is seen as a trusted thought leader. Posts about colleagues and employees demonstrate that the CEO is a team player. Including personal anecdotes and writing in their own voice shows authenticity. Highlighting their leadership style, values, and expertise enhances the CEO’s visibility, credibility, and influence, both online and offline. This in turn can impact the CEO’s effectiveness in leadership, relationship-building, and driving business growth.

Ultimately, the ROI on a successful CEO brand can be significant: it establishes your leadership presence, enhances your company’s reputation, drives thought leadership, inspires employee engagement, attracts business opportunities, opens up opportunities to manage crises effectively, and attracts and retains top talent.

How CEO and corporate branding can work together

While CEO branding and corporate branding are connected, they serve different purposes and target different audiences. But together they are both drivers of an overall brand strategy and can complement each other to achieve business success.

By aligning values and vision, the CEO’s brand can reinforce the larger corporate brand, while engaging stakeholders on a more human level. A CEO brand can also “go places” that a corporate brand cannot — reaching fellow leadership and high-level decision makers. Finally, while a corporate brand has to hew closely to a company’s current offerings and capabilities, a CEO brand can leap ahead and present a compelling vision of what’s in the pipeline and deeper reflections on the state of the industry.

For example, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s brand reflects Microsoft’s values of empowerment, inclusivity and innovation, as well as core corporate messaging around innovation, accessibility and social impact. By framing these themes from a personal viewpoint, Nadella’s message has the potential to reach distinct stakeholders and impact them more deeply.

When executed thoughtfully, a CEO’s brand reinforces the company’s values, mission and initiatives to internal and external audiences. The two amplify each other’s impact and reach.

In the end, a series of benefits cascades down to the the company itself. Through posting thought leadership content, speaking engagements, and industry participation, a CEO can boost their company’s profile. The CEO’s heightened status attracts media and industry attention to the company and differentiates it from competitors. Arianna Huffington, for example, has raised the profile of her behavior-change technology company Thrive Global through her social media posts and public talks on topics such as wellness, resilience, and work-life balance.

In addition, a CEO’s image can foster a sense of pride, purpose and alignment with organizational goals in employees, increasing employee engagement and improving work culture.

A CEO’s brand can build trust and loyalty among customers as well. When customers perceive the CEO as authentic, knowledgeable and trustworthy, it enhances their opinion of the company and trust in its products or services. For example, Lisa Su has built trust and loyalty among Advanced Micro Device’s customers through her emphasis on innovation, performance, and value.

CEO branding can also play a crucial role in crisis management and reputation protection. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky’s brand has played a crucial role in crisis management and reputation protection during safety concerns and regulatory challenges. By responding directly to complaints and concerns he has helped mitigate reputational damage to the company.

How to build a strong CEO brand

All of the above is all well and good, but how do you build a strong CEO brand? Here are some steps you can take.

Clarify your goals/objectives

Begin by deciding on your goals. These could include: promoting yourself or your company, attracting investment, recruiting talent, generating leads, becoming a thought leader, or humanizing the company.

Identify your target audience

A key to an effective CEO brand strategy is reaching the right people. Your target audience might be employees, customers, investors, industry peers, colleagues or a combination thereof.

Define your messaging

CEOs should drill down on a few themes, and ideally these should align with the mission, values and strategy of their business. The state of the industry, leadership philosophy, inclusivity and diversity and sustainability are examples of possible key themes.

An example of a business leader who has effectively defined her messaging, General Motors CEO Mary Barra is known for a strategic communication style that emphasizes transparency, accountability and employee engagement. She communicates with employees through town halls, internal communications and leadership forums.

Choose your channels

Social media, traditional media, conferences and other industry events are all tools for the building a brand. Identify which best target your audience. When using social media, decide which channels to use—do you want to stay strictly professional by restricting your content to LinkedIn and Twitter/X, or do you want to build a more intimate brand by sharing anecdotes and interests on Instagram? Industry events and conferences are also opportunities to build a personal brand by targeting your message directly to  your colleagues.

Consistency

Whatever channels or tools you use, it’s important to stay consistent in messaging, content and frequency. People are less likely to trust or follow leaders who are inconsistent with their social media posts — for example, those who post once or twice and then not at all for long periods of time. Messaging and tone should also be consistent. Decide how serious or lighthearted you want your messaging to be and stick with it so followers don’t get whiplash trying to follow your train of thought.

Measure impact

A key to building a successful CEO brand is determining what works and what doesn’t. Be sure to track and analyze key metrics like audience engagement and feedback, website traffic, social media impressions, media coverage and mentions, employee engagement and invitations to speaking engagements and audience response. By comparing your numbers with those of your competitors, you’ll be abler to refine your CEO brand-building strategy.

The risks/challenges of having a CEO brand

There are some risks associated with CEO branding. Misalignment with the corporate brand can create confusion and diminish the effectiveness of company marketing efforts. The tension between Elon Musk’s CEO brand and Tesla is a perfect example — his outsized presence and outspoken comments haven’t always reinforced Tesla’s business goals.

Meanwhile, if a CEO’s brand comes to overshadow the company itself, they risk leaving the business without a strong brand identity when they leave. Steve Jobs became practically synonymous with Apple, and his departure in the ’80s left the company without a firm identify or clear face.

However, any branding effort carries a risk, and it can be mitigated by focusing on building a brand that is aligned with the company’s values and mission.

For today’s CEO, building a brand is a part of the job. It can also be an enjoyable and engaging aspect of leadership. However, it does require time, attention and creativity. That’s why many CEOs and business leaders are turning to social media management agencies like CSuite Content to help with their brand-building.



Sign up for The Helm Newsletter!

Latest Posts