Do entrepreneurs have to manage their personal brands separately from the brands of products they launch? This is the debate that I've seen happening recently, and answers to this question differ in each individual case. What does seem clear is that whether they want it or not, CEOs of big companies have their personal brands under scrutiny 24/7, and they should take this fact seriously.
A concrete example I want to talk about today is Mark Zuckerberg's personal brand.
Facebook is known pretty much by everyone on planet Earth. Facebook's business model relies on people to trust it with their data. And now, here's something important to remember: if they trust the CEO, they're much more likely to trust the platform.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's founder, has been enjoying a lot of media attention lately, most of which has boosted his personal brand tremendously. At the end of 2010, Time Magazine named him Person of the Year.
This is a positive development for Zuckerberg, especially since some predicted a painful PR disaster for him after release of The Social Network movie.
In reality, the movie has had a completely opposite effect on Zuckerberg’s personal brand. Instead of being positioned as a thief of business ideas and a sexist jerk, Zuckerberg has come out as a talented entrepreneur and a young prodigy.
This personal brand positioning is extremely valuable for someone who runs such a sizable company as Facebook. Moreover, as Lesley Stahl has pointed out in her recent interview with Zuckerberg, half a billion people who give their information to Facebook, do feel that they have a right to know more about him.
The 60 Minutes interview on CBS did exactly this: it allowed Zuckerberg to communicate who he, Mark, not just Facebook’s founder and CEO, really is. And he did it in a way that benefitted the Facebook brand, too.
Here is a recap of what has helped Zuckerberg’s personal brand positioning as a successful young entrepreneur:
1) The Social Network movie
As mentioned above, the movie has had a positive effect both for Facebook as a company, and for Mark Zuckerberg personally. By the time the movie was released, it had a hugely responsive audience at its disposal -- the audience that was already brand aware. Speaking in branding terms, all those Facebook users who went to see the movie became brand loyal even more.
2) Friendliness to the press
If you haven’t yet watched the CBS 60 minutes videos, you should, as they can give a good lesson on how to handle journalists’ questions. Mark Zuckerberg was relaxed, joked about the movie (“they got the T-shirts and sandals right!”) and managed to avoid answering difficult questions (“How could you rate yourself as a CEO?” asks Leslie Stahl, to which Zuckerbergh responds, “You can never win by answering this question” and then proceeds to giving an example of how he decided not to sell Facebook to Yahoo for 1 billion dollars).
Zuckerberg has joined the Giving Pledge set up by billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates and has agreed to give away half of his wealth to good causes.
These days, it’s not Nokia that’s connecting people, it’s Facebook. Somehow, 500 million active users can’t be wrong -- Facebook has become an important part in our daily lives. And trusting it with our personal information gets a bit easier if we trust the guy who's created the platform.