The power of personal brands in strategy and attracting talent


A few months ago I wrote about The shift from corporate brands to personal brands, referencing Jeremiah Owyang’s move from Forrester to the newly-founded Altimeter Group with former colleagues.

This is a long-term secular trend – in fact last week when I spoke at the Online Marketing by Design event I pointed to it as one of the three most important trends for this year. I was discussing it in the context of marketing, where companies must recognize that trust resides in individuals not institutions, and use this to shape their external engagement. However it is just as important in the context of attracting and retaining talented people. I wrote:

Now, as personal brands grow in relative strength, corporations need to consider how they can best reflect and tap the influence of the individuals working for them. As Jeremiah notes, social media means that personal brands are immensely portable, as are personal networks.

This is about power to the worker, absolutely, but those companies that understand this and tap this shift can do extremely well. They can attract those with strong personal brands and create immense value from their influence, simply by focusing on building the brands of their key staff as much as they do their corporate brand.

In this context, I find it striking that Forrester Group has decided to ban personally-branded research blogs by its staff, as reported by analyst-watchers SageCircle. It says:

What is the downside for Forrester? Likely not much unless there is a big stink in the blogosphere that causes a public relations problem. It is also not likely that analysts with personally-branded research blogs will quit over this policy, especially in this economic environment where job opportunities are still at a premium. Unless those two unlikely events happen, Forrester will have a tool to help manage its brand equity and reduce analyst departures that could result in the launch of new competitors.

This is dumb and short-sighted thinking. Analyst firms, as all professional service firms, depend on attracting the most talented people. However the emphasis on the brands of the individual professionals is even greater than in most other professional services.

It is a possible strategy to try to avoid personal brands and subsume them to the corporate brand, but it is an increasingly difficult strategy to succeed at. Most importantly, the most talented will avoid these companies like the plague.

Dennis Howlett doesn’t mince his words in discussing Forrester’s move:

Whichever way you look at this sudden shift in Forrester policy, it represents an epic E2.0 fail.

Enterprise 2.0 mavens consistently argue that bottom up adoption of Enterprise 2.0 will make business better. That’s fine except in one crucial regard: pre-existing success history dictating future policy. There is plenty of evidence for that. Forrester’s belated but still knee jerk reaction confirms. Worse still. Rather than behaving as the doyen of what it preaches regarding social media, Forrester is showing itself as hypocritical in the worst possible way.

Certainly Forrester’s move seems to be a deliberate step to prevent their staff from developing portable brands that will facilitate them leaving the company for other opportunities. Without going into all the reasons why this is dubious logic, it’s yet another great example of a company trying to hang on tighter and tighter in a world in which everything is more fluid. That can only work for so long.