That ability is one of the underlying concepts in Malcolm Gladwell’s (brilliant, thought-provoking, go-read-it-now-if-you-haven’t-already) book Blink. It also sends a powerful message to anyone looking to fill a “trusted advisor” role representing a brand: be mindful of the quality and consistency of your messaging. Whether consciously or not, people are taking cues from how you show up across all channels—and judging your brand accordingly.
Gladwell’s principles apply across the organization: in advertising, marketing, communications, customer service, and all the way through thought leadership and C-suite roles. A prospect’s cumulative intake of information—the sum of their micro-experiences with your company—informs their opinion of your organization, which in turn influences if they care to engage with you.
Here’s the good news: while some of those impressions are outside of your control, not all of them are. Let’s take a look at how consistent brand expression (or a lack thereof) can impact three different functions of a company.
Marketers have a pretty clear-cut relationship to brand expression. In the day-to-day process of driving awareness and moving people through the funnel, marketers can and should be on the frontline of brand guardianship. This means they have the responsibility to not only monitor their own behavior and outputs, but to lead by example and train others.
Bottom line: inconsistent visual and written presence lays a shaky foundation for everything built on top of it. Marketers are on the front lines of brand defense, and must carefully choose where to focus their efforts.
Being highly visible is the name of the game for thought leaders. They rely on their charisma, credibility and big-picture thinking to promote big ideas that tie back to a brand, and their success banks on the trust we can put in both them as individuals and the company or brand they represent.
The blurred lines between personal and professional personas is one of the areas where thought leaders are most at risk for poor brand representation. I once worked with a speaker for an event I was organizing—a young guy from a hot company who was considered an expert in his field—whose Twitter account, despite being tied to his job, was nothing but sports-related inside jokes with his friends. Trying to promote his speaking gig was a tough sell when there was nothing professionally-related to work with; it really drove home the fact that people trade in their anonymity for acclaim when they become thought leaders, and they need to manage perceptions accordingly. Not doing so can result in a lack of credibility, the perception of being aloof or out-of-touch, missed opportunities, and a poor reflection on both the individual and the larger organization.
Bottom line: thought leaders need to operate under the phrase made famous by the banner in the movie Office Space: Is this good for the company?
Exception to the rule: occasionally, a thought leader or other personality is sitting on so much credibility that these rules no longer apply. Guy Kawasaki comes to mind—as a thought leader and evangelist, he’s so established as to transcend worrying about what people think of his opinions. Here’s the catch, however: he still has to disclaim and caveat his way to glory whenever he goes out on a limb, and make sure his vast audience know that he’s speaking for himself and not another entity. This exception to the rule only serves to reinforce that it is impossible to separate the professional and the personal in the thought leadership space.
Startup founders may have the most difficult position of all. They not only have to encompass the other two roles we’ve already discussed—marketing and selling the company as well as serving as a thought leader about their product or service—they have the added complexity of being the brain and the heart that drives company forward. They are in charge of keeping the company afloat from financial and morale perspective, both to external and internal audiences.
Bottom line: internal and external audiences are looking to founders to set the standard for brand expression. It’s up to the founders to embody the way their brand should be represented.
Taking Control of your Brand
Whether or not any of the examples above describe your situation, you can still have a positive impact on the perception of your brand. The key is showing up mindfully for your brand. Mindfulness implies respect, care, long-term vision—all necessary components for success. By honoring what has been done to establish it, what needs to be done to protect it, and your role in making that happen, you will play a role in carefully safeguarding the hard work that went into making it stand out in the first place.
I'm a veteran digital marketer whose career has grown up with the Internet.