How to increase your startup’s awareness through personal branding

Among the many challenges a startup faces, it is crucial to raise awareness for the newly founded company and build its brand from day one

By Dr. Simon Walter and Torben Wiesmann

It is in the nature of things that almost every startup is unknown at the beginning. Among the many challenges a startup faces, it is crucial to raise awareness for the newly founded company and build its brand from day one. At Project A, we consider personal branding an excellent opportunity to increase brand awareness at relatively low costs.

“As an entrepreneur you are the ultimate testimonial for your business.”

Dr. Florian Heinemann

So let’s start with what personal branding means: Personal branding is the strategic positioning of an individual in the public perception. It includes all efforts that aim to make a specific person perceived as an expert in a particular field and increase her or his credibility and circle of influence. In other words, personal branding conveys a specific image of a person.

As the name suggests, it focuses mainly on the individual itself not the company. Nevertheless, the personal brand also pays off on the company brand; and this is exactly what this article is all about.

People trust in people (more than in companies)

In this case, the overarching goal of personal branding is to create awareness and trust for a company and increase the target audience’s attention. We all know that most people are much more interested in other people than in companies — this is true for tabloid media and even more for social media. Thus, generating spillover effects from founders or chief executives to their business can be a convenient and very efficient way to boost the company’s awareness and strengthen its image.

Basically, there are two different starting points for doing that: If you already are a powerful personal brand, you can increase awareness and build trust for your young business quite easily. Just think of Tesla or SpaceX and how these two brands benefited at least at the beginning from Elon Musk’s existing publicity. He used his reputation as a visionary and successful tech entrepreneur to accelerate building their brands.

On the other hand think, for instance, of Lea-Sophie Cramer. She didn’t have a personal brand at all when she founded Amorelie in 2013. However, she managed to transform a taboo into a socially acceptable topic and conquered entirely new target audiences by positioning herself as a strong and opinion-leading woman in a formerly somewhat shady industry.

It doesn’t matter where you start with building your personal branding; the crucial factor always is the positioning as a thought leader.

Building thought leadership that drives your company’s awareness

It is important not to market with your personal brand right away but to develop a sound strategy first, one that fits the company brand and your personal brand. Since your company’s brand strategy is more or less in place, you need to focus first on defining your personal brand positioning. To this end, you should answer the following four questions:

  1. What do I offer? (benefits)
  2. How am I? (tone of voice)
  3. How do I appear? (personality)
  4. What characteristics do I have? (attributes)

After having defined your personal brand, you need to focus on your target audience: Who is my target audience? What are their interests? What channels does my target audience use? What problems and needs do they have?

In the end, it should be clear which aspects of your personal brand resonate best with your target audience’s interest and should hence build the background of your thought leadership.

To achieve the overarching objective, you then have to bridge the company brand (What does the company stand for?) and the person (What does the person stand for?) and derive the common denominator that sets the foundation of your content strategy for your selected target audience and channels.

Different content formats then communicate the core messages over and over again. Useful content can be videos, photos, audio (podcasts), keynotes, interviews, articles, and whitepapers, but also infographics, case studies, or even memes (be very considerate with them).

Key learnings from former personal brand projects

Pay attention to your reach

Most probably you need to put money behind your personal branding campaign. On social media, purely organic campaigns no longer work so well. Our experience has shown that the formula for success seems to be an appropriate mix of organic and paid distribution.

It’s all about authenticity

Remember, personal branding is neither a sales presentation nor a testimonial involvement. It’s more about your very personal embedding in the content and reflecting the company’s values.

Personal branding is limited

When you plan to expand your business into other countries with different languages and cultures, you have to go beyond personal branding since personal brands are usually limited to a specific geographical area.

If you’re planning to develop your personal brand or would like to receive further details and recommendations on how to build thought leadership, feel free to reach out to Simon ([email protected]).