Originally published September 2014. Extensively updated May 2016
“If ya liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it” sings Beyonce. She’s saying, if you really want someone, be willing to have your name associated with them.
I won’t sing to you (believe me, you should be thankful), but I am going to tell you: if you want to be known for something, then you should have put your name on it.
I’m talking about the power of the personal. The authority of the authentic. The intimacy of the identified.
I’m talking about how the Power of the Personal can supercharge your brand message!
(Pressed for time? Get the “tl;dr” of this content in a three minute video!)
Let’s Face It
Look at the image to the right. What do you see?
You see a face. You can’t not see a face. But of course, it isn’t really a human face. It’s an Internet-famous building known as the “OMG Wall.” But because you’re human, you automatically see a human face there.
That’s a phenomenon known as “pareidolia.” It’s the tendency of humans to see familiar or ordered patterns even where there aren’t any. Seeing faces is one of the most common manifestations of pareidolia. Remember the face on Mars?
My point is that we are naturally and powerfully drawn to other humans. Long ago we evolved as creatures who survive best through cooperation and communal action. So it’s not surprising that evolution reinforced a strong attachment to other humans.
Google knew that and that’s why they made faces a part of their now-defunct Google Authorship program.
Google wanted to emphasize that the linked content was written by a verified author, a real human being. They knew people’s eyes would naturally be drawn to a face image in search results. They also probably thought that people would feel the result was more “personal” and perhaps, therefore, more trustworthy.
That Google understands the power of the personal is reinforced even more by the fact that even after they stopped showing author images in regular search, they continue to show them for Google+ content from people with whom you have a connection (when searching logged in to your Google account).
In this example, I have both Joshua Berg and Dustin Stout in my Google+ circles. When I searched for “Agent Rank” Google figures that I might value content from these personal connections (and they’re right!). So not only do they elevate these results in my search, they give me familiar faces to say, “Here’s content you might trust more because these are people you trust.”
The Person to Person Connection
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But this isn’t another post about Google Authorship. I want to talk with you today about something much bigger and much more important.
This is what I think is key for you to understand if you want to excel in the coming years in online marketing of any type: People trust people long before they’ll trust faceless brands or organizations.”
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Brand Fear Factor
It’s no secret to me that companies and organizations fear the personal. They have a deeply set distrust of empowering individuals to represent their brands. I wrote about that in an article on the Moz blog because when I spoke about Google Authorship at conferences the most frequent comment I’d get was from people at brands who didn’t want their employees’ names on their content.
That mindset goes back to the Mad Men days, when outlets for brand messages were few and exposure was limited but broad. Brands competed for limited and expensive space in newspapers, magazines, on radio and TV. Madison Avenue helped them create slick and very controlled messages broadcast to a diverse audience in the hope it would stick with the right people.
The web, and particularly the social web, has changed all that…or it should have. While companies have been quick to embrace the idea of the web as a new medium to connect with customers and potential customers, all too often they have seen it as just another venue on which to continue the same old Madison Avenue “control the message, keep it one way, and focus on the brand” methodology.
Power to the People
In so doing, I believe they miss one of the most powerful aspects of the world wide web: the ability for almost any two or more people on the entire planet to connect and converse.
And they also ignore the background power behind that, the inherent, ingrained urge of humans to connect with other humans.
If you have responsibility for a brand, then I hope you understand by now how important it is for people to develop trust for your brand. If you do, then make the connection to what I said previously: People trust people long before they trust faceless brands.
If you grasp that, then your mission becomes clear: you’ve got to find a way for you or your organization to overcome its fear of having real faces and real names on your content and social engagements. How you do that is much bigger than I can put in this post, but it is something I will be thinking and writing about a great deal in the coming days.
It will take in most cases a reorientation of thinking, a bit of courage, some investment in (perhaps) new hiring but certainly in training, and maybe even a complete overhaul of your corporate culture. That’s all!
But I firmly believe that the rewards for those who find the way to get real people building real trust and authority with real audiences, and having those people connected with your brand, is one of the greatest untapped secrets of online marketing.
Personal Brand Case Studies
Ford’s Full Monty. By the way, there are brands that are doing this with great success. I could name many, but a sterling example is Scott Monty, who until recently was the head of social media at Ford Motor Company (he now runs his own independent consulting firm).
Ford allowed Scott to build his personal brand to the point where he was regularly on just about every list of the most influential people on social media and was one of the most sought-after speakers in digital marketing.
Everything that Scott did and built ultimately reflected back positively on the Ford brand. People got more connected with Ford than they ever would have been otherwise because they wanted to be connected with Scott.
Rand Your Brand. One of the most amazing examples I’ve ever encountered of the power of a personal brand to build a business has to be my friend Rand Fishkin, the “Wizard of Moz.”
Rand will be the first to tell you that his software-as-service company (originally SEOMoz), though stable and successful now, went through some very hard times. There were days when the tools were broken, or not providing results as good as what could be obtained elsewhere.
And yet the majority of Moz’s customers stuck with them through those dark days. Undoubtedly that occurred for many reasons, but anyone who followed the Moz story closely knows that a large amount of the credit should go to the personal trust people have in Rand.
It’s easy to dump a vendor or store that is just a commodity to you, but we find it far harder to walk away when we feel like we’ve entered into a relationship with a person we really like. Throughout his public career, Rand has modeled transparency, helpfulness, and an obsession for doing right by people, all values that are now ingrained in the Moz culture.
A strong personal brand associated with your company builds trust that makes customers stick around.
Invitation to Get Personal and Chat
What’s your story?
Do you have examples of real people associated with a brand that has made the difference for you choosing to do business with that company? Are you trying to do that with your own company?
Would you like to begin exploring how we can help your company become a powerhouse brand online? Talk with us!