That's the message that Tessa Hood, a fellow personal branding expert, and I are promoting at a forthcoming seminar in London.
Aimed at HR directors and Training Managers in the corporate environment, we want to help them understand that, despite the name, personal branding isn't just about the individual - the corporate brand is impacted by the personal brand of every person in the company.
Remember Baring's Bank? It was brought down by the actions of one person. Here in the UK, Ratners - one of the largest high street jewellers - collapsed after a misjudged comment by its CEO. In Germany, a loose comment by a VW Audi executive during a TV interview sent sales plummeting.
But it's not just the personal brand of executives that affects the standing of a company. When you go along to the local branch of your bank to meet a manager, you're not just doing business with Barclays, or HSBC, or Wachovia (as was), or whoever - you're doing business with an individual who happens to be wearing the bank's badge on their lapel. When you go to a meeting with your accountant, you're not just meeting Deloitte or PwC, you're meeting an individual partner or manager. When you step into a branded store, you're not just buying from Burberry or Hugo Boss,you're buying from an individual. At that moment, that person is, for you, the embodiment of the corporate brand, and their personal brand becomes part of the corporate brand. It's a reality of modern corporate life: companies are made up of individuals, and your corporate brand - whether you're in retail, a service industry or even manufacturing - is impacted by the hundreds or thousands of personal brands of all those individuals.
That person's attitude, what they say, how they look, what they do, the cues in their office environment, anything that other people have told you about them - these will all affect your view not only of the individual, but of the organisation they work for.
The result is that HR and Training departments are becoming just as much custodians of the corporate brand as the Marketing department. They set the policies by which staff are selected, they determine the skills and attitudes of those staff, and they have to identify, develop and retain top talent.
In these difficult times, it's easy to fall into the trap of dropping prices to make the sale. That's a recipe for disaster. The effects of a price curt on the bottom line are instant, but costs aren't so easy to cut instantly. Laying off staff takes time and costs money. Renegotiating costs with suppliers takes time to finalise, and takes time to trickle through the payment cycle. Moving out of rented properties can be restricted by lease terms, or you'll have to buy out the rest of the lease, and if you own your properties selling them in the current market is likely to be difficult, leaving you with empty sites that still have to be paid for. So cutting prices can mean lower revenues while your costs stay fixed in the short term, or may even rise.
The answer? Make your organisation stand out. Rather than cutting prices and costs, increase the value customers perceive they are getting: provide superior service; make sure your staff are the best in the industry; make the customer's experience the best that they have had, and give them a reason to keep coming back to you.
Companies need to attract the best talent (and there's likely to be a lot of it available in the open market over the next few months), and you do that by highlighting the calibre of the staff you already have. You need to develop and retain that talent, and you do that by making them feel recognised and appreciated, and allowing them to take charge of their career. And finally, you need to get the message out into the market that your staff are the best in your field and focus on the individual relationships between customer and the company representative.
All of that comes from personal branding. That's our message in November.