Why CMOs Should FLAIC Out on Their Personal Brands

personal_branding-1Whether you call it Cobbler’s Children Syndrome or just basic neglect, talk to a cross-section of CMOs and you’ll discover a startling anomaly—though they dedicate their careers to building brands, very few have made time to take care of their own personal brands. This oversight leaves many a senior executive poorly positioned – especially when they become suddenly unemployed around fifty years of age, two fearsome and often concurrent inevitabilities. (If this article looks familiar, then you read it first on Forbes.com).

The good news is that many current heads of marketing are awakening to this issue.  At The CMO Club’s recent summit in Los Angeles, nearly half of the 150+ attendees joined a workshop on personal branding.  An informal survey of those folks revealed the degree of neglect—less than 20% rated their personal brand at 7 or higher on a scale of 1 to 10 and over 60% rated themselves below a 5!  This was not a case of modesty (remember we’re talking about CMOs here!) but more like deer transfixed by headlights, they want to move on but somehow they can’t.

When confronting this group with the obvious need for developing personal brands, there was little dispute.  In fact, 98% acknowledged having Googled themselves, fully recognizing that if they didn’t take care of their own reputation, Google would do it for them.  At the same time, these marketing leaders felt there were some pretty significant barriers to overcome and ranked them as follows:

  1. Insufficient time—they were simply too busy doing other aspects of their job;
  2. Conflict of interest—many felt time invested building their own brand might be interpreted as self-promotional rather than as a good for their companies;
  3. Building CEO’s brand instead—many felt obligated to focus on increasing the profile of their CEO while sublimating their own;
  4. Not sure how—in light of the above issues, many felt overwhelmed at the prospect of building their own brands and just weren’t sure where to start.

To encourage these CMOs to stop flaking out on their personal brands, I offered up a tongue-in-cheek acronym, FLAIC, which they both appreciated and responded to with a request for greater detail.  And at the risk of oversimplifying what is a career-long exercise, here is FLAIC (Focus, Lead, Adapt, Invest, Cultivate) spelled out, a 5-step process for marketers to build their personal brands:

FOCUS:  Though an obvious foundational component to any marketing campaign, many CMOs have not thought about the need for a strategy statement, a document that helps bring focus to one’s personal branding efforts. These statements help senior marketers define what makes them compelling or unique, an exercise that requires at least an ounce of ambition and a cup of introspection.  Since just about everyone’s career is a work in progress, these statements encourage the writer to challenge and stretch his or her sense of self.

LEAD:  With a personal brand statement in hand, senior marketers can then turn their attention to providing thought leadership around their area(s) of expertise.  This thought leadership can be shared in writing (articles, blogs, comments), videos and of course speaking engagements.  The key here is that the content is well crafted and reflects positively on the both the individual and the company for whom he/she works.  (Note—part of leading means making sure your company sees the value of having thought leaders and savvy CMOs secure this understanding prior to taking a job.)

ADAPT: Like corporate brands, it is easy for marketing individuals to get pigeon holed as experts in only one area (i.e. “he’s a car guy” or “she’s a traditional media pro”) which can become career limiting.  While still being focused on your overall brand strategy (i.e. innovator, metrics-oriented, team builder, etc.), you can use your content to demonstrate your breadth of expertise (e.g. “What Pharma can learn from car marketers” or “What TV can learn from digital”).  Note—for many CMOs adapting also means learning new skills via rigorous course-work.

INVEST: Building a personal brand can’t be done without investing time, money or both.  Roberto Medrano, CMO of SOA, started writing and blogging regularly 5 years ago, a commitment of time made more challenging by the fact that English is not his first language.  This investment, which included finding native editors, paid off for Medrano as he was recently ranked 12th among 250 top CMOs, a fact his company celebrated in this release.  For CMOs who don’t like to write, paying ghostwriters or creating video tutorials are equally viable options.

CULTIVATE:  Initially, I had this as C for Connect, given the critical nature that a network plays in building personal brands. But after Evan Greene, CMO of The Recording Academy, shared the story of how old connections often come out of the woodwork during Grammy season; I suspect Cultivate is more instructive.  The idea here is that building a personal brand also includes cultivating and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships.  Support your fellow marketers, even if it’s just the occasional retweet or a pithy comment on an article, and watch the good karma boomerang.

Final note: Though personal branding is hardly a new idea (Tom Peters wrote about The Brand Called You back in 1997,) it does seem to be getting fresh attention from senior marketers as evidence by interest in this basic strategy worksheet.  Now what remains to be seen is whether or not this next generation of marketing leaders will step up to FLAIC or merely flake out.

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