When you are the brand a look at how to connect your corporate and personal brand

When You Are the Brand: How to Blend Your Corporate and Personal Brands

When You Are the Brand: How to Blend Your Corporate and Personal Brands 650 650 Kim Donlan

Managing our personal brand is something we all do. We update our LinkedIn profiles, write blogs and manage our social accounts — all with the hope that expressing our beliefs, opinions, and expertise allows us to create an identity that represents who we are and what we do.

For some people, a personal brand escalates into something separate from the company they work for or own. They connect to others in a way that strikes a chord — reverberating across industries and segments. For a while, the personal brand and the corporate brand work extremely well together. The personal brand provides a closer look at the person, and the corporate brand benefits when the audience feels a more intimate, human connection.

In some cases, the personal brand begins to compete with or overshadow the corporate brand. The brand story gets muddled as audiences engage with the individual and her personal posts more than the corporate content. It can be challenging to detangle what the audience is responding to and how the corporation should proceed.

Our recent work with Nataly Kogan and her company, Happier Inc offers an excellent example of the process of rethinking personal and corporate brand strategies. Nataly’s business success was due, in part, to the sharing of her personal journey and lessons learned in an effort to help others achieve their dreams. Customers responded with loyalty to the business, a deeper connection was growing between Nataly and her customers and followers.  

When your personal brand and corporate brand collide

Prior to the publication of her new book Happier Now: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Embrace Everyday Moments (Even the Difficult Ones), Nataly wanted to investigate how to best handle three products, each with its own identity:, and the book Happier Now.

Who does the audience love? What do they love? And what is the story that can be told to turn that love into engagement, loyalty, and revenue?

Kim Donlan, RedSwan5

Clearly, developing a new strategy to determine how personal brand and corporate brands should work was required.

When YOU are the brand

When you are the brand — or at least a significant part of one — a simple story is hard to craft. First, it’s hard to think of yourself as a product. For example,

  • Nataly Kogan is an inspiring speaker (product 1)
  • a CEO of Happier Inc (product 2)
  • the author of a book (product 3)
  • a workshop leader (product 4)
  • and a trailblazer with a new view of happiness (product 5)

Second, when you begin to explore how to scale the services you offer, it can be difficult to imagine how you will be able to handle that level of work. You are only one person. Nataly wanted to continue to help businesses shift their corporate culture. Engagement levels continued to increase long after her workshops. Changes in employees and management spread to internal communication, meetings and project productivity. To grow, there would need to be more than Nataly. To reach more business and humans would require a highly trained team of Happier Super Users and products that could help bring Nataly’s thinking and magic to interactions where she could not be there in person.

Blending personal and corporate brands

The attributes that Nataly brings — the deep desire to help people and companies, the ability to make scientifically proven happiness practices easy to adopt and the gift for sharing her personal story in a way that connects the audience to her and to one another — are very much who Nataly Kogan is as a person. The Happier mobile application, new Happier Now book, 1 Minute Boost practices, and workshops are extensions of personal brand pillars. This alignment allowed us to blend personal and corporate brands.

Risks and rewards of merging corporate and personal brand

A personal brand garnering a following that is outpacing the corporate identity can begin to feel, well, intoxicating. It’s great when you are popular, listened to and capturing attention. Personal brand awareness often spills over to the corporate brand. It can get addictive. Yes, they like YOU! Yet you are not a business unless you make a conscious effort to become one. Should you? Examining the long-term strategy of both a personal and a corporate trajectory will help you evaluate which is the best path. Here are a few ways to think about it:

If you have a star in the ranks

  • Have you hired a well-followed rising influencer?
  • Is there a potential to create a celebrity that your audience can relate to?
  • Are you interested in using your personal network to support your business goals?
  • Is your company at a pivot point where you need to build a bridge of personal trust as you transition?

If you are an entrepreneur (or want to be)

  • Do you aspire to be the next Oprah, Richard Branson, Bill Gates or Sramana Mitra?
  • No matter what business you are in now, do you secretly wish for a lucrative consulting and speaking practice supported by a best-selling book or at least fame?
  • Are you compelled to share your view with the world?

Deciding on the appropriate strategy for the personal and corporate brands depends on your objective. Consider these questions:

  • Are customers following the brand or the person?
  • Should corporate and personal brands be blended?
  • Would the audience be lost if the personal brand were to fade?
  • What are the attributes of the person that should belong to the corporate brand?
  • Are personal and corporate attributes similar or far apart?
  • Have you thought through the risks and discipline needed to sustain a personal brand?

The power of personal brands

To truly breakthrough, your brand must feel real and meaningful. This can come from the very people who believe in it the most — the founders, senior team or developers who embody the brand. Or, the personality can come from the users — the audience who consumes it. It is no longer a matter of personal or corporate brand. It is a personal brand. And the question is, how personal?

I believe it is no longer a matter of personal or corporate brand. It is a personal brand. And the question is, how personal?

Kim Donlan, RedSwan5

To Be Relevant, You Don’t Soothe a Consumer’s Pain. You Eliminate It.

To Be Relevant, You Don’t Soothe a Consumer’s Pain. You Eliminate It. 650 650 Kim Donlan

We recently helped one of our start-up clients prepare for Unpitch and discovered working with founders at the early stage has a lot of similarities to working with larger brands on building a great story and position. Unpitch is a terrific event that provides opportunities and connections for founders who are closer to the idea stage than the “spit and polish” newbies fresh out of accelerators. Startups attack problems with fresh ideas on how to solve them in much the same way that the very best, most trusted brands do.  

Founders and CMOs face the exact same dilemma — deciding how to compete.

  • Is the idea a shinier version of what already exists?
  • Will the idea disrupt an existing market?
  • Will it create a new category or sub-category?

The answers will determine whether you have a relevant brand strategy.  

Embracing brand relevance requires creating a product or service that changes the way consumers think. Relevance is where customers don’t need to compare your brand with others. There’s just you and your brand. A simple decision. You are relevant to their lives. You contribute to who they are.

The 3 lessons CMOs can learn from the start-ups are:


If you look deeply at your existing customer experience and landscape, you will find gaps and opportunities. They will be disguised as annoyances, frustrations, little moments that piss people off though it seems as if there is no other choice but to suck it up.

A good place to look is market and field research. What does a customer’s life really look like in those micro-moments? How is the customer’s behavior impacted mentally, emotionally, psychologically, physically, culturally, socially and intellectually? Often, you are looking for the accepted frustration of “what is.”

During a class I teach at Bentley, students were working with Misha & Puff, a maker of knitted children’s wear. During the survey and market research, students kept hearing “Paying lots of money for babies clothes is a waste because they grow out of them so quickly.” Students then looked at how children’s clothes used to be made and found they were often knitted because the fabrics could stretch and accommodate children as they grew. An expensive sweater could be used for a longer time and then passed down to another child. 

reframe the pain


To uncover the innovation in front of you, look for what is taking too long to do or is incredibly inconvenient. What system or process just doesn’t make sense any longer? Or, how can you use what you already have in a new way?

In a recent project for the IMAX film, Dream Big, we realized that a film screening during a field trip stood a small chance of inspiring students to consider engineering as a career. We needed to change how an IMAX film was marketed. The film became the centerpiece of a larger collective movement that provided teachers, parents, museums and volunteer engineers with events, resources and curriculum to incorporate engineering concepts into the classroom. Inspired students will be able to experiment with the engineering principles that have led to great achievements.


Carving out a large group of customers is what startups are doing every day as they pitch their ideas to investors. They point to lost opportunities and make a compelling case that shows they really, truly empathize with the people they are trying to help.

Identifying a new market, sub-category or segment is the only way to deliver a product that has any chance of being relevant. It is a bold takes bravery

For CMOs currently in the brand preference cycle, switching to brand relevance requires:

  • Seeking true innovation
  • Reframing the problem in a way that makes you relevant
  • Building it
  • Committing to the long view

Startup founders must defend their newness, their novel approach and their deep, personal understanding of what customers are facing every day. We can all learn a lot from them.

Holistic Marketing in Chaos

Holistic Marketing in Chaos 650 650 Kim Donlan


A New Perspective on Holistic Marketing: Your Customer’s

Holistic marketing is based on a strong belief that all aspects of marketing and the customer experience are interrelated. Makes sense, right? Yet, marketers are failing to grasp exactly how to develop a truly holistic approach because it is so incredibly hard for brands to think like their customers.

“86% of brand marketers admit that a holistic marketing approach is a top priority, yet few feel prepared to execute one.”

Problem 1: Company mindset

Up until now, holistic marketing has been viewed from a company-centric mindset.  When building a corporate process designed to provide a seamless brand experience, very smart, experienced marketers are spending (lots of) time and money trying to align around the idea of the most perfect customer behavior that leads to the highest profit. With a company-centric mindset, brand strategies and decisions are one-sided — only viewed from the internal perspective. If everyone who is part of determining the brand experience is sitting on the brand’s bench, it is impossible to see the issues from perspective of the customer.  

The efforts to align and collect data from everywhere — marketing, sales, and customer service —  lead to the consideration of technology and systems that promise a 360-degree view of customers. However, the 360-degree view puts the brand in the middle looking out at their potential and existing customers’ behavior. Several problems arise from this approach:

  • Customers only care about their view
  • Every customer has a unique view

A company-centric approach makes it difficult to organize and operationalize around the countless ways with which potential customers interact across touchpoints. To make this more manageable, buyer and customer journeys are developed that streamline a set of interactions that lead (hopefully) to a consistent experience. The customer journey — while a good starting point — can only manage the optimal behavior of a limited number of people. Customers don’t follow a single journey. And a customer journey cannot be personalized to the level customers demand.

Thinking about all the customer interactions and experiences is overwhelming. Trying to anticipate all the paths that may (or may not) quickly lead to loyal customers is like trying to imagine chaos. Your version of chaos might be different from mine, but it is still overwhelming and leaves you wanting to run screaming for the hills. To make a difficult situation worse, online behavior is evolving. For those operating within a company-centric mindset, this leads to continuous failure to deliver a seamless brand experience across all channels. To avoid this, three things must change. You should:

  • Embrace a holistic approach that is truly customer-centric
  • Support multiple customer paths and strategies
  • Treat prospects and customers as your marketing department

Holistic marketing must be customer-centric and responsive to multiple customers’ perspectives. Honing a holistic mindset and operational approach will need to support the ability to respond to the chaos of customers who interact with brands in any way they see fit.

At RedSwan5, we believe in the co-evolution of marketing and helping brands prepare to respond more successfully to the chaos of engagement. We are working with customers to perfect a better approach. It involves building a holistic marketing approach that is customer-centric and able to manage multiple strategies that are often led by the customers themselves.

We intend to share case studies and research on this new approach.

Rebranding: Are you ready to innovate?

Rebranding: Are you ready to innovate? 650 650 Kim Donlan

In celebration of World Creativity and Innovation Week, I wanted to share our viewpoint on creativity and innovation in the rebranding processes. When an organization needs to rebrand, it means that somewhere along the way, it got stuck. In rebranding, size really doesn’t matter. It can be necessary for a two-person startup, industry leaders and everything in between. The process is the same — a series of guided exercises played out in workshop meant to get to the core of what a brand really is.

At the most fundamental level, rebranding is a concerted effort to innovate. It means the organization has realized it must do something in a new way. That is a vulnerable place to be. A company ready to rebrand needs to think carefully about how ready they are to re-invent themselves. Innovation requires an honest look at what is to clearly see what can be. It is not easy. It is not fun.

So how do you know you are ready to innovate through the rebranding process?

Do Whatever It Takes. Often, organizations have spent a great deal of time fixing what is broken. This is a group of smart people, but despite their best efforts, something still isn’t working. All the effort and brainpower can only mean that something is fundamentally wrong. Innovation by definition means the organization MUST do something in a new way. The old way must be so painful, you are willing to do whatever it takes to change it.

Retrace Your Path. Understand where the organization got off-track. Was it the early customers who controlled the roadmap? The failure to make decisions based on accurate data? Or just moving in too many directions so that true progress couldn’t happen? As part of innovation, it is important to acknowledge and learn from what didn’t work. And then let it go. To truly innovate, you need to abandon the woulda, coulda, shoulda mentality to think freely about what might the truer path.

Find the Real Story. Willingly abandon your story and perspective to see the impact of your product, service or idea. Clearly and painstakingly look at what the early customers and friendly advisors were really saying. This is the time to look at the nuances and messages buried in what people were saying. It is an exercise in listening with the intent of finding the common emotional connection that you can fulfill.

Seek the Small Change. Innovation isn’t about making a huge change. It comes from making a new connection that potentially can have a big impact. It is often small and previously overlooked. It can be disguised as anything — a tweak to the positioning, a slightly different customer experience, razor focus on a thing you do better than anyone else, a new onboarding process, a refined value proposition or discovering the best customer was the person next to the guy you were selling to.

Innovation is not something that happens naturally within organizations. It is a mindset backed by the willingness to go through a process that will make room for it. Creativity and innovation are a result of hard work. It is not always easy, but it always yields great results.

Image source: Creative Commons

Defining Holistic Marketing

Defining Holistic Marketing 2923 2108 Kim Donlan

R2_HolisticMarketing_Graphic_700-01 (1)

Redefining Holistic Marketing: Does Everything Matter?

Standing in front of my Bentley MBA marketing class filled with hopeful, smart analytical marketers, I try to explain how the branding process and integrated marketing communication are related. I thought using a case study that documents the deep, difficult process firms go through to adopt a strong branding foundation by addressing their internal culture would demonstrate the messy, enmeshed process of holistic marketing. I am met with facial expressions that range from slightly bemused to full on “Orange is the New Black’ Crazy Eyes. I am not believed.

On Management Mania, the brilliant Philip Kotler and Kevin Lane Keller offer a sound academic definition of holistic marketing, “ Holistic marketing recognizes that ‘everything matters’ with marketing and that a broad, integrated perspective is necessary to attain the best solution.”   What particularly jumps out is ‘…everything matters…integrated perspective.’  In the frenzy to build interdependent programs, the true value of holistic marketing has gotten lost in the quest for short term measurement of process.

In looking a bit more at the definition and comparing it to the vast number of (mostly horrible) infographics out there, I get the sense that holistic marketing is generally considered to be an internal alignment problem. It explains, to some extent, why marketers and CEOs lament in various flavors of… “if the integrated marketing programs were just capturing more data at each customer journey touchpoint…” or,  “if we didn’t have multiple agencies and layers of brand managers, we’d have a more holistic approach.” But by only considering the issue of internal alignment, marketers are focused on closing the gap between touch points and are not asking the more critical question: “how does this touch point relate to the holistic marketing for this customer?” Or, even better, “do you have a holistic marketing solution that this customer understands?”

Organizational Perspective: Everything Measurable Matters

Organizational alignment has provided a framework where customer experience is measured across all touch points. This organizational mindset results in strategies and campaigns that attempt to influence what potential and existing customers do when they search, read, watch, click, buy and socialize. Each interaction collected, measured and stored in the fluffy data cloud is an attempt to understand the customer experience. It has become what we mean when we say “everything matters.”

bad holistic 1source: Project Guru

It is true that processes, systems, culture and policies within an organization should be working together in a more fluid, natural way that makes marketing more efficient and productive. A significant part of holistic marketing requires an inward focus. However, the relentless quest to measure disparate marketing components locks the organization in a narrow perspective that interferes with the higher goal of building a long term customer relationship based on trust. It is this trust that is the foundation of holistic marketing.

Think for a minute about the brands you really trust. What did it take to gain your trust? The digital experience you have with them is probably meeting your needs every single step of the way. You feel taken care of and, likely, understood at a deep level. Your personal expectations continue to be met. Dan Edelman, in his timely article “The Business of Trust” provides the sobering opinion that “trust in the digital age requires consistency of interactions across the customer’s journey — transparency, simplicity, reliability, responsiveness, and a proper use of the customer information the consumer expects you to have.” (Edelman, 2016).  The big takeaway is: “Are you just working on a punch list of fixes, or are you making the overall flow of the experience to bring out the best reliability, transparency, personalization, responsiveness and simplicity your brand can offer as part of a commitment to building trust?” The answer to that question changes the narrative across the customer journey and requires marketers think about what they mean by ‘alignment’.

Customer’s Perspective: Gaining My Trust Matters

Holistic marketing, in its current definition, provides an approach that traps many organizations in an endless cycle of punch list fixes without considering the importance of trust. Holistic marketing must comprise more than the organization’s marketing interdependencies; it must be centered on the customer’s dependency on you, the marketer, to provide a simple, seamless solution. Perhaps it is time to strive for a new definition… holistic marketing is the development, design and implementation of marketing programs, processes and activities that are designed to build a seamless customer journey that is highly personalized, truthful, and anticipates the breadth of the customer’s needs – every tiny step – including both the vulnerable moments that require care and the inspiring times that are the rewards of being in business with one another. Holistic marketing recognizes that ‘everything matters’ to customers and that a personalized, integrated perspective is necessary to attain trust.”  

Customers desire to trust the brands they need and need the brands they trust.

By rethinking the holistic approach with the customer in the center, organizations will be forced to change how they align programs, processes and activities.  Only then can an organization shift from counting customer clicks to becoming a brand customers can count on.