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The Brand Canyon: Bridging the great divide between personal and corporate branding

Personal and corporate brands can co-exist. In fact, I’ve learned they can work better together.

I’d worked six years in marketing with a company that created stunning, award-winning displays. Yet… we still fell short of customers recognizing our design-led cultivated image. We tried everything, including a total rebranding.

We so strongly believed our design expertise set us apart from competitors. Still, no matter how many brilliant photographs we showcased or the industry awards we won every year, we weren’t known for that design expertise.

Then came my “ah-ha!” moment. I realized we had to get personal if we wanted to change our perception. Why not put the spotlight directly on the designers creating the work? We could engage our clients with real people by shifting our focus from the products to the people behind them.

And so the enlightening journey to create personal brands for our Sales & Design Consultants began …

Developing a personal brand wasn’t a new idea. A company’s marketing department developing personal brands for select employees, however, was unheard of. On top of that, requesting an allocated portion of the marketing budget for designer’s personal branding was … risky. And yet, I got the support from senior management to make it happen.

It didn’t go without facing opposition, though. When I shared my idea with a business group I belonged to, they thought I was nuts. Why on earth would I showcase the talent and make it so easy for competitors to poach them?

Even my research wasn’t optimistic. Most resources about building a personal brand focused on finding your next job.

Was I giving the talent too much marketability? Was I leaving the door wide open for competitors to recruit them?

On the contrary, I firmly believed building the designers’ personal brands would be an investment. By investing in them individually the company would gain their loyalty, pride, and desire to stay with an employer that recognizes their value. This in turn would net a positive result for the company.

Five years have passed now since establishing the “Designer Brands” program. I’ve moved on from the company to start my own business. Yet, of the original eight personally-branded designers, not one of them has left the company. I’d say that’s an unbeatable return on investment.

By now I’m sure you’re dying to know … Did branding the designers have a positive result on the business?

Indeed! We saw leads come directly from their personal webpages on the company site. They won business from their increased LinkedIn connections and networking activities. They went on to win a dozen or more industry design awards. But the single biggest metric was some of the designers exceeded their baseline sales target by as much as 120%! And as I mentioned previously it has been five years since the inception of branding them as Designers and it is still thriving.

So how did I create eight unique personal brands that fit under the company’s umbrella? Here’s how I approached the challenge and so can you:

Determine an objective

Every plan begins with the end in mind. What do you hope to gain by building your personal brand? Your goals also have to align with your company’s objectives.

For example, if your company’s goal is to increase top sales by x%, how will your brand development help achieve this?

Talent selection

Whether you’re building a brand for one person or several, it’s critical that the talent is on board. Personal branding isn’t about self-promotion, but there is a need to be comfortable with self-advocating. Sharing expertise can range from writing articles to video blogs to interviews to speaking engagements. Some people just aren’t comfortable in that spotlight.

As part of the selection process, ask:

  • What do you stand for? (Value proposition)
  • What makes you stand out? (Differentiation)
  • What makes you compelling? (Marketability)


Set expectations

Building an effective personal brand is a two-way street and both sides have to work to be successful. Clearly define what resources will be available to them and what will be expected of them to do. Set deadlines. Anything worth doing needs time to get done.

Establish goals

Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) must be defined to determine if the time and cost have a positive return on investment. Increased activity, lead generations, productivity, and sales are all good points to measure.


For some people developing their own personal brand can feel daunting or even isolating. They’ll need support as they rethink how to present themselves. Create a culture of continuous learning through recommended reading, networking events, workshops, videos, etc. Make it a point to have regular meetings to determine what is and what isn’t working. Give frequent encouragement to nurture them into their full potential.

Final thought

As I tell each of the talented individuals I’ve had the good fortune to work with on building their personal brands in the workplace –
Stay Curious
Be authentic
Start or join the conversation!

Have you had experience creating a personal brand in the workplace? If so, what tips would you include? If you’re thinking about creating personal brands within your workplace, what questions do you have for me?


Michelle Mariola is founder & director of ISH-Productions, a Chicago-based branding and marketing company whose mission is to help emerging to mid-market companies develop their marketing strategies and brand identities.

  1. Excellent article. I watched your success and can say the results of your work were clearly measurable. Look forward to reading more.

    1. Thank you, Barbara! My next Blog post on communication will be posted next week. Happy reading.

  2. Michelle, you are innovative, creative, articulate but mostly generous in your nature. Sharing this information is so key to why personal branding within a corp really works. I happen to be part of an organization like this and it does promote loyalty. Your insight is so helpful. Thank uou for not only being a risk taker but for sharing, any company would be wise to have you working on their behalf!

  3. I am happy to hear you have experienced first hand the benefits of a company investing in you and your career! Often times companies think that they are satisfying employees well-being through compensation when in fact what they really want is to be recognized and developed. Thank you, Sally, for sharing your feedback and experience.

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