How are Brandividuals special?

by cv harquail on June 17, 2009

What is it that makes Brandividuals a ‘special’ kind of organizational representative or spokesperson?

It seems to be all in the balance that brandividuals strike between displaying ‘who they are’ and advocating for ‘what the organization wants’.

More than "Spokesmodels"

Brandividuals do all kinds of important stakeholder contact, communication and problem resolution work. In this sense, they are much like customer service representatives, corporate spokespeople and anyone else who engages with stakeholders to resolve their issues with the organization.

What is different with a brandividual is how she draws on her own personal identity and her position as an organizational member or employee simultaneously to craft and sell this communication.

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Co-Branding: Me and Us

In its simplest form, the phenomenon of a brandividual will look like "co-branding," two brands coming together toward a common goal. There is the personal “brand” (the individual’s reputation, network, history) and the organization’s “brand”, being expressed simultaneously to advance the organization’s goals.

Borrowed Interest in "me" to attract attention to "us"

If you’ve ever been to an auto show and seen spokesmodels draped over the hoods of new cars, or watched a commercial for online trading site with a cute (or freaky) talking baby, you’ve seen borrowed interest at work. The attention of the viewer is ‘caught’ by the character with an easy, general appeal (e.g., the model, the baby) and then the attention is transferred to what is being sold (the car, the trading site). See how it works in photo of the kitty– how cute, and look, Arm & Hammer! Awwww….

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The mechanisms of borrowed interest help make Brandividuals work. The brandividual borrows the stakeholders’ interest in the brandividual’s personality and uses it to draw attention to the organization’s message.

Borrowed trust in "me" to engender trust in "us"

The brandividual also borrows the stakeholder’s developing trust in the brandividual him or herself to trigger and develop a sense of trust in the organization and it s identity.

One foot in each camp

The brandividual’s role is designed so that the brandividual needs to serve both his or her personal reputation as well as the organization’s reputation. Because the brandividual is using his or her own reputation to attract and sell the organization, there is a built in mechanism that protects the individual from falling over to the dark side and becoming the organization’s lackey. The brandividual’s personal reputation and his or her desire to remain personally authentic acts as a check against tipping ever interaction with stakeholders to serve just the organization.

The brandividual needs to sustain the stakeholders’ trust, first in his or her own reputation and then in the organization’s reputation. Acting in an untrustworthy manner as an individual, or engaging in untrustworthy behavior on behalf of the organizations, erodes the stakeholders’ trust in both of them. Because the brandividual’s own reputation is always on the line, respect for ones own reputation prevents the brandividual from going too far in (1) selling the organization’s point of view or (2) contradicting her own perspectives.

200906172126.jpg Pushing back, with both feet

There are many situations and organizational roles in which an organization member ends up selling out his or her own sense of what is right in order to do what is (supposedly) best for the organization. Rather than trying to balance his need to act in an authentic way with the organization’s needs, the individual capitulates and puts both feet on the organization’s side. Usually when this happens the individual’s personal reputation is damaged in his eyes alone because the only people who see him sell himself out are others who are similarly prioritizing the organization’s needs over their own.

In contrast, the actions of brandividuals are seen by stakeholders who are depending upon the brandividual to behave in a self-respecting, reputation-protecting way. So, to maintain his reputation in the eyes of the stakeholders he is interacting with, the brandividual may sometimes have to push back against the organization’s demands.

It’s this willingness and ability to push back, even more than the brandividual’s ability to balance, that sustains the individual’s reputation and makes the brandividual role special.

Arm & Hammer Spokesmodel kitten, by Malingering on Flickr
Trust Me Ninja by Nopodemosmas on Flickr
Sparrow Gymnastics by Ehoyer on Flickr

{ 2 comments }

Joseph Logan June 18, 2009 at 4:35 am

What you describe is a delicate and extremely challenging political and power-based dance. Art Kleiner’s book “Who Really Matters” discusses some of the politics in organizational environments in a brutally honest fashion.

I wonder if there is an inverse proportion between individual expression and firm size?
.-= Joseph Logan´s last blog ..King revisits econ-soc paper =-.

nino June 18, 2009 at 6:23 pm

good article, interesting points … i agree!

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