The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to an accelerated online business culture that has led to a CEO’s brand getting checked out multiple times a day by investors, media, future customers and employees.

Your CEO brand is a necessity

Even when the vaccine takes hold and the crisis passes, things will never go back to “business as usual.” Like it or not, having a well-defined, social CEO brand in today’s post-COVID-19 world is no longer a luxury — it is a necessity. 

In addition to the pandemic’s impact on CEO branding, consider just a few statistics drawn from more than 40 different pieces of research:

  • Burson-Marsteller concluded that 48% of a company’s reputation can be attributed to the standing of its CEO.
  • A study by Weber Shandwick and KRC Research reported 87% of global executives consider CEO reputation as a factor in attracting investors.
  • A BRANDfog survey found that 80% of respondents agree that social media is now a key component of PR and communications strategy for CEOs and C-suite executives. 
  • An in-depth white paper on CEO Brand by the European Journal of Marketing presented that successful CEO branding enhances perceived overall brand value and creates value for an organization itself.

Regardless of all evidence pointing to the power of a serious CEO brand, Domo and reports that 61% of CEOs still lack a personal brand. The question is not: Should I have a CEO brand? But rather: How do I best build one?

Brand before you build

Almost every CEO I speak with declares, “I want to be a thought leader.” My not-so-joking response is, “OK, but first you have to have some thoughts.” All kidding aside, you can’t just wish or declare yourself into thought leadership status.

A strong CEO brand needs to be built from the ground up. It is an organic process that takes into account your goals, time, talents and the current marketplace.

The road to building your CEO brand can be fraught with missteps. I hear regularly from CEOs who have spent countless hours (and dollars) on PR, social media, and more to build their brand — all to no avail. Most often the reason is the absence of a well-designed CEO brand position and overall strategy.

I’m a big believer in avoiding what I call “Drunk Marketing©.” Essentially, Drunk Marketing is when a CEO guesses at what tactics they should use to build their brand – rather than creating a solid strategy, based on research.   

One of my mantras is “brand before you build.” In the case of your CEO brand, this means getting the foundation right. There is no point in investing in a lot of brand building activity if you are only driving people back to a LinkedIn profile, social media, personal website, etc., that does not clearly and consistently represent your brand. 

Define your CEO brand

As a starting point, it is essential to define your CEO brand beyond the usual elevator pitch to the deeper aspects including your unique CEO brand proposition, your authentic story and narrative, your brand tone and energy, and your personal style.

It may sound easy, but getting to the core of these requires a diligent exploration of who you are, who you want to be, what you stand for, and how you bring that into your company and the world.

Pre-COVID-19, a CEO might have been able to slide by on just their accomplishments, but today people are actively seeking what you stand for as an important measure of your business success.

Translate your CEO brand online

Once you have a handle on defining your CEO brand, it is important to translate that into your online collateral. One of the most critical platforms is LinkedIn. The biggest B2B player in the social media space, an impressive 77% of people you interact with will check you out on LinkedIn first.

Pre-pandemic, having a so-so LinkedIn wasn’t best practice. Post-pandemic, it can be a deal killer.  I have had CEO clients who have lost media coverage, investors, clients, and even employees due to the underwhelming nature of their CEO brands on LinkedIn.

A great example is from one of my favorite clients, Julie Faupel, a YPO member. Her LinkedIn shows how first clarifying the personal brand positioning and then making adjustments to a profile can dramatically upgrade a CEO brand.

In Julie’s previous LinkedIn, the top half of her profile was bland. She had the generic blue background and a nondescript headline that simply read Founder, CEO at REALM under her name. In short, a no-brand CEO brand.

After working together to design the various aspects of her personal brand, we were able to design a page that more clearly established her CEO brand. The revision features a customized background and expanded headliner positioning Julie as the powerhouse she is.

The headline took into account many of the brand positioning items we had worked on. The revision read …

Founder REALM • Luxury Real Estate Tech Startup • Connecting elite real estate professionals with properties and content in a patented platform globally • Creating Virtual Communities • Luxury Consumer Psychology

In addition, we totally rewrote Julie’s About section to be more on brand, featuring a narrative rather than just a litany of accomplishments and general statements.

The beginning of Julie’s About previously read …

Julie Faupel is the Founder and CEO of REALM, a global membership for top real estate professionals.

While this is not a bad introduction to the About, it does not position her either.  The revised version read …

Julie Faupel is the founder of REALM, a real estate tech startup featuring a virtual platform in the luxury real estate space that helps elite real estate professionals connect with properties throughout the world.

The rest of the About goes on to feature who she is and what she has done in specific language that shapes her CEO brand and reflects the contributions she is making as a highly successful woman entrepreneur.

Create an overall CEO brand strategy

Of course, designing the CEO brand and translating it into online collateral such as LinkedIn, other social media and websites is just the start. The best CEO brands are based on a strategy that spells out the specific tactics, based on research, that will get you to the place you want to be. 

PR, writing books, blogging, video, speaking and other activities, when perched on the foundation of a clear CEO brand, can position you for the type of thought leadership that spills over to your company brand, and ultimately uplifts both.

I think Julie put it best when I asked her what she thought the power was in having a more intentional CEO brand. 

She says, “I have always known exactly what I do and what I mean to my business, but when asked to communicate it, it often came out as a fumble. Now that I have refined my CEO brand, it has enabled me to talk about who I am in a way that allows me to be of greater service. The people I am talking to, whether they are media, investors or clients, they are more interested in discussing and engaging instead of nodding politely and then leaving.”

There is no doubt that the problem of information overload has been made even greater by the COVID-19 crisis. So, the ability to create more engagement and listening by building a stronger CEO brand may just be the antidote your seeking.