Villing & Company

Whose CV is it anyway? Personal branding vs. institutional branding

Personal branding has been the source of much discussion in marketing for several years now.  I get it.  A great individual CV (curriculum vitae) can dramatically enhance an individual’s marketability and with it, his or her credibility in acquiring new business.  And in the spirit that a rising tide lifts all boats, a rainmaker’s success floats the boats of everyone in the firm.  Right?

I’m not so sure.

I believe the firm’s CV is more important than the individual practitioner’s.  Seth Godin famously defined a brand as “the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”  Based on that definition, I don’t believe that building up an individual’s personal brand necessarily translates to creating overall brand value for the firm.  In some ways, it may actually diminish the company’s brand because the potential client isn’t choosing the firm; he or she is effectively hiring a specific practitioner.  As such, should that individual leave the organization, the chances of the firm retaining the business may be diminished significantly. 

For that reason, I believe professional services firms should think in terms of aggregating their collective strengths.  Marketing should focus more on the shared values, experiences and capabilities of the firm than trying to make superstars out of individual team members.  That’s not to say, there isn’t a time and place for recognizing valuable accomplishments – or for highlighting specific capabilities of an individual as a means of developing a particular service line or to win one specific piece of business.  But as much as possible, that should be done in the context of overall team success. 

If we use team sports as an analogy, championship teams are typically composed of multiple players whose talents complement one another.  It is the classic case of the sum being greater than the individual parts.  Again, this is not to suggest that a team can’t have a superstar, but he or she better be surrounded by a strong supporting cast of team members who complement the skills of the star.  The Chicago Bulls did not achieve their championship status during the early years of Michael Jordan’s career.  It was not until other critical team members were added to the mix that the team started its string of NBA championships.

The brand of a professional services firm likewise is only as strong as the collective skills of the team.  By putting too much focus on its top performers, the firm invites a serious reduction in brand (and real) value if one of those superstars moves on to greener pastures. Conversely, when the skills and reputation of the firm’s practitioners are aggregated, the value of the brand is enhanced.

Filed Under: Branding, Professional Services

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