Branding Mistakes CEOs of $20m to $50m Businesses Make: Hiding Their Humanness

When developing their brands CEOs (or their CMOs) of companies in the $20 million to $50 million range make a mistake when they take their branding cues wholesale from mid-size to large, mature ones. Yes, you want to convey your substance and capability. But precisely because of your size, you can build a compelling brand that every employee understands. That in turn, translates to customer acquisition and retention. A Gallup study revealed that about only 46% of managers and 37% of non-management employees knew what their company stood for. Yikes.

When you get the vision and core values right on the inside, it shows on the outside—customers and clients who keep coming back. What does “getting it right” on the inside involve?

  • Creating a big, compelling vision and engaging employees throughout your organization in exploring how to bring it to life. Then it becomes a shared vision not one for a select few at the top.
  • When you and your employees’ interactions with each other demonstrate the company’s core values and your policies support them.

Bring the two of these together, and you’re going to be tapping your own company powerhouse.

What Does Your Brand Convey?

Let’s consider how your brand looks and what it conveys to people outside your company.

If you’ve taken cues wholesale from a large, mature company, depending on which one you may wind up with all the polish and zero personality. People figuratively pass right by without a glance your way. You’ve got to catch their eye and in a way they can connect with you.

But first, a story…

In New York City almost 7 years ago, I was using crutches and wearing a plastic, Star Wars Stormtrooper-like boot to support and stabilize an ankle I broke running.

In Penn Station, women in the ladies’ room yielded their place in line to me. When an escalator was broken, two men whose clothing was worn and torn, smiled and gallantly helped me up the stairs. In the taxi line, a man ahead of me moved a steel barricade aside so I could more easily pass. (I looked for his fluttering cape but there was none.)

Up and down the Northeastern corridor, even when I didn’t have the crutches people engaged with me who would never have spoken to me otherwise initiated a conversation. In elevators. In stores. Some shared stories about terrible injuries. That part wasn’t so fun!

In a busy world where people are focused on their own interests and keeping their distance, that boot was better than an adorable puppy for all the interaction it invited.

Here’s what I found: when we humanize ourselves, others’ humanity comes out. The same applies to your corporate brand.

Show Us Your (Company’s) Humanness

Show us your humanness—who and what your business uniquely is, what it’s committed to and where it’s going. It might be telling the founder’s story or telling the story that leads to the promise your company makes its customers. People love stories! Show us your company’s personality and its values in what it does, for whom and how it does it. When you do our humanity–read: engagement and interest in you–will come out. You earn a chance to be in relationship with us and our money.

Barbara Corcoran, real estate mogul, allocated 5% of her annual operating budget as “mad money”—money to be used however the employees decided. They were given the mandate to spend it and discover new things. In a federal agency division, the leadership team rotates roles at each team meeting. Even the highest ranking person takes a turn writing meeting notes. What humanness these stories reveal that pique our human interest!

It Bears Repeating: What Keeps Clients and Customers Is…

And finally, we know this but it bears repeating.

You can invite them in but what keeps clients and customers is when you consistently deliver on what your brand promises. Hint: your front-line employees, those at the promise point of your company who engage directly with your customers, have invaluable information on how well your company is doing delivering on that promise. Are you listening?

A lot has to come together to create a great brand and it’s no easy feat. Do the hard work on the inside, and invite us in–show us your humanness, and deliver on your promise.

U.S. Library of Congress ISSN 2164-7240

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