The future of branding is personal

A public lecture at UCT Graduate School of Business with Dr Talaya Waller and Solly Moeng

SCREEN AFRICA EXCLUSIVE: Did you know that the average employee has 10 times more followers on social media than the average company? Technology has disrupted brand advertising and companies need to realise that the personal brand of an individual is as important as the company brand that individual represents.

At a UCT Graduate School of Business public lecture in Cape Town recently, Dr Talaya Waller, a personal branding specialist based in Washington, USA, and Solly Moeng, one of South Africa’s leading reputational management practitioners, spoke about managing personal and corporate brands in the wake of global and local business scandals.

Dr Waller, the CEO of Waller & Company, also pointed out that 92 per cent of consumers trust a recommendation from an individual when they get a personal recommendation, over brand advertising: “Marketing shifted from a functional value to an emotional value in the 50s, when companies sought to add value to their goods above those of their competitors.

“Today a brand is no longer built in a silo. Today your brand is managed by consumers, the people in your company. And those employees are your company culture. The future of branding is personal.”

So how much do you spend on branding your company, versus how much you spend on keeping your employees as happy brand ambassadors?


Dr Waller pointed out that a good CEO can attract people to the company, attract investors, bolster brand image. “People don’t expect you to be perfect, but if you lie or manipulate the truth, people lose respect in you. Perception is reality. Personal reputation can cause damage to the company.”

Every organisation has to invest in the people in that organisation if they want to grow their brand. “Consumers don’t really trust CEOs anymore. They trust employees and they trust the experts,” Dr Waller emphasised.

Experts believe that the average millennial will have 10 – 15 jobs in their lifetime, given the speed of change and the fact that people are expected to live longer and be more active longer.

“You can’t brand yourself according to your job title. You always need room for traits like experience, good work ethic and reliability. But we must all try to be our authentic selves. We need to differentiate ourselves, whether it is as a product, service or person.

“If you are trying to be a leader, stand out, be noticed, be different.” Dr Waller also emphasised how important it was for organisations to be diverse, to represent internally, the external audience they were talking to.

Moeng, MD, DonValley Reputation Managers, also reminded the audience that leaders need to empower employees to speak.

“Brand identity is what you want to be known for; and brand image is what you are known for. Every brand struggles with that gap. Always make an effort and do your brand health check in your market and internally. You need to interrogate whether your message is being received as you want it to be.”


In order to grow your business, you need to put yourself out there as a brand: teach, lead, be authentic, embrace your authenticity, be empowering, fearless. It is not about being perfect. It is about accepting all those things you are, Dr Waller reiterated.

“Your tribe is out there. They are just waiting for you. Your time is now.”

In a marketplace where your job may become obsolete and you will have to reinvent yourself, possibly more than once in the job market, it comes down to being as “human as possible” in your banding efforts.

“It sounds cliché, but you will be surprised at how often in your day… when you are truly trying to connect to another human being, that you have to be vulnerable. People want to get to know you. You have to talk about the things people don’t want to talk about. People are going through the same things. That is why we have to bring it into the organisation. That is the future,” Dr Waller explained.

Dr Waller impressed on the audience that personal branding was a destination, not a journey, that had to be managed. “In this age of social media, people will come out with the truth anyway. Tell your story first.”


Moeng said there was a time when we used to speak about South Africa being “exceptional”. That time is gone, he said.

“Brand leadership is very important. Whether you are head of a family, a corporation or a country, you have to have values. Be consistent. You can’t change your values from one country to the next, wherever you are doing business…

“At the dawn of our democracy, we came up with a new set of values enshrined in our constitution and a Bill of Rights. This was the country we were going to be. But we have failed over the last 10 years. South Africa failed its own values.”

Moeng stressed that sometimes, leadership can be a lonely place. But he emphasised that South Africans should demand the truth from their leaders, political and business.

Communications and reputation management was, however, routinely underestimated in companies, only prioritised when a problem arises. “Reputational managers are not like the fire brigade. They need to sit where the decisions are made in the company.”

“Ford Kuga failed. For almost two years they said almost nothing. They listened to the insurers (never accept responsibility); and they listened to the lawyers (no comment). And that is what Ford Kuga did for two years, despite the conversations on social media.

“Sometimes you don’t have to win in court; you need to win in the heart. Maybe Ford had no one to say to them: ‘Come on guys, call the family’. Brands need to reach out.”

The problem was often that brands were removed from the reality of what their customers were thinking, Moeng said.

“Companies need to know what is happening. The statement you issue today in response to something could hurt you, depending on what is happening in your environment. If you don’t trawl the environment, you don’t know what is happening.”



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