Naming: Personal Brand vs. Business Brand

One of the most difficult and important decisions for an entrepreneur is how to brand their company. Should they use their personal name or create a company name? As individuals brand their solo or small enterprise concerns and engage in inbound marketing and content development choosing a name becomes a future-defining milestone.

It's a hot topic.

It’s a particularly hot topic in the digital marketer and personal brand coaching arena. So, Iet’s outline some of the pros and cons of the personal vs. business brand conundrum. In my book, the main three are scalability, flexibility and sellability.

One of the major pros of personal brands, those named after the person, is that they are flexible. A personal brand can evolve with you as you grow and change. As a beginning entrepreneur, you can start off as a marketing guru and then evolve to selling small batch cosmetics if you want to. Personal brands are also ideal if you want to start a speaking career. They are perfect for one-person industries, coaches, trainers, authors, artists, designers and strategists.

There are drawbacks.

The cons of a personal brand are equally significant. Many people don’t realize what they are until it’s too late and they are too far down the path of development. First, the name won’t immediately communicate what it is you do. A tagline can help here, but it is necessary to use it absolutely everywhere - and it’s generally a mouthful. So, you’ll need to work long and hard for people to associate your name with what it is you provide. Initially, it’s also a challenge for SEO and SEM, an important consideration.

The most formidable challenge in a personal name brand is that it is tough to scale. Other employees may help you with specific tasks but they are inherently not ‘you’. Customers will always want to deal with ‘the name’. What if Guy Kawasaki’s or Gary Vaynerchuk’s second-in-command showed up for a podcast interview? Disappointing, right? It’s also hard to sell a personal brand. You can’t sell ‘you’ and you obviously wouldn’t want to sell your name.

Trading time for money.

Lastly, with a personal brand you are essentially trading time for money - unless you develop a huge library of independent and evergreen products that will be your main revenue source.

One great thing about a “business name” brand is that it can communicate what it does easily in the first mention of its name. This makes attracting customers, marketing, SEO and SEM easier. Much easier. Business brands are easily scalable. They are ideal if you ever decide to seek funding or bring on partners as you can offer an equity stake in the name. Banks tend to like them better too. And who doesn’t like easy access to capital to grow? As the flipside to personal brands, business brands are much easier to sell when you want to exit.

On the downside, a business brand is harder and more complex to build. It needs to be more plan-fully executed and can’t morph its offer as easily as a personal brand can. It’s harder to differentiate a business brand from the competition - which is why all that up-front business planning is so important. But the name can help telegraph that differentiation. Also, with a business brand any employee has the full potential to do damage to your brand once it is out of your hands. So business brand names are good for scaling but bad for control as they grow.

It is necessary to develop a “brand personality” whether you are a business brand or a personal brand. A brand personality that consumers can identify with and come to trust is critical no matter what your scale is – and I’d venture the bigger you are, the more important it is. I’ve expanded on this topic in my article “Big Brand Punch”.

Mixing the two.

There is one more option: mixing the two. Create a business brand name - and spread the word about what your business offers and become the highly visible “lead” individual for that business. Think Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs. By blogging, speaking, interviewing, writing and attending conferences the awareness of ‘you’ grows as you grow your business. But be sure to include others in your business as soon as possible to dilute undue reliance on you and your appearance as the only manifestation of the brand.

Plan for the future at the beginning.

Naming a business ultimately comes down to what the ambitions are to scale and if the founder will eventually want to sell and exit. For the entrepreneur, there is no definitively right or wrong answer and a course correction is never completely out of the question. They just become more cumbersome, costly and confusing to the customer as time goes by.