Personal branding offers benefits beyond increased recognition

Natalie Bartholomew

People bank with people, reminds Natalie Bartholomew, aka The Girl Banker. Especially on the lending side, people do business with a particular bank because they can reach their banker when they need them and they know their banker will respond. Why not convert such recognition into a brand that tells both a personal story and the story of the bank?

That was the core message Bartholomew brought to a Nov. 15 webinar, titled, “Benefits of a Personal Brand.” Bartholomew is vice president and chief marketing officer for Grand Savings Bank, which operates in northwest Arkansas.

Bartholomew defined personal branding as telling the world about the process of “you being you.” The benefits, she said, include increased visibility in the marketplace, increased recognition as a reliable or credible source, and a more robust professional network. “If you have people in your organization who are recognizable, they will help your organization,” she said.

Using her year-old blog as an example, Bartholomew, a third-generation banker with 19 years in the industry, said, “the personal brand lets you talk about what you are awesome at.” Before she began creating original blog content, Bartholomew shared articles written by others on social media and began her journey as an advocate for women in the banking industry. “The opportunity is amazing [with a personal brand],” she said. “Not only to build your career but also to elevate your profile in the community.”

Though most consider personal brands in connection to celebrities, it’s realistic to assume ordinary people have brands too. “Most people have a brand whether they know it or not,” she added, brand positioned as an extension of professional reputation. Because a person’s brand already exists, “you may as well take charge of it,” she said.

Bartholomew, a self-described extrovert, offered starting tips for bankers who might be interested in building their own personal brand:

  • Understand your value. We all have doubts from time to time about what we can contribute, but “you have value,” she said.
  • Determine your niche. It is critical to hone in on the skills that make each person special when building a personal brand. “As I found a niche for women in banking … I decided to own it,” she said. “If you are passionate about something, own it.”
  • Develop social media skills. Bartholomew admitted this step could be intimidating because it requires a person to “put themselves out there.” She said people don’t have to use all of the social platforms available in the market. “Dominate the ones you are comfortable with and tell your story on one or two,” she advised. She admitted to relying heavily on Twitter and Instagram, the latter because it was a visual medium.
  • Be consistent. Tell the same story across all platforms.
  • Define your brand. You don’t have to launch a blog or give yourself a name, she said. The beauty of the personal brand was that “you can decide it for yourself.”
  • Know your audience. Be where the audience is and learn how to speak just to them, she advised. Some people might need to build up their people skills before being truly effective with some audiences.
  • Build your network. By growing a network, a personal brand will gain relevancy and increased support. She said networks also lead to new business and can lead to new job opportunities.
  • Be authentic. The demand to be “as real as one can be” is critical, she said. Authenticity builds trust. “Don’t be someone you are not.”
  • Be patient. Personal and professional networks aren’t built overnight; neither are personal brands. Bartholomew said she was surprised how quickly her own blog took off. “I started engaging as a follower with others, such as ICBA, Kasasa, other bankers, associations and vendors,” she explained.

Bartholomew cautioned against building a personal brand solely for the purpose of gaining social media followers. “One should cultivate followers who follow you for the right reasons,” she said. “If you do it right, it will develop naturally.”

Employees with strong personal brands bring recognition to their banks. “I am a representative of Grand Savings Bank,” she said, and her visibility sets the bank apart from its competition.