Personal Brand Name vs. Corporate Brand Name
Which is better?
Which is better?
You want to build a brand, but do you call your company a word like ‘Empire,’ for example, or do you name it after yourself?
Corporate branding and personal branding are two sides of the same coin.
When it’s spinning, they’re equal, but it’s how you want it to land that matters most.
“So, which one is better, a corporate or personal brand name?”
Last week a friend of mine called me posing this exact question. He’s beginning his career as a wedding photographer and his first step was to think of a brand name.
The answer depends on:
The long game
Each thing plays into the next, and if they aren’t in perfect alignment, the entire house of cards could fall.
1. Choosing Between Names
Let’s take the example of a wedding photographer.
You could call it ‘Empire Photography’ or use your name — in my case, ‘Geraint Clarke Wedding Photography.’
Both are good options.
The difference between a corporate or a personal brand name is the perception of size.
‘Empire’ feels bigger, like a photography agency. Whereas using a personal brand name makes it feel smaller by definition.
That’s not a bad thing — people love to support small, accountable businesses. Especially if all of your trade will be conducted within a certain radius (like a wedding photographer).
What about the alternative? A random name
Many of the most successful brands on the planet were just words, names, or places.
Amazon. Nike. Apple. They were words first and brands second.
However, these brands grew so big that now the word is synonymous with the brand. It conjures up the company in your mind with a mere mention.
The brand has hijacked the name for itself.
So you could presume that the name is less important than the brand you’re building because if the brand grows big enough, it eventually embodies the word.
This is true...but it’s not an excuse. There is a message behind each one of those brand names.
When those companies were named, it was because the word they chose was suggestive and encapsulated their vision or message.
Your brand name could be:
Here’s an example: If I was opening a coffee shop, I’d call it “The Grind.”
It has a dual meaning. The grind of the coffee and the daily grind that people go through in their lives — potentially needing my coffee to get them through it.
Grind also being future tense (not ground) is also suggestive of the freshness of the coffee.
In just two words, I’m saying more than you think.
Actionable step: Capture your brand’s message when choosing a name. It doesn’t have to be your name, but it does have to be your vision.
2. Being Specific vs. Not Specific to the Product
The brand name can’t constrain the product. It needs to hug it like a newborn baby.
If your brand name is too specific, it won’t allow your product line to grow.
In the example above, I could call it ‘Geraint Clarke Wedding Photography’ to establish my product.
If someone was to Google ‘wedding photographer’ and my brand shows up, they’d know from my brand name that they’ve found someone offering the exact service they’re looking for.
Using my actual name as my brand name also breeds accountability. People like that.
They hire me. They expect me. They get me.
This is important to the wedding niche. Couples need to feel safe with the services they’re hiring. It’s their big day and they need it to go smoothly.
However, with a brand name like that, after wedding season is over, people aren’t going to be seeking out my company for their baby’s first photos or to shoot their family portraits.
I branded it as ‘wedding photography.’
The brand name was too specific to the product and doesn’t allow me to diversify or extend my services.
Take out the word ‘wedding’ and you fix the problem, right? Not quite.
What if you want to extend past photography into videography as well? Now someone looking for a videographer won’t assume they can hire ‘Geraint Clarke Photography’ for that service.
It’s a minefield.
Before settling on a personal brand, ensure that you’ve not pigeon-holed yourself into one service or product.
Coffee Barker is a great name for a trendy coffee shop, but if you ever want to start selling tea, you’ve ruined your opportunity with your name. It’s too specific to one product.
In this instance, it’s a true story and Coffee Barker (Cardiff) had to open a separate shop for tea-lovers 87 yards down the road.
It’s OK to be an expert, go-to, or specialist in one area. Just understand the restrictions when establishing your brand name.
Being a patron of Coffee Barker, their decision looks intentional — just make sure yours is too.
If you don’t ever want to colour outside of the lines and stick firm to your niche, you can.
Starting your business as “Gwen’s Hair Salon” is a fantastic name for a local brand specialising in cutting and stylish hair, as long as you know it won’t scale easily.
However, call it something like ‘Bonzï,’ and you’ve allowed yourself room to grow, whilst giving the perception of scale.
Bonzï could be hair, or it could be hair and nails. Or, it could be hair, nails, clothing, furniture, baby products — anything.
Actionable step: Decide on what you’re going to sell, but be wary of constraining yourself to one product or niche. Your brand name should suit your business, not restrict it.
Being specific suggests expertise, but a lack of specificity allows for diversification.
#3. What Is Your ‘Long Game’ Strategy?
The last thing to take into account is the long game. Where are you headed with this brand?
As a writer, I don’t intend to have an agency or others working for me. I write as me. Therefore I don’t need a pseudonym or corporate identity.
Think about what you want your brand to eventually become.
Why are you building this business in the first place?
If your end goal is to expand your product line outside of your initial product, a personal brand isn’t for you.
If your end goal is to expand your staff so you can hire someone else to do your job, then a personal brand is not for you.
If your end goal is to sell the business or idea and retire early, please don’t create a personal brand.
The four biggest brands in the world are interchangeable, dynamic, and open to interpretation.
Each brand name is void of specificity. Both in the products they sell and who runs them.
They can be sold, transferred, diversify their product offerings, and grow. That was intentional from the start.
Now imagine the opposite.
In the example of ‘Geraint Clarke Wedding Photography,’ it would be unlikely that I’d be able to sell the business in the future.
The other problem is that customers booking me would also expect me, so I couldn’t eventually hire staff to do shoots instead of me.
This traps me as a service-based business and doesn’t allow me to scale as a product-based business.
I can only earn what I’m willing to work. Which is great, if that’s the goal… but it shouldn’t be.
Having a personal brand name that isn’t transferable puts an invisible ceiling to its growth and the brand’s potential.
Is that what you want?
As we get older, grow, and change our passions, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that you’d eventually want to sell your business and do something else.
Especially if it’s successful enough to buy your freedom.
Actionable step: Decide what your end goal is with the brand you’re creating. Is it to scale a business bigger than yourself? Or to establish a modest career for yourself, for life?
By future-proofing your brand before you name it, you’ll ensure that the road you’re about to walk down takes you exactly where you’re headed.
None of your time will be wasted and you won’t have to frantically change course in a few years from now when it’s maybe too late.