Shreyas Kulkarni

CRED’s Kunal Shah to Xiaomi’s Manu Jain to Zomato’s Deepinder Goyal: The advent of top bosses as a brand's face

We look at the trend of a company’s top guy or senior employee as the brand’s unofficial face, courtesy the power of social media.

Zomato’s co-founder Deepinder Goyal unleashed a barrage of tweets on New Year’s Eve that caught a lot of eyeballs. They were about what people were ordering, and the orders per minute (OPM) the food delivery giant was registering – it reached a high of 4,254. Yours truly dubs it a tweetstorm. Goyal’s 449k-plus followers on Twitter would agree.

Last year (2020), Goyal made headlines when he stood up for his company’s stance against a customer who refused an order because of the delivery guy’s religious identity.

Kunal Shah is the founder of CRED, a leading credit card bill payment rewards app. We think he’s more famous for his musings on office productivity, the start-up economy, self-improvement, and the frequent polls he holds on social media platforms. Shah should start paying us for participating in them.

From Twitter to Instagram to LinkedIn (his combined followers on all three exceeds 477k), Shah is ubiquitous, but the topics he chooses to speak on remain the same. It wasn’t surprising when LinkedIn India choose him as one of ‘LinkedIn Top Voices 2020’.

There is nobody bigger and more passionate an endorser of Xiaomi than its top executive Manu Kumar Jain. It’s true that the guy posts incessantly about the brand on social media, and has danced, rapped and done whatnot for it… Such is his passion that he’s as big a brand as the brand he works for.

Goyal, Shah and Jain. The trio lead three of India’s hottest brands, which is no easy feat, and yet they are powerful personal brands at the same time. Shakespeare’s ‘What's in a name? ’ has its answer.

Also Read: Is anyone missing the trivago guy?

Another name is Abhinav Kumar. Many won’t know who he is, but he’s popular across India as the ‘Trivago Guy’. He was the travel website’s India country head when he appeared in its ads. Today, he is Paytm’s VP, product marketing, and has appeared in its ad as well.

The fuel for the rise of such powerful personal branding is social media. Without platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram, these businessmen wouldn’t have seen their personal brand rise as quickly as the brands they represent.

Lloyd Mathias
Lloyd Mathias

And while social media does fuel their stardom, the concept of promoters isn’t new, says Lloyd Mathias, former marketing head at PepsiCo and Motorola. “Historically, we’ve had MDH’s founder Mahashay Chuni Lal ,who passed away recently, Shahnaz Husain, who’d appear on her own brand’s packs, Virgin Group’s Richard Branson, or even Vijay Mallya, who personified the ‘King of Good Times’.”

The difference between them and the present lot, as per Mathias, is social media … “Jain or Shah can stand up and intervene for their brand, and it’s a positive development.”

Sushant Vithaldas
Sushant Vithaldas

Sushant Vithaldas, business head, Schbang, a full-service agency echoes a similar thought when he says that social media gives these leaders a platform “to put out their unbiased or unfiltered thoughts. At the same time, it gives the consumers or fans of the brand a chance to interact with the leadership.”

Vithaldas goes on to say that this wasn’t possible 10 years ago, when a lot of the leadership was closely guarded and “were accessible at either big events, product announcements or marketing shows...”

But it’s not always the company’s founder and/or top executive who enjoys such branding. Take, for instance, Akshar Pathak, Zomato’s art director, whose Instagram handle (563k followers) rivals the brand’s popularity on many occasions.

Pathak posts humorous observations on daily happenings, and nothing about the brand he works for. But it indirectly helps his brand once people realise where he works after they follow his personal handle. His pet dog Bisckoo has his own Instagram handle, with over 14k followers.

Vithaldas of Schabang makes an interesting point about how brands like CRED and Mi are born out of the Internet. They’ve grown up in the social media space and so it comes naturally to them. But it doesn’t mean legacy brands and its leaders are lagging behind.

He points towards Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group, who has done a phenomenal job of keeping himself up to date with the times and is a really big force to reckon with, thanks to a Twitter following upwards of eight million.

We did observe how freely these people could speak on topics without any hesitation or fear of repercussions. There is no protocol or hierarchy, and when they do speak on something, people are more likely to take them seriously, as compared to a paid endorser.

Mathias delves a bit deeper into this point when he says that it is easier for Indian company leaders “like CRED’s Kunal Shah and Zomato’s Deepinder Goyal because, at MNCs, you need global approvals as whatever you say and do can affect the brand, share prices…”

When a company’s head or employee is its face, it’s a direct relationship, which means along with the highs, one has to be careful of the lows too.

For instance, Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk came under a lot of flak last year when he called a British diver, who helped to rescue boys stuck in a flooded cave in Thailand, a “pedo”.

Varun Duggirala
Varun Duggirala

When you build your personal brand, you have to keep you company in mind, says Varun Duggirala, co-founder and content chief, The Glitch, a full-service agency. He goes on to say that “when these founders start a company with certain values, it is derived from the values they stand for individually.”

As per Duggirala, initially, people used to say what they wanted to online. But now, they structure it and that you “don’t need to have a point of view for everything.”

Duggirala talks about the late Steve Jobs and how the values he personally stood for shaped Apple and even now, after his death, the brand follows those value systems.

Personal branding is growing rapidly, thanks to social media and “everyone is looking at how they post, what they post, creatives are being fine-tuned…” It’s a good thing because it helps you know what’s working and what’s not…

We feel that social media has led to the trend of top bosses becoming brands themselves and unofficial faces of a brand. This dual relationship only work if you use it wisely and with a bit of fun…

My outfit for the virtual press conference yesterday to announce construction of the new Melbourne Airport Rail Link route will start in 2022.

Posted by Scott Morrison (ScoMo) on Saturday, November 21, 2020

It's the age of the relatable CEO said Mathias and pointed to us the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison who during his quarantine after a visit to Japan last year held Zoom meetings wearing a shirt, a blazer, and shorts. After all, who better than the head of a State as an example of personal branding?

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