Communication guru Shel Israel touches on a compelling idea in a recent post on the relationship between personal brand(s) and corporate brand(s). I was particularly drawn by his comment on how people are becoming a central element of the corporate brand: “Personal brand is changing corporate and product brand in an increasing number of cases. This changes who shapes brand and why and how it is done. It changes how markets perceive brands and this is an area where little thought and conversation has emerged so far.”

Israel argues that traditional marketing messages focusing on “big brand” themes positioned through a corporate and/or homogenous voice are giving way to increasing personalization…and the humanization of corporate brands. This is being fueled by the advent of social media platforms that are based on individual participation and contributions. It’s interesting  to note Israel uses Dell as an example – which I experienced first hand as a member of the Dell social media team. Dell started to turns thing around when it started listening – really listening – to the online conversation but also because individual employees jumped into the conversation. All the platforms – both internal and external – were populated with real people who answered questions, shared ideas and tried to resolve complaints. Some of them – like Direct2Dell moderator Lionel – became key representatives of the Dell brand online.

This trend toward personalization is likely to gain momentum. After all, companies are engaging individual leaders (and sometimes employees) as blog authors, Facebook friends and Twitter voices.  Videos and podcasts feature company experts and guests in informal settings. Discussion boards are hosted by groups of company experts, some with large followings. Even websites are less impersonal, often featuring profiles and individual guides or hosts. As Israel notes, marketers are eager to leverage this movement towards the humanization of brands – since it’s inherently more credible and resonant with customers – but the very notion of diverse, individual voices makes this difficult. And that’s not a bad thing. For better or for worse, company reputations and identities will become more closely identified with the collective actions and voices of their employees, rather than paid advertising or impersonal PR campaigns.