What does Ed Miliband’s speech teach entrepreneurs about personal branding?

Prior to delivering his keynote address at the Labour party conference, Ed Miliband’s personal brand was, according to opinion polls, fairly weak. In the week prior to the conference, a survey conducted by YouGov found that 24% of people thought Ed Miliband had made it clear what he stood for. In addition, 23% of people thought he provided an effective opposition to the government and 25% thought he would be up to the job of Prime Minister.

Regardless of your political persuasion, the aforementioned survey results highlight that Ed Miliband had been failing to engage and connect with people effectively. Despite being leader of the opposition since 2010, people were still unclear about his identity (his story) and what he stands for (his passion and values). In other words, Ed Miliband had failed to establish a clear and strong personal brand.

When you fail to establish your personal brand and tell your own story, it creates a vacuum for others to tell your story for you. In this scenario, you have no control over the messages which are being communicated about you and, in turn, cannot influence how you are perceived. Ed Miliband has, through his lack of a strong personal brand, allowed members of the public to fill in the gaps using a number of sources, including the media. Furthermore, Ed Miliband has not done himself any favours when he has had the opportunity to speak directly to the public. His address at the Labour Party Conference in 2011 failed to convey who he is as a person, a fundamental basis for establishing a strong personal brand.

Let us fast forward to a week after Ed Miliband’s address at the 2012 Labour Party conference and review YouGov’s post conference survey results.

The number of people who think Ed Miliband has made it clear what he stands for has increased by 12 points to 36%. There has also been a decent jump in the other two metrics: 29% of people now think Ed Miliband provides an effective opposition to the government and 31% think he would be up to the job of Prime Minister. Whilst Ed Miliband still has more work to do on building his personal brand, it is clear there has been a marked improvement in how he is perceived. Interestingly, following Ed Miliband’s speech, the Labour Party has also experienced a bounce of 14%, with voting figures at 45%, its highest to date.

So what can entrepreneurs learn about personal branding from Ed Miliband’s speech?

Ed Miliband utilises some of the key principles outlined in my previous post: Three steps for entrepreneurs to establish and leverage their personal brand. So what are these steps, and how did Ed Miliband put them into practice?

Step one: self discovery

Like Ed Miliband, it’s important for entrepreneurs to be clear about who they are and what they stand for. Entrepreneurss should take time to reflect, as individuals, about their identity. It’s crucial to be clear about this before you start to engage with people and attempt to build your tribe.  Key questions that entrepreneurs should consider include: What are your values? What are you passionate about? What is unique about you? How do you add value?

Ed Miliband had clearly spent time addressing these key questions as he announced to conference delegates: “I want to tell you my story. I want to tell you who I am. What I believe. And why I have a deep conviction that together we can change this country.” At the end of his speech, Ed Miliband reconfirmed to conference delegates that he had shared his identity with them: “This is who I am. This is what I believe. That is my faith.”

Step two: align identity with business goals

Once you have clarified and are comfortable with your identity, which must remain consistent and authentic, you then need to align this with the aims and objectives of your business. As an entrepreneur, one of the desired outcomes of establishing a strong personal brand is that you should be seen as an expert in your field. Again, a series of questions need to be addressed: What do you want to be known for? How does your business add value? Who are your target audiences? What are your key messages?

The big goal for Ed Miliband and the Labour Party is to claim the centre ground. The key elements of Ed Miliband’s personal story were about establishing him as an ‘expert in his field’ i.e. a man of the people; aligning to the big goal. Specific examples of how Ed Miliband’s personal story aligns with the big goal include the detailed account of how his parents had come to the UK as Jewish refugees from the Nazis; that was born in his local NHS hospital, the same hospital as his two sons would later be born in; and his education at a local comprehensive with people from all backgrounds. The target audience for the Labour Party was also outlined during Ed Miliband’s speech, again in alignment with big goal: “It’s the people I’ve met on my journey as Leader of the Opposition. The people who come up to me on trains, in the street, in shops who ask me about what the Labour Party is going to do for them and tell me the stories of their lives.”

Every Entrepreneur should have key messages about their business to share with people. Key messages work best when they are easy to recall and show how your business adds value to the target audience. In the case of Ed Miliband, he had one overarching key message: The Labour Party’s vision for Britain is One Nation: a country for all, with everyone playing their part. The idea behind One Nation is again in sync with the Labour Party’s big goal of claiming the centre ground.

We can already see how steps one and two fit together in a strategic manner to help build a personal brand, which in turn feeds into the bigger picture regarding the organisation. So what’s next?

Step three: engagement and influence

Once your personal brand and business are aligned, you have created a powerful platform to engage with people more effectively. You can now look on a tactical level at how to engage your target audience. This could include speaking opportunities, use of social media or writing an opinion piece for a media outlet. The key is that whatever you decide to do must always be authentic, consistent and relevant to the people you are trying to reach. No doubt, the public relations team at the Labour Party head quarters have a detailed plan in relation to how Ed Miliband will continue to engage with people about his One Nation message. As an entrepreneur you should look to devise your own tactical plan independently or with the support of a public relations consultancy.