The Face of a Company
Corporations themselves have brands, assets and taxpayer identifiers, but not faces. Individuals have faces. Of course, a company is comprised of individuals. Prospects and customers interact with employees of your company, from sales people to support staff. No matter what your brand mantra or mission statement is, these concrete interactions with your employees will cause others to form a general opinion of your company's true essence.
Starbucks, for example, strives to remind their barristas that they are indeed the face of the company. People come in daily for their coffee and begin to think of themselves as regulars. They build relationships (however fleeting) with Larry or Sue behind the counter at their local shop. To them, Larry and Sue represent the face Starbucks. If pleased with their local shop, customers will tend to assume that a Starbucks in another city they are visiting will also share the same qualities. These lower-level employees do more for the public perception of the company than anything the CxO executives could ever do.
This is not to say that a CEO cannot be an effective public face of a company. Mike Cannon-Brookes and Jonathan Schwartz, CEOs of Atlassian and COO of Sun Microsystems respectively, both have personal blogs. Their blogs are not simply mouthpieces for their corporations but also exhibit their own humanness. Through these conduits, customers and prospects feel as though they actually know someone at the company. By allowing and encouraging their employees to also blog without being shackled by the public-relations department, additional faces are exposed to the world.
Why You Need Many Faces
We have to admit that we do not necessarily like everyone we meet. This includes relationships with corporate individuals. When your only face is the creation of the marketing or public-relations departments, you have exactly one opportunity to make friends. If people do not like that face or do not think it honestly represents the organization behind it, you get no more chances. When every barrista or employee has the opportunity to be the face of your company, you have many more chances of building relationships. You might not like Larry, but Sue makes the perfect triple latte for you every morning. Perhaps you disagree with Mike or Jonathan but some of their other employees are in tune with your thoughts and needs.
When organizations attempt to create a single message for the market, they actually create a single point of failure. By allowing multiple sub-messages, there is always a way to route around disagreeable interactions.
Your Customers are Your Faces Also
The executives and employees of a company are not the only faces. Your customers themselves are ambassadors of your brand. We form opinions about a company based upon our opinions of its customers. A customer is many times a proxy for the organization itself. Relationships between your customers reflect upon your company and can enhance its perceived value. For example, Audi aficionados routinely have weekend country-side driving parties, which makes Audi seem like a fun company. They also talk to each other on internet forums. While a prospective Audi buyer might not have had a pleasant experience with Jim-the-salesman at the local dealership, the community presents another face of the brand, possibly salvaging the relationship.
Opensource as an Example
Opensource projects are inherently comprised of the faces of individuals. Rarely do they set out with a singular branding message through an organizational mouthpiece. Instead, the developers and users themselves are the face of the project. People who use an opensource project may find themselves interacting mostly with one or two of the developers they get along with best. Even an unresponsive or rude development team can be outweighed by other useful and helpful users within the community.
Brand and Message Direction
Instead of forming a branding message within the organization and delivering it to the public, the message should target your own agents. It should affect who you hire as your employees. If your message is that you are a helpful and responsive company (be it coffee or cars), then ensure that you truly have helpful and responsive people in your organization. Then allow them to talk to your customers.
Like Starbucks, let them know what the corporate goals are and give them reasons and resources to support those goals. They will propagate the message in their own ways. If your goal is to be an innovative technology company, then bring innovative people on-board (such as Google), and let them blog freely. No amount of corporate mandating can direct a brand. Only the individuals at the edges who interact with the public can really sway your brand and customer relationships. If you are not allowing individuals to honestly interact with your customers and prospects, you are strangling your own brand.