When we heard that Michelle Mone, the founder of Ultimo who was recently named the 5th most inspirational woman in the world, was speaking at The Yorkshire Mafia’s Buy Yorkshire conference, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hear her story first hand.

From a personal branding point of view, she is a PR dream and has always capitalised on the human interest angle of her ‘rags to riches’ story of determination and vision with the media.

Michelle Mone

Unsurprisingly, Michelle’s talk was candid, honest, funny and inspirational. But what was most interesting about it for us wasn’t the fact that she opened up and shared her secrets with a room full of business people. It was her commitment to doing the same with her customer base to ensure that, despite all the personal and professional challenges she has faced in recent years, her company, brand and products remain relevant and sought after now and in the future.

We’ve followed Michelle on Twitter for some time and admired her transparency about her personal life, goals, beliefs and values. In her talk at Buy Yorkshire she admitted that her team of marketing gurus had tried to take over the careful corporate management of her Twitter account but that she had insisted that it had to come from her and only her. After spending years creating what she called “theatre and drama” around herself, her company and her products for the media, she now finds that what consumers really want is a brand ambassador that they can relate to. That’s why, despite advice to the contrary, Michelle modelled her own underwear for the first time recently after shedding nearly seven stone. She recognises that what women today want is real role models and that, as the face of the brand, she has to tell her story directly to her customer base, giving insights into her life that are raw and spontaneous; not managed and mediated for deliberate effect.

Michelle also spoke about how useful Twitter is as a business and customer insight tool. It allows her to get direct feedback from consumers about what they want and means that her team and supply chain can’t hide when things go wrong from a service point of view!

This is a real lesson to all the Chief Execs, Managing Directors and Managing Partners out there who are still hiding behind the corporate brand they run. Not every leader has the right personality to be the ‘face’ of the business, but someone at the upper echelons of the organisation needs to be, whatever sector you are operating in. ‘People buy people’ and social media has put a microscope on who the real people are behind the big brands. Those that can relate to their customers – and whose customers can relate to them – will be the ones that succeed in this brave new digital world.

For tips on how to build and manage your personal brand strategy, check out our Amazon Kindle ebook ‘Power Your Personal Brand for 2013‘.