Are you Heinz or Hunt’s Ketchup?
When grocery shopping, how many times have you completely dismissed an unknown brand or even a well known brand promoting a new product, because you just didn’t understand their offering or they somehow failed to clearly articulate what their benefits are? I ask, because just like grocery stores that on average carry over 40,000 products, in life we also struggle to differentiate ourselves. Whether we are trying to get a new job, stand out at work, or be chosen to be on the board of our child’s PTA board, differentiation matters in everything we do. We know this works because we see this everyday with brands. When a brand has a purpose, can articulate its offering simply yet effectively, can bring us along on their vision and have a strategy on how to get there, it gains our trust and they even have a chance to enter our homes. It’s time we think of ourselves as a brand too.
Prior to Google I spent 12 years in the advertising industry focused on branding for many global brands ranked in the Fortune 500. As a strategist, this meant that I was focused on ensuring they were on point when it comes to who they are...their voice, their mission, their vision, their purpose, their values, even their style - all tying back to their strategy.
So if you think about the brands that you really like - it’s because that brand has somehow connected with you at some level. Maybe they have a good cause, or are sustainable and therefore connect with your values, or maybe it’s just a cool brand and therefore really honed in on what they stand for. And that’s great. But sometimes you have brands that you LOVE and that’s when a brand has connected with you so deeply that you have now become their ambassador (think of Disney fans or Harley Davidson). You speak about the brand, you wear the brand, you even volunteer for the brand at its events. You can connect with a brand as you would connect with people. And this is what every single brand strives to achieve.
I had the chance of seeing this over and over again, as I traveled the world conducting focus groups for all kinds of brands. I had people tell me that Verizon was reliable and dependable. That Mini Cooper was an all access pass to having a friendly family. Diet Coke was like a boyfriend, a constant companion, a support mechanism and a celebratory friend. When it came to Virgin Atlantic, I even heard people refer to it as their lover that knew when and how to pamper them. Yes, human beings can connect with brands, have feelings for brands, and even be loyal to brands, sometimes even more so than they would with another human being. The reason this happens is because there is an entire industry (I’m talking about hundreds of people) behind the scenes of a brand ensuring that it connects with humans. The main focus is to nail the product’s value and selling points. So that consumers know what they are getting into, with little surprises or risks involved.
Perhaps if we worked on our personal branding with intent then we could also master the art of how we present ourselves so that people remember us. Your own personal brand should be just as recognizable as any of the famous brands you buy at the store. But, how do we achieve that when most of us don’t have an entourage of people ensuring every detail of who we are fits in a nice strategy? Sure, some celebrities have agents, mentors and assistants helping them at every step of the way. But what happens to the rest of us?
I have taken a page from all of the work I’ve done with brands and have created 4 tips that you can use to help you enhance your own personal brand, no matter where you are on that journey.
First and foremost when it comes to your personal brand focus on your purpose. Answer this: what do you want to be known for? (that should lead you to your purpose). This sole question allows you to lay out a plan. Then you can figure how to bring it to life, that’s what I call tactics. I had the honor of hearing Jonny Kim, (American US Navy lieutenant (and former SEAL), physician, and NASA astronaut) speak and these words ring true to me: “It’s important to separate occupation from identity, my occupations don’t define the human being that I am. Trying to make this world a better place day by day - that is my purpose”.
Follow the BEYOU® model.
Examine your current brand
Yes you can do it!
One step at a time
Uncover insights about yourself
This is a model I created as a simple reminder to stay on track as I continue down my brand building journey. Here is a bit more detail about each.
Build Credibility - Plain and simple, you need to own your content. Be the expert because that builds credibility. Credibility and trust come hand in hand. So, get proactive and very active. Join courses, get accredited. Own your narrative. Depending on where you are in your career you may consider getting an MBA is the best option, for others it may be learning from the best and spending years mastering a craft. Whatever you decide, make sure that when you are speaking about a topic, others believe you. Here is a list of resources that have free courses online.
Examine your current brand - Research yourself. Know your digital persona and what others are seeing about you. Basically, you need to start by Googling yourself. Find out what people are saying about you right now. You can delete information, pictures, videos about yourself that you no longer want associated with your brand or is just outdated. Clean it up. But it’s not just what is online, it’s also important to match that with your physical presence too. You can ask your trusted friends to give an honest opinion about you and what is being said about you.
Yes you can do it! Remind yourself that this work does provide a positive ROI (return on investment). As you read this, you may still think, I know who I am, I don’t need to go through all that work. Unfortunately, most times you only get one shot. So, a first impression is very important. Experts say: 55 percent of first impressions are made by what we see (visual). 38 percent is the way we hear your first words (vocal). 7 percent are the actual words you say (verbal). That means 93 percent of someone’s opinion has nothing to do with what you actually say! And according to Forbes magazine, our brains make a thousand computations during the first seven seconds we see someone. Are you trustworthy, confident, likeable, or competent? Within seven seconds, a decision has been made, even though you probably haven’t even said hello.
One step at a time - Start small - instead of trying to do all of it at once, start with smaller steps - steps that are attainable and feasible given the time that you have and the budget. For example: you can start with your elevator pitch (As Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, once famously said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room.” This is very effective when networking and leaving a good first impression. There are many aspects in brand building. It can encompass the words you use (your voice), how you dress, do you have a signature look? (style), your mission (what you are after today), vision (who you want to be in 10 yrs), your audience (who are you talking to?) and does it all ladder up to your purpose? All of that seems daunting. So, start small. It’s easy to get caught up in talking BUT there is time to stop thinking and perfecting and finally doing.
Uncover insights about yourself - Go Deep and get to know yourself. This is where I invite you to actually do some branding exercises. Yes, these are the same exercises I used when building brands. Here are a few:
Write words that truly describe who you are and then bring them to life in a collage - analyze what images come to mind, are chosen and why?
If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
What would be written in your epitaph and why?
Track and Measure. Anytime you can add data behind your brand, do it. Every brand you purchase tracks their successes and failures. They track the health of their brand by conducting brand tracker studies that include everything from awareness, consideration, intent and purchase. Global brands track everything from every commercial they play to every grassroot root effort and they compare it to previous years to better understand their growth in a market. Just as brands, it’s important we also track our activity. If you’ve ever published content on the web (and you should), then you must monitor the comments, the shares, the likes and learn from that data. Analyze which ones are people gravitating more towards? There are many YouTube influencers that started their careers by posting content on their channels that didn’t resonate with consumers, then realized after looking at the data, what type of content people were really enjoying.
Don’t do it alone. Today, there are resources and tools for all budgets. There is a reason why there are over 297 million Google search results on personal branding. Millions of people are on the same journey of shaping their personal branding and you can learn from their stories and experiences too. One advice I like to give is that once you realize personal branding is intended only focusing on you and making you a better person, then stop reading about personal branding altogether. Instead focus your efforts and time on tools that will help you be a better you.
For example here are a few of my favorites…
Books that help me be a better me - “Dare to Lead” by Brene Brown, “Own the Day, Own your Life” by Aubrey Marcus
Inspiring Talks - You can check out great interviews that are inspiring on Google Talks’ YouTube channel or Ted / Tedx.
Attend workshops- I had the honor of attending the StrongVoice: #IamRemarkable + Voice Training workshop - It’s incredible, it is instructor led so you get the 1:1 coaching -
In this you learn or get reminded again why it is important to be aware of your personal or professional achievements but also why it is important to speak openly about them.
Listen to podcasts - I’m super curious, and therefore interested in a multitude of topics all ranging from culture, science, society, etc
NPR's TED radio hour
I’m intrigued by learning about others’ stories: Chris Gethard’s Beautiful/Anonymous (interview style) - you learn about stories of others without knowing the person’s identity - by protecting their privacy they share more than people usually would
NPR’s Code Switch (Hosts Gene Demby and Shereen Marisol Meraji) explore culture and society through the prism of race and ethnicity
Hire a coach - whether it’s a career coach, a style coach, a life coach, there is a coach for everything.
In closing, creating a strong brand identity is definitely a process that requires commitment and is not static, it will definitely evolve throughout your career and life. But, the more you stay connected to who you are and where you want to go, the closer you get to matching yourself to opportunities that are a reflection of your unique gifts and talents and this can only be a strong tool to ultimately set you up to love what you do and be recognized for it.