By Larry G. Linne, Patrick Sitkins
AuthorHouse Copyright © 2013 Larry G. Linne & Patrick Sitkins
All rights reserved.
It Starts at Home
Most parents tell their kids they have to manage their reputations. Unfortunately, the word "reputation" has lost its impact. Kids usually translate that into "You don't want me to embarrass our family?" Unfortunately for most families, kids are too focused on themselves to be motivated by what others may think of the family. Enter social media. Now our kids' "reputation" is being communicated throughout the Internet. "What people may think" about our kids is now available at the speed of megahertz.
I have five school-age daughters. Every August I sit with each of them and ask, "At the end of this school year, what do you want your friends, classmates, and teachers to think about you?" They tell me things such as "I was nice, hardworking, inclusive of others, helpful, friendly, good at sports," and more. All my girls are unique and have different items on their lists. Then I ask them what they must do to guarantee people feel this way about them. They tell me things like: "I have to work hard, think about others first, introduce myself to new people, be prepared," and so on. Then I ask them what they have to not do, or avoid, to make sure people think these things about them. They say: "Not talk bad about others," "Not post negative things on Facebook," "Not turn in homework late," etc.
We frequently talk about personal branding and use the definition "what people think about you" in our home. Throughout the year we have discussions about how they are managing their "brands." We talk about "thinking about your brand" before posting on social media sites. We do self-checks on how we are all doing on personal brand management. It has become a fun culture for us, and our kids have really connected with the concept. I think they see brand management as a cool thing to do. It is very rewarding to hear them teaching their friends about managing their brand.
Okay, time to brag a little. My thirteen-year-old daughter had two examples during the year where she chose to not do things with kids (go to an inappropriate movie and lie about where she was going) because it would "hurt my brand." She uses the term "brand management" as a part of her normal conversation. I heard her tell one kid, "I have a bigger future and can't afford to damage my brand by doing something stupid."
My eleven-year-old daughter had a great brand management experience this past year. Her elementary school has an award for graduating fifth-grade students. The award is determined by all of the students writing an essay on another kid they believe represents the character traits the school promotes. Fortunately for my daughter, the character traits align exactly with the "brand" items she identifies at the first of the year.
The kids turn in these essays, and the teachers review the kids with the most essays written about them. Based on what is written and teacher observation from the year, the teachers vote and choose the top character student.
I asked my daughter a week before the award was announced, "How did you do in managing your brand this year?"
She said, "I think I did a good job."
Her mom and I were so proud when we went to graduation and they announced her name as the winner. This was an award based on what others thought about our daughter. She realized that her success was due to determining her brand, determining what she had to do and not do, and frequently thinking about and monitoring her brand throughout the year.
We make personal brand management fun in our house. We have all realized how much better our lives are when we manage what we want people to think of us. For those who think this is manipulative or out of control (family), remember everyone has a brand. Our random behaviors can send a message to others that is not true about us. Now keep in mind that we can't completely control what others think about us. Others may misinterpret our brand or what we want them to think of us. However, you have a much better chance of getting others to think certain things about you if you're purposeful rather than random.
I also believe in managing a brand that represents you. You can't hide a false brand for long. However, you can ruin a great brand with a random mistake due to a lack of awareness. Brand management is fun and gives you the ability to guide what people focus on when they think of you. This is healthy relationship management. I believe we can all have a bigger future if we manage our personal brand.
Tell Others What to Think
My second-oldest daughter is from Mongolia, China. Her name is Wen Jun. We were blessed to have her come into our family when she was thirteen years old. She has been vision impaired her entire life. She was born with only one eye and cannot see much better than 20/200 out of that eye. She is an amazing young woman and gets around incredibly well without a cane or mobility devices, though she probably should be using them 100 percent of the time. She adapts quickly to an environment and can get around as any fully sighted person does. However, she is legally blind and will never be able to see perfectly.
Many people with vision impairments are embarrassed and don't want others to know they are blind. My daughter feels this way and frequently tries to hide her blindness. It is unfortunate, because the reality is that she is amazing in how she can do so much that others can't do. When you realize she is blind, her talent and skill blow you away.
When she goes places, she never wants to use her cane. It would "brand" her as blind. She doesn't want that brand. So she goes without the cane. When she bumps into people, runs into things, or spills something—things that happen because she cannot see—people look at her with distaste. They think of her as clumsy, irresponsible, out of control, or unaware of her surroundings. They look irritated because they don't understand why she would behave in this manner. She experiences this often when she is around obnoxious kids at school who make fun of her because she is different (that is a story for another book someday).
When she has her cane, it is entirely different. She may run into someone by accident or knock something down when walking by a table. People quickly look at her with respect and smile at her. They see that she is dealing with vision impairment and realize they couldn't do what she is doing!
Watching her through this struggle has helped me to understand brand management better. I see that we can control what others think of us in so many ways. We can choose to let our brand just come to us, or we can tell others what to think of us. Just the use of her mobility devices can dramatically change how people perceive her. She has taught me that we have the power to tell others what to expect from us. What we wear, how we carry ourselves, and how we present ourselves are all preemptive messages about our brand.
I cannot imagine the difficulty of what my daughter must go through in battling these thoughts every day. I will never be able to completely understand. I am thankful that she has helped me learn more about brand management (and so much more) through her struggles. When I read this section to her, she was so excited. She said, "Dad, I hope others will be able to be better from my experience." Pretty cool kid.
One of my daughters recently broke up with a very nice kid. She did it gracefully and made sure to try to protect his ego and confidence (as much as you can when breaking up). She immediately opened up her Facebook page on her cell phone and started to change her status to "single." I stopped her and asked, "How will that impact your brand?"
She looked at me and said, "I guess it will probably hurt his feelings and hurt his ego. So I will look like I am rubbing it in his face. I will look mean. It will cause him to post 'single' on his status, and he may say some negative things about me."
I gave her a smile and said, "Okay, and what do you want people to think about when they think of you?"
She smiled back, as we have had this kind of conversation on a regular basis. "I want people to think of me as nice and someone that treats others with respect."
"So how are you going to manage your brand on Facebook with this breakup?"
"Well, Dad, I think I could let him change his status first. Then I can make a positive statement about him on his post. Then I can change my status. Then people may see me as a nice person, and he may have a hard time saying mean things to me."
I smiled, and she knew she had nailed that one (the look on her face was priceless).
She followed through, and it played out beautifully. He posted that he was single the next day, and she immediately posted what a great guy he is and how much she enjoyed being in a relationship with him. He immediately responded back and said very positive things about my daughter. He called her classy, smart, and one of the best people he had ever known.
Over the next couple of days, many other people posted on this status change. Adults, friends of both kids, and family members all posted incredibly nice things about both of these kids. By simply asking the question "How will this impact my brand?" she was able to have a very strong brand management experience versus the potential negative one that would have been triggered by her natural instinct.
This may be the primary reason Patrick and I have found this topic to be so powerful. Our natural instincts are not the best things to follow when it comes to personal brand management. We don't have enough experience with social media in a world where information comes at us at an incredibly high speed. We are not purposeful in our brand management. We react, post, and then see what happens. Most people I know have experiences of doing something stupid on social media. These are usually items that have had a negative impact on their brand. Sometimes they are aware of it, and other times they are not.
Our posting on social media is not the only problem. Our dress, appearance, actions, social environments, and just about everything about us can be communicated by others through video (everyone has a video camera/phone in their pocket) or other forms of technology. Our brand is more public and more easily broadcast than at any other time in history. As technology increases, our personal brands will be more evident to others.
Technology is only part of the challenge. The accessibility of someone's past, present, and future sparks a desire in people to know this information. We have already seen that employers, schools, dates, and new acquaintances are frequently seeking out as much information about people as possible. This trend creates a stronger desire to access and know someone's brand either before they meet you or soon thereafter. Personal brand management is already important, but it will only become more important as we continue to evolve technology and our culture. You will see in future chapters that this increased awareness will increase the impact of our spoken words, our dress and appearance, and how we project ourselves. It is a new age. Branding has become personal.
I was at a board meeting for a large construction association. A new board member who I did not know was attending the session. He was introduced, and only a few people on the board had any knowledge of or relationship with him. He did a great job in the meeting. He was a great listener and did a nice job of offering the right advice at the right time. He was intelligent, had a quick wit, and was very articulate. We were all impressed and felt like we had a great new board member.
After the board meeting we had a planned dinner. We started with drinks and some appetizers in the bar area of the restaurant. This new board member went right to the hard liquor, and his personality immediately changed. He became very talkative and inappropriate. He was telling inside information about his company and colleagues. His voice became very loud, and he was embarrassing to the group (others were in the restaurant).
I could see people rolling their eyes at him and distancing themselves from him the rest of the night. He sat on the board for the next three years, and he never had as good of a day as his first board meeting. The group treated him differently from that night forward. The other board members believed he couldn't be trusted. Not one person ever became close with him. Associating with him could be very bad for one's brand. His brand was damaged in one night!
Five years later I was at a meeting in a different state. The meeting was with a group of prominent executives in the construction industry. One of them asked me if I knew the gentleman I spoke of above. I responded that I did know him. Nine of the people at this meeting started talking about him. Some told stories about him, and others expressed how they had "heard about him." All the stories were about his drinking and improper social behavior. His brand was permanently damaged. It would be very difficult for him to ever change his brand in the construction industry.
Things Are Changing
What do the following people have in common? Mark Zuckerberg, Lebron James, Jerry Sandusky, Steven Jobs, Hope Solo, and all of your employees. Every one of them has a personal brand, and every one of them has, or will have, an impact on what others think about the organization with which they are affiliated because of that brand.
Each of the names listed above gives you an emotion of some type (if you know who they are). That is what a brand does.
Hope Solo is a name that creates both positive and negative emotions, depending on your beliefs. However, it is hard to think about the US women's soccer team without thinking about Hope Solo.
You almost can't think of Penn State without Jerry Sandusky coming to mind.
Steven Jobs and Apple—certainly a natural fit.
Mark Zuckerberg is a name that can create all types of emotions about him and his style, character, youth, creativity, and more.
Okay, no big deal. This is normal, right? We have always associated big-name people with the organizations to which they belong. Ah, but has something changed?
A 2011 study of the world's top 1,000 companies (Oxford Metrica Reputation Review, 2011. Risks That Matter, OM research commissioned by Ernst & Young) identified that 832 of those companies had a minimum of a 20 percent decrease in value during the prior five-year period due to "reputation." Reputation hits were items like data breach, news about individuals in the company, product failures or recalls, political issues, or legal situations. I can't imagine any other time in history where this level of brand damage could have happened.
Lloyd's of London compiles the results of annual surveys pertaining to risk and risk preparedness. The Lloyd's Index 2011 report also revealed the changing nature of reputation and its impact on business. The CEOs identified reputation as the ninth-highest risk out of 41 different risks in 2009. The CEOs identified reputation as the third-highest risk in 2011.
Yes, times have changed. Individuals are influencing the brands of companies and will impact the value of those companies.
August 2012 Brand Survey
We sent a survey out to over ten thousand business decision makers and asked them to give us feedback on what preparation they do before meeting with a salesperson.
Seventy-eight percent of decision makers look up salespeople before meeting with them. It is very critical to understand this fact. Over three out of four decision makers are seeking out information about salespeople before they call on them. This means the brand of the salespeople precedes them. This is potentially very damaging or a great opportunity. Prior to the Internet, we had to call friends and business associates to learn about people before meeting them. This would take too long and would only happen on occasion. Now it is the norm. I ask salespeople in my numerous training classes each year if they have managed what someone would find if they were to be looked up. The majority of the people cringe and immediately begin cleaning up their online presence and starting to manage their brand. I also find the majority go look me up online within twenty-four hours. Interesting how that comes back around.
Seventy-six percent look up the company prior to meeting with a salesperson. I found this interesting, as well. Fewer people are looking up the company than looking up the person. This was surprising to us. We believed the company brand was still the primary interest. The data spoke differently, and this new reality suggests people are going to look at both when learning about a potential purchase.
Ninety-eight percent of decision makers look up details on the company that the salespeople represent after meeting with them if they are still interested in buying after the meeting. My work in sales suggests that this is a behavior of reinforcing what they saw or heard from the salesperson. The buyer is simply verifying and doing more thorough research to see if what was said aligned with what was online.
Excerpted from BRAND DAMAGE by Larry G. Linne. Copyright © 2013 by Larry G. Linne & Patrick Sitkins. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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