You are a Brand!
In Person and Online, How Smart People Brand Themselves for Business Success
By Catherine Kaputa
Nicholas Brealey Publishing Copyright © 2017 SelfBrand, LLC
All rights reserved.
Take Charge of Your Self-Brand
And say to all the world, "This was a man."
William Shakespeare Julius Caesar (V, 5)
In 64 B.C., the Cicero brothers, Marcus and his younger brother Quintus, were political wannabes. Of course, Marcus Cicero became one of the most famous Romans of all. His personal brand not only has survived the centuries, he is known by the ultimate in branding, a one-word moniker, Cicero, and his philosophy and rhetoric have been a persistent influence in Western civilization. But in 64 B.C., the Cicero brothers were outsiders. Though from a wealthy family, they were from a small town in southern Italy and they didn't have the Roman connections or status to meet their ambitions.
So Quintus took on the role of brand manager and political adviser to his brother, a role that was preserved in a letter to his brother published by Princeton University Press in 2012 as the book How to Win an Election.
The goal was to get Marcus Cicero elected as consul, one of the two leaders directing Rome's powerful republic. The problem was that no one in the Cicero family had been consul. Quintus realized that Marcus's formidable skill in oratory and rhetoric were strong assets, but that it was not enough to win the campaign. Personal branding was needed.
* Self-branding is an ancient art. Once the province of political and social leaders, it's now critical to success for people in all types of careers.
In his writing, Quintus tells Marcus to brand himself as a "new man," turning the liability of being from a small town into an advantage: "Every day as you go down to the Forum, you should say to yourself, 'I am an outsider. I want to be consul. This is Rome.'" Quintus tells Marcus to position himself as a man of the people, while also courting the wealthy and politically connected. And Marcus's persuasive speaking ability helped him fend off his chief opponent, the corrupt aristocrat Lucius Sergius Catilina.
The branding campaign worked. Marcus Cicero was elected consul in a landslide in 64 B.C.
Is Personal Branding for You?
Are you afraid of the idea of self-branding?
Many think self-branding may be inauthentic or manipulative or immodest or even downright phony.
How do you imagine the consummate personal brander? For some, it's the self-promoter with the slicked back hair who talks too much about himself and his many accomplishments, selling himself like a used car.
For others it's the overly ambitious networker who is careful to use your name repeatedly in conversation as she manically hands out her business card before moving on to the next contact. Or is it the tedious Face-book friend who shares her every move with waves of self-centered status updates? That's about as far from creative personal branding as stumbling is from dancing.
Good self-branders build their brand on authenticity, on who they are and who they can be. They build mutually beneficial relationships and alliances (friends). They build positive visibility for their brand using the proven strategies that successful products and companies use.
Branding can be subtle or grating, up-to-date or out-of-date, engaging or self-centered. But one thing is clear, your choice is not whether you'll participate in personal branding, you are participating! Your choice is whether you will take control of your brand so you can be yourself and let others know who you are. The Bard, as usual, said it best, "To thine own self be true."
Soft Is Hard and Hard Is Soft
Branding is about soft power. For companies today, it's not the hard things — tangibles like bricks and mortar, equipment and inventories — that contribute the most to a company's value. It's soft things — the brands and company reputation, the ideas and intellectual capital, the consumer relationships and business alliances — that have the most value.
Like it or not, branding and soft power affect us every day because they influence how we feel about something. Few of us make the decision to buy something after carefully testing and considering the merits of the different brands on the market. No one goes out and does a blind taste test of colas and then selects the one that objectively tastes best. Even if it's a more expensive (and consequently more considered) purchase, like a car or a laptop, we will compare hard things like product features and performance criteria, but we will decide based on soft things such as what the brand represents to us.
It's the same with people. It isn't the hard, quantifiable things, like educational credentials, experience, and job titles, that contribute the most to success. The real power lies in harnessing soft power — strategy and tactics, image and visual identity, words and verbal identity, visibility and reputation, and other branding ideas — all the things that will help attract people to you.
Business success, like brand success, depends on what other people think about you. If people think you are a dynamic business leader, you are. If people think you're a B player, you are (until you change their perceptions). It doesn't matter what is "objectively" true. Perception is reality.
Creating positive impressions in the minds of other people is the work of self-branding. It used to be about "Can you do the job?" Now, many people can do what you do. So it has to be about something more. Above all, branding is a strategic process. The goal is to provide that something more that will help you succeed in a changing, highly competitive business environment (and to be authentic and even to enjoy yourself in the process). This book is about how you can tap into soft power — your self-branding power — and harness it for career and life success.
Find Your "Brand Idea"
You are your most important asset. In a sense, you are your only asset. And your ability to maximize the asset that is you is the single most important ingredient in your success.
That's why self-branding is so valuable. For people, branding is about achieving greater success, as represented by money, fame, self-esteem, or whatever measure is important to you.
But I am also talking about becoming who you were meant to be, which means that success includes becoming who you truly are. The trick to effective self-branding is to devise a strategy that works in achieving professional and life goals but also is true to you — that brings more of you into the equation.
Branding for people is about finding your brand idea — your unique selling proposition (USP) or brand promise. You want to represent something special — a belief system you stand for that sets you apart from others. This could be made up of your point of view, your decision-making ability, your vision, your style, even your mystique — the X Factor that makes you special and relevant.
Branding for people is also about "packaging" the brand that is you and using branding strategies and principles from the commercial world to enhance your identity and communicate your USP. You are the storyteller of your own life and you can create a compelling brand story that helps empower your success or not. Branding also means developing a marketing plan for reaching your goals, tactics to get from A to B (and through all the other letters of the alphabet, depending on your goals). And it means engaging your target audience (your "customers") without seeming self-promotional and obnoxious and getting your work in front of the right people. Every page of this book is designed to help you know who you are, what you have to offer, and how to communicate that to others.
* BRAND YOU: A person — a skill set that is interchangeable with the skill sets of other people.
* A personal brand — a special promise of value that sets you apart.
Leverage Brand Power
Looking at yourself as a brand has enormous advantages. The truth is that being good, by itself, doesn't guarantee success. We all know talented people who are underemployed, underpaid, or even unemployed. With branding, you learn how to look at yourself as a product in a competitive framework. Branding is the process of differentiating that product — you — from the competition and taking action steps to get where you want to go.
Branding also requires that you target a market. A market is any group of people that you need to engage with in order to reach your goals. Clients or customers are a target market, as are the prospects you are pursuing. If you work at a company, you should view your colleagues and direct reports as target markets. Don't overlook your boss. In any company, your boss is probably your most important target market. After all, other than yourself, your boss has the most control over Brand You. Recruiters, industry leaders, and even competitors are also markets for your self-brand.
Branding shows you how to attract a market. Don't think in terms of what you want to say and do. Flip it. Think in terms of the reaction you want from your target market. And what you have to do to get that reaction. Branding also gives you a template for developing a marketing program directed at your key target markets. You will learn how to develop specific brand messages, tactics and a "media plan" for maximizing success with your target market as well as methods of measuring your success.
Self-branding is not just good for you personally, it is good for the company, too. Branding teaches you how to be more strategic by staying relevant to the market and the latest thinking. It teaches you how to use advertising techniques to build a powerful verbal identity to express your ideas through signature words and expressions. Branding teaches you how to package your ideas for a strong visual identity, too, so they will break through and be remembered. And it teaches you how to use other branding techniques to build consensus and lead in today's competitive global marketplace.
Any way you slice it, brands win over products hands down. A branded item is viewed as better than its generic counterpart. Brands are perceived as higher in quality. They are in demand. They sell for a premium price.
Generic products compete only on price, by offering a very low price. (And if you're reading this book, I doubt that you want to compete that way.) As shown below, the list of a brand's advantages goes on and on.
Brand vs. Product
Creates emotional bond
Has high visibility
Has premium price
Has to be sold
Creates no attachment
Has low visibility
Is a commodity
Has lot price
Is of low interest
Take Charge of Your Brand
My mantra to my clients is "You are a brand!" This book will take you through stories, examples, and brain-stormer exercises to help you make yourself a brand.
The first thing you need to do is to commit. You must take an active rather than a passive role in defining yourself and your future.
Developing a winning self-brand requires some work. The left-brain work involves analyzing facts and trends as well as planning tactics. Right-brain work involves tapping into your intuition and creativity as you develop a personal-brand strategy, a visual identity (your packaging), and a verbal identity (your self-brand messages) in order to reach your goals.
Before you can develop a successful self-brand, you need to decide what you want. You need to ask and answer questions about who you are, where you are now, and what you want to do with your life and career.
Of course, for many of us, this is the sticky part. These are the very issues we tend to avoid until we're in a crisis. Or we live a life in which there is conflict between who we are, what we want, and where we are heading.
I often recognize this disconnect in statements like "I'm doing X now because I fell into it, but I really want to be doing Y in the future" or "I'm in it for the money, but I need something more rewarding in the future." One client told me, "I went into law because my father is a country lawyer, an icon really, like Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, but I hate it. To me, law is drudgery. I long for more creative lifework."
Even though people want success, some resist self-branding because they feel that it's unseemly to think strategically and creatively about themselves and then present themselves in the best possible light. It's too calculated.
I recently met with someone who had this problem. Hal was a talented lawyer in general practice, but his business was struggling. He was referred to me by a friend who hadn't gone to the elite law school Hal had attended yet was getting top dollar for his legal counsel. Hal's friend had carved out a high-profile niche for himself as a white-collar criminal defense attorney.
When I talked to Hal about narrowing the focus of his business and developing a name for himself in that specific area, he balked. "I don't want to resort to selling myself. I have a law degree from a top school, and I won't stoop to becoming a salesperson." Which would you rather be — a top lawyer or a top-credentialed lawyer?
Live Your Dream
Often our dreams and desires are what we have put on hold in our lives. Many people light up when I ask them to describe their dream jobs. "Oh, if I could live my dream, here's what I'd be doing." And they go on to recount something that has always intrigued them and been at the back of their minds, but which they have never pursued or acted on.
But as workplace philosophers like William Bridges and John Whyte point out, our desires are too powerful a motivator to ignore. We have all spent too much time doing what we think others want us to do, rather than what we want to do.
In working with all types of clients and situations, I have found that almost anything is attainable if you can visualize it and express it. A few people accomplish this naturally or intuitively, but most of us need a strategy and a game plan for making it happen.
Adopt the Self-Brand Mind-Set
Each of us is unique, with a mind, strengths, and experiences that are powerful self-brand assets. Anything that you have ever done or thought about could be an asset. If you think it is an asset, it is. If you see it as a steppingstone to your self-brand goal, it is. If you see it as a career buster, it is.
* SELF-BRANDING: Self-branding is more than your identity and image. It's everything you do to differentiate and market yourself, such as communications agility, presence, networking, and visibility tactics.
Few of us have been taught to think of ourselves in terms of being a brand, as something that can be looked at in different ways, developed into a winning brand, and marketed so that we may achieve our full potential.
Few of us have learned how to rebrand ourselves to stand for something that is in demand rather than something that is no longer in vogue. We don't know how to create positive perceptions of ourselves.
Nor have many of us been taught that we are capable of defining and molding our jobs. We can even create careers and career paths that we feel passionate about.
It's not that ability and performance aren't important. They are. But a talented, hardworking person won't do as well as a well-branded, talented, hardworking person. Effective branding will tip perceptions in your favor and bring greater success.
Break the Dependency Habit
We can no longer count on a career at one company. That was your father's Oldsmobile. And now, Oldsmobile is gone altogether! We will not only have multiple jobs in our lifetimes, we will have multiple careers. Being relevant demands a constant addition of new skills. Many of us will spend sustained periods of our careers in some form of self-employment. If you don't empower yourself through personal branding and direct your own career, you will be left waiting in vain for someone or something, like the two characters in Waiting for Godot.
* Companies focus on what's good for their bottom line. Not what's good for your bottom line.
Companies merge and split up. There are downsizings and upsizings. The boss who hired you moves on. People get into trouble and point fingers at others. Technology and global economies have made outsourcing of jobs possible in ways never imagined just a few years ago. And managerial jobs are not immune.
With these kinds of changes the norm, you can't count on your company to keep you on the payroll. Even when things are going well, conditions can change quickly. You need to control your destiny.
When you work at a company, don't count on HR or even your boss to lay out a career path for you. That's so last year. Modern companies want you to figure out your own career path. Today, it's not about climbing the corporate ladder so much as navigating a corporate lattice by making lateral moves to take jobs where you can learn new businesses, new markets, and new skills. What worked as a career strategy last year might work this year, or it might not.
You have to keep track of your career value and career identity. You are in charge. We're all entrepreneurs today, whether we work for a company or work for ourselves. That's the way it is now. (Continues...)
Excerpted from You are a Brand! by Catherine Kaputa. Copyright © 2017 SelfBrand, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
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