You as a Brand
What is a brand? A brand is a whole set of associations, expectations, memories and
desires. A brand is powerful. When a young man named Ralph Lifshitz decided to
establish his own high-end clothing brand, and to market it by associating it with a
fantasy of yachting society, polo games and cultivated taste, one of the fi rst things he did
was change his name to Ralph Lauren. “Lifshitz” as a brand just didn’t evoke the same
emotional response as “Lauren.”
When Xerox tried to move from copiers into computers, its managers made the mistake
of not recognizing that the Xerox brand was so strongly associated with copiers that they
needed to build a new brand to launch their computer line. IBM made a somewhat similar
mistake when it tried to move from mainframes into PCs. Names matter. Brands matter.
You are a brand. Your name evokes certain emotional responses, based on associations,
expectations, memories and desires. Most people believe that if they have a better product
or service, quicker delivery, longer durability or greater effi ciency, then their product will
sell itself. But it’s not true that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path
to your door. The world beats a path to the door of the person who gives the impression of
having built a better mousetrap, or to the door of someone whose mousetrap they can be
proud to own because its brand name boosts their status and prestige.
Think of your personal brand as your “proxy self.” Who knows whether Oprah Winfrey
really likes people or not when she’s off camera? Who cares? The Oprah brand loves
people. For all you know, the man behind the Mick Jagger brand might prefer to spend
his evenings reading Jane Austen and listening to classical music while sipping a cup
of herb tea. But his proxy self, Mick Jagger, the rock star, has a whole different set of
associations and evokes expectations related to that framework.
the brand is the powerful, clear, positive idea that comes to mind whenever other people think of
you.” “True marketing appeals as much to the emotions as to the intellect; we all make decisions,
even on major purchases, as much with our hearts as with our heads.”
The Brand Called You © Copyright 2004 getAbstract 3 of 5
Your brand isn’t you, the real inner you. Frankly, there’s no reason why it should
be. Your brand is a construct that aims to evoke a certain emotional response. As
an individual entrepreneur or the owner of a small company, you should construct a
personal brand built around a defi nite set of expectations, images and associations. A
personal brand is, essentially, a commitment that you make, a promise to people who do
business with you. It represents all the things you stand for, your values and attitudes. It
compiles the identifying factors that come to mind when people think about you. It tells
people immediately that:
• You are special — You are not like everyone else; you’re original, unique.
• You are better — You are superior to the competition because you have some particular
strength or combination of strengths that no one else can quite match.
• You are genuine — You are reliable and trustworthy.
When you think of someone famous, and one idea comes to mind so strongly that you can’t
shake it — that’s a personal brand. Notice how celebrities establish strong personal brand
identities. Think of Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Madonna. What do their names evoke?
You don’t have to be famous to have a strong personal brand. In fact, some of the
strongest personal brands are almost unknown — except by the few people who really
need to know them, and whom they really need to have know them. Fame is a business
necessity for a performer or a sports star, but not for an investment banker. Investment
bankers need to establish their personal brand only to a narrow circle of people who need
fi nancial services. Make your brand promise relevant to the market you are courting.
Personal branding will:
• Build earnings and increase your business.
• Bring you the right kind of attention from the right people.
• Take time to develop and grow naturally. Allow at least six months to get started.
Your brand can evolve organically as a result of your efforts to promote it and your
consistency in delivering on your brand promise. However, the importance of clear
communication and consistent delivery is impossible to exaggerate. Critics say that
personal branding is a kind of phony, manipulative exploitation of the credulous.
Nothing could be less true. You can’t help having a personal brand, like everyone else.
People are going to form impressions and develop expectations whether or not you
guide them. Isn’t it much better to manage their impressions, to live up to a positive
brand promise, rather than to leave people to form their own impressions based on
incomplete, sporadic, incidental experiences?
To begin to establish your personal brand, take these steps now:
1. Ask your colleagues and acquaintances how they perceive you; make a list.
2. Also list your strong — and weak — characteristics.
3. Compare the two lists.
4. Discreetly ask people about your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses.
5. When customers are referred to you, ask why they came; that is, what did the person
who recommended you say about you that attracted them.
6. Write down the things you have in common with your customers.
7. Collect and study branding paraphernalia from people in your area who’ve done a
particularly good job of distinguishing themselves from the competition.
“Gestalts are very learned ideas that, because they’ve been reinforced
again and again through repetition and evidence, have become automatic in our
minds and utterly, utterly compelling.” “Don’t copy.” “Your personal history is a powerful
weapon in building your personal brand, as long as you know which parts to publicize and
which to leave out.” “We’re stunned at how many companies
fail to tell people what they do.”
Selling is often an adversarial struggle, but perhaps only when marketing is done badly.
Marketing embraces all the things you do to create, develop and promote your personal
brand. Marketing begins with making people aware of your brand, creating a bond
or attraction, and then developing understanding. Every aspect of your life promotes,
refl ects or affects your personal brand for better or worse. That includes your clothes, the
people you associate with, where you live, what you drive and how you were educated.
Five disciplines are integral to the process of personal branding. They are:
1. Development of brand materials — You can develop good materials without spending
an inordinate amount of money. Don’t worry about fancy four-color printing.
A good designer can do wonders with two colors. Your website needs professional
work but again, keep it simple. Your best investment is a good designer. After all, the
designer crafts the image you present to the world. Before you spend a dime, write a
Personal Brand Statement that summarizes and crystallizes your core brand identity.
Don’t show this to anybody else. It is for you alone and it will help clarify your thinking
as you defi ne your brand and communicate it to the market.
2. Personal promotion — This includes advertising, direct mail, referrals, networking,
seminars, speaking engagements and articles. Develop at least fi ve channels through
which you reach out to customers. Seminars are good for making face-to-face contacts,
but they are costly and time intensive, and they aren’t a good way to qualify
contacts. The Web is useable around the clock and can expose you to a lot of eyeballs,
but it may also make you known to a lot of people you’d rather not meet. Networking
is very powerful, but it requires a long-term initiative. Combine several channels to
cover all the bases.
3. Service to customers — This is a critically important investment. Take it seriously.
4. Public relations — PR is a fi eld unto itself, and includes all aspects of your relationship
with the broad public. A good PR person can help you get favorable press coverage
that can establish your reputation. PR helps reinforce what you stand for, since
people need to be able to associate you with something specifi c. You don’t want to be
just another general-purpose implement.
5. Personal style — This covers how you look, the way you move and the way you talk.
The fi rst impression you make on a potential customer or client should not be a sales call.
Begin to establish your brand before you send a salesperson to prospect a new company.
If you have a sales manual, discard it and redesign it to refl ect your new brand. Pay
attention to the successes and failures of your competitors. Learn all you can from their
mistakes. Survey your customers to ask what they like and dislike about you.
Specialize and focus. Don’t spend your advertising money going into mass-market
magazines and broadcast media. Pick your market, target it and use media that reach that
market and no other. Find a point of differentiation. Don’t just be a real estate broker —
be the real estate broker who specializes in divorce situations, or Chinese immigrants, or
women, or veterans. Don’t go after the whole market. Carve out a niche, and go after that.
How do you select a niche? Buy a copy of Lifestyle Market Analyst, a publication of
SRDS and Equifax, and learn how to analyze demographics. List every possible target
market. Look at your business with this list at hand. Do any of these markets already
“PR might be the most powerful Personal
Branding tool around.” “Forget about what it costs, as long as
it’s getting results.”“If you can, name your business after yourself.”
“There are Web developers on every corner, and most of them are hacks.”
account for more than half of your sales? Check the competition. Talk to some top
clients or prospects and ask what needs they have trouble getting fi lled. Don’t make
your specialty too broad or too narrow. Keep abreast of trends and developments in your
market. If you lose customers because they go to your competitors to get services you
once provided, you may have made a mistake. Readjust. Reposition yourself. Marketing
and brand building can’t be static.
“Visibility is more important than ability;” it is credibility. If you are very capable, and
no one sees you, your abilities don’t matter. If you are visible, even if you are not the
best (but are at least good) you will get the business. But, you must be visible. You can’t
expect people to trust you if they don’t even know you are there. They can’t trust what
they don’t know.
Relationships are your most important form of capital. To manage and grow that
relationship capital, take these steps:
• Lower expectations and exceed them — Always promise less than you can deliver
and deliver more than you promise. If you surpass expectations, people will remember
that you consistently improved upon their scenarios.
• Keep your word — When you say that you will do something, always do it — no
excuses, no evasions, no explanations and no disappointments, just consistent performance.
Of course, this a reason to manage expectations and never commit to anything
you aren’t absolutely, unquestionably certain that you can perform.
• Be very clear about what you do — And be just as clear about what you do not do.
Don’t be afraid to tell clients that there is something you won’t do. Don’t fear sending
them elsewhere. Keep a referral list of people who have the skills to help your clients
with services you don’t provide, but who don’t compete with you.
• Show your personality — This means quirks and all. Some people won’t like you but
others will love you and they will be the core of your growing business.
• Don’t cut prices to get business — There’s no point in low-balling. Keep your standards
high and demand to be paid what you are worth.
Business is all about branding. Customers come to you for a reason. Plenty of
generalists are out there competing with each other, so establish yourself as a specialist.
As a specialist, you can charge a premium price, because you will be the only one or
one of only a handful who do what you do. Remember always that your brand is a
promise. What you deliver consistently is what, eventually, the market perceives that
you are promising.
About The Authors
Peter Montoya is president of Peter Montoya, Inc., an agency devoted exclusively to
the development and management o f top personal b rands. Tim Vandehey is a n awardwinning
freelance marketing writer, author and journalist.