I recently quoted an entrepreneur in an article I was writing, and linked to one of her many books. Moments after the post went live, I got a panicky email, followed by a phone message. Could I change the link? There wasn’t an error; the book was just off-message from the brand she now hoped to cultivate. Her reaction was perhaps extreme, but many of us have felt the same frustration: How can we overcome being pigeonholed when we want to reinvent our brands?
In the process of researching my book Reinventing You, I interviewed dozens of professionals who shifted their brands into new directions.
Here are three key questions to ask yourself if you want to move beyond others’ preconceived notions about you.
1. What message are you sending? After my colleague’s alarmed missive, I went back and looked into why I had selected that book to highlight. It wasn’t a mystery: It appeared in the first line of the bio on her website and numerous other social-media profiles. You may think you’re reinventing yourself and sending a new message to the world, but start with the basics. People who aren’t familiar with your work will rely on you -- and the language you’ve used -- to guide them. Look yourself up online and visit each site, checking and updating old profiles. Your bio may have been perfectly appropriate in 2010 but times have probably changed.
2. Are you steering the conversation? It’s also important to be cognizant of the message we’re sending in real life. If you want to change others’ perceptions about the work you do, make sure you’re talking about your new projects and make a point of explaining your shift. At a cocktail party or networking event, when someone asks what you’ve been up to, you could say something like, “I’m really excited because over the past six months, I’ve been taking my business in a new direction. We previously focused on X, but now we’re shifting into Y because we saw so much customer interest in that aspect. In fact, we’ve just launched a new product along those lines [etc.].” Don’t assume they’ll instinctually grasp your reinvention -- make it explicit.
3. Does it really matter? Before you get worked up about being pigeonholed, ask yourself if this particular situation or audience really matters. One coach wrote to me recently and was concerned that his followers perceived him as a specialist in LGBT coaching because of his personal advocacy work, rather than as a general health coach who could help anyone. That may be the case – but in his situation, it doesn’t matter very much, because he’s now interested in shifting his focus to the corporate market, a new segment for him. Because his web presence and Google search results are in line with the brand he wants to convey as a general health coach, he shouldn’t stress out about what his past audience imagines about his practice. Instead, he should focus on creating powerful new content that reinforces his brand message with his new target market (corporate HR directors) and draws them to him.
It can be frustrating and painful when others don’t perceive us the way we’d like to be seen. If you feel you’re being pigeonholed, using these three strategies – clarifying the message you’re sending, focusing the conversation and understanding when it really matters -- can help you break through and get noticed for the right things.