Unless you're Oprah, Donald Trump or Michael Jordan, you probably don't think of yourself as a brand. In my experience, the most successful entrepreneurs and business owners do create and, in fact, become brands. Their brands are based on the experience they promise and the values they live by and share.
The chances are good that you, too--more than your product or service--are the brand that your customers are buying. If you're doing it right, your brand becomes the heart and soul of your business and what ultimately allows you to stay visible in an increasingly invisible world. As the entrepreneur behind your brand, here are some suggestions to consider:
- Be original. What makes you unique or special? Is it your voice? Height? Eye color? Athletic ability? Fluency in foreign languages? An invention or patent? Whatever it is, use it to your advantage. Can you imagine Barbara Streisand with a different nose, Jay Leno with a new chin or Cindy Crawford without her mole? Everyone remembers the original, but the copycats start blending together after a while, so differentiate yourself to stand out from the pack. Be remarkable and extraordinary to grab attention and get noticed. Good is not good enough--where are you great? When you exploit what makes you unique, people will remember your authentic brand.
- Be creative. How do you want people to think, feel, act or react after interacting with you vs. your competition? What are four words that come to mind when people describe you? Is that how you want to be described? As George Washington Carver once said, "When you can do the common things of life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world."
- Be honest. Turns out that telling the truth about what you are and are not, what you can and can't do is very refreshing. Who would have thought that in 2005, brutal honesty would be the killer application? Because there are so many choices out there in every category, customers tend to choose the brands they trust most. Let your brand be known for speaking the truth, and you become the trusted advocate and go-to source. People don't always want to hear the truth, but they'll respect you for telling it, and when they're ready to listen, they'll remember you for it.
- Be relevant. Brands aren't created in a vacuum. They require lots of attention, care and feeding. The process of creating a brand for yourself isn't unlike what you'd do for your company--developing a mission, vision, unique positioning and so on. You must define your brand, communicate it and review it periodically so your brand stays current. Look at Madonna, circa 1985 (leather, hair, wild child) and today (yoga, family, spiritual). The branding basics still apply when the brand is you--having a core message, a brand promise, visual and verbal identification and fully integrating all components. You'll need brand positioning, brand architecture and a brand strategy to develop a promise that resonates clearly with your customers.
- Be consistent. Develop a cohesive message, and live it every day. The repetition reinforces your key points so people will remember them. It takes time to build great brands--no one wins Olympic gold medals, Grammy awards, Oscars or anything of importance overnight. These things require an investment of your time and energy. Every transaction and experience with your customers is an opportunity to build trust in your brand. With an unlimited budget, you can communicate many ideas, but when resources are constrained, pick the ones that really matter and make sure they're part of everything you do.
- Be passionate. If you remember nothing else, remember this suggestion--it makes up for any shortfalls above. Everyone loves to work with people who are passionate about what they do; it makes life much more fun and interesting. So build your brand around what you enjoy and remember the words of John Ruskin: "When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece."
I hope I've convinced you that great brands do in fact start with great personal brands. Your brand is a compass that should provide a foundation to help you connect with your target audience. Whether your name is on the door or not, it starts with you at the top. I personally made a conscious decision not to name my company after me, yet the firm is strongly identified with me as the founder--and I'm guessing yours is as well.
Even the best brands need a strong product or service behind them, and execution is the key to success. Never forget that you are your brand, so you must live it 24/7.