A Step-by-Step Guide to Building Brand “YOU”
Applying practical, tried-and-tested Marketing tools to building YOUR personal brand equity…
Introduction by Daniel Adams (guru, mentor, & all-round great guy!)
If this book does nothing else it offers you a key you can use to open the door to the life and career meant for you.
The key is the idea that each of us needs to manage our brand identity. Just as products on the shelf need to be clear about the differences between them and their competitors, you and the others in the workplace are all seeking success and the pyramid gets narrower as we move up whatever ladder we are trying to climb. Developing a reputation is what we are working towards. But think about that for a moment. Having a reputation means having a reputation AS something.
Please note that in my first sentence, I said the career ‘meant for you’. This may be quite different from the one you think you want.)
Each of us is endowed with talents, traits and values. Getting these aligned is all-important. You are who you are and others, believe it or not, actually sense the real you. Many years ago, I was mentored by John Crystal, the inspiration behind the famous book “What Color Is Your Parachute?”
John told us to remember: “What you are speaks so loudly I can hardly hear what you’re saying.”
After John’s counsel, I changed careers and was able to put the real me to work wholeheartedly. I have been able to give all my energies to matters that interest me and feel important. Natural power seems to flow pretty effortlessly.
I have proven this principle in my own life and have made a career out of building powerful brand identities for companies and their brands and sub-brands.
I am honored to offer this small foreward. You are in wonderful hands. Omar Abedin impressed me from the first moment we met. Right away I saw him as a professional of very high intellectual ability coupled with a talent for simplifying complex ideas so they can be used. Omar loves to help and I feel sure if you work through this book, you’ll find yourself possessing a valuable key.
Over the past 20 years, I have had the privilege of working with some of the finest marketing brains, managing some of the finest brands for some of the finest companies in the world.
At the same time, with the arrival of social media technologies and smartphones, I’ve come to realize that in today’s age, more so than perhaps at any point in our lives, WE have all become brands in our own rights.
Or perhaps I should say – we ALL have the opportunity to become brands. The reality, however, is that many of us, despite having an intense desire to be seen as “unique” & recognized as “different” by the world at large (witness the amount of User-Generated Content on YouTube!), and despite having hundreds of “friends” on FaceBook and LinkedIn, will never be more than commodities.
If that sounds harsh, I apologize. You see, a commodity is by definition something that can easily be replaced by another, similar, thing. On the other hand, a brand is irreplaceable. It is an integral part of our lives, and it is hard to examine just how important a role that brands play without thinking of myself – and indeed – all of US – as brands in our own right.
In my time managing brands, first as a corporate “brand” manager, and lately as a consultant who’s raison d’être is helping people & companies “brand” better, I’ve learnt a few things and experimented with many tools… and I’ve been trying to figure out how those tools apply in our daily lives. The line between personal & professional domains continues to blur and the old nine-to-five mentality is practically non-existent. With the advent and huge popularity of smart phones, our online presence in now 24/7 – as is our availability to our employers, colleagues & clients. What does this mean for Brand “YOU”?
Well, as branding guru, and my friend & teacher, Daniel Adams says:
“Every action you take
is either a DEBIT from or a CREDIT to
The Bank of Brand Equity.”
Simply put – every thing you do either makes you MORE desirable – or LESS desirable – to your consumer & your shareholders.
What does “desirable” mean?
It means that as your value to your “consumer” (i.e. boss / employers / colleagues / clients) goes up – you are no longer seen as easily replaceable – and as a direct consequence – you are paid more, respected more, listened to more. Who among us does not wish to be valued more at work? After all, we spend the majority of our waking life either going to work, at work, or thinking about work.
It also means that your “shareholders” i.e. your family & loved ones – benefit more as a result of the higher value attached to you, the strongly-branded employee.
And for YOU? Well, it gives you a game plan that works. You will be able to take control of your fate, developing a powerful perception plan that differentiates you from the masses – and your competition. And you will learn how to bring that to life – and make real changes in your life to BE that more valuable, differentiated, BRANDED person – with all the positives & concrete benefits that accrue to you as a result.
The purpose of this book is to lay these ideas out for you in a simple and direct manner, avoiding as far as possible the complexity that sometimes makes the subject of branding so confusing to the “non-marketing” folks among us.
If you are a marketing professional, these ideas will resonate with you immediately, and at a gut level. If you are not, don’t worry – it may take a little bit of discipline and rigour upfront, but a great deal of reward WILL follow, provided you follow the guidelines in spirit (if not in word ☺).
So what does that mean? Well, for starters, it means that I’m going to try to keep the jargon to a minimum. I can’t do away with it altogether – and you need to know some of the “marketing speak” – but I will do my best to ensure that it does not get in the way of your learning.
What else? It means that this book draws on the collective knowledge of many people – especially Dan Adams. Dan is the CEO of the Daniel Adams Co. in the US, and an incredibly knowledgeable & insightful marketing genius. He has forgotten more about Brand Equity than most of us will ever know. Dan and I first met in the early nineties, when he had come to train the marketing team of the company that I worked with at the time. It was an unforgettable experience, and one that stayed with me for over fifteen years, when we met again. His impact in my life – and his contribution to the world of branding – has been nothing short of astronomical.
At seventy, Dan remains a force of nature. He is my guru, and my mentor, and many of the concepts that I will discuss here either originate with him, or have been clarified for me by Dan. You see dear Reader, where Dan’s true genius comes to the fore is the ability to take complex ideas and break them down to the simplest common denominator, so that they become instantly clear and self-evident truths to even the rankest of beginners in the field.
So here we go. Hopefully, this book will cast some light on what many consider to be the (black) art & science that is branding & marketing – and it’s practical application to building your personal brand. I believe it’s a little of both, and done well, it is nothing short of magic.
Chapter 1 What is a Brand anyway? (…And why YOU should want to be one!)?
Brands are ubiquitous. There is hardly a category in our overly complicated lives where brands do not play an important role – one far more important than we are perhaps willing or able to admit. We adore them. We associate ourselves with their icons. We flash them to friends and complete strangers. We carry them in our hands, around our necks, over our shoulders. We drive around in them. We give them to our friends and family. We immerse ourselves in them in so many ways that sometimes we would be hard pushed to name them, or count them.
So, if you agree that brands are everywhere, how do we define exactly what a brand is? This is at once easier and harder than it sounds… After all, we all know a brand when we see one. Whether it is a phone, laptop, purse, suit, watch, or car, we know what we like. In that sense, it’s a bit like art. We can all say whether something appeals to us, but it is far more difficult to say exactly why. Therein lies the challenge. So before we move ahead, lets agree on a working definition.
I’ve heard literally dozens of definitions, each one better than the last. There are extremely complicated ones, and extremely simple ones. The one I like best, developed by Dan Adams of the Daniel Adams Co, goes something like this:
“A brand is a set of ideas and associations that exists in the mind.
A product or service exists only when we see it, or use it…
If hearing the name, or seeing it’s symbol triggers a set of associations, it is a brand. Otherwise – it’s just a product.“
What are the critical pieces of this definition? Lets start with ideas and associations. Whenever you think of a brand, there are certain associations that immediately come to mind. Lets take an example of McDonalds to illustrate the point. If we were to ask a consumer of McDonalds what they associated with the brand, this is what they would probably say:
American style fast food (Mc everything)
The yellow ‘M’
Kids play area
Same menu everywhere
The amazing thing is that whether you ask people in the US, England, Brazil, Russia, China, Pakistan or Australia – they will say EXACTLY the same thing. Really. We call this the Brand Fire Dance, and it is one of the key characteristics of a powerful brand. In fact, the greater the number of associations, and the more clear they are to the consumer, the more powerful the brand.
Each of these associations also triggers the others. When you see the yellow ‘M’, you suddenly have an image of golden fries, a Big Mac, and a huge Coke. Your stomach starts growling too. ☺
Another characteristic of a power brand is that it has a zone of authority within which it operates. It is seen as the expert in that domain. E.g. Apple owns coolness in the technology arena. Even if you are not a fan of Apple, you will be hard pushed not to acknowledge the oomph value of any of their offerings.
Lastly, we have a strong personal connection with the brands in our lives. We – dare I say it – love them. Sometimes, we commit murder to possess them (remember the runner killed in Central Park for their Nikes?). How many of us will admit that our personal identity – our self-image – is closely tied into, and driven by the brands we use?
So, if you were asked to list your top 10 brands today, this might be a more difficult task than might appear on its face. After all, there are so many… how to choose? What makes it even more challenging is that sometimes, celebrities are promoting the brands we choose. These celebs are brands in their own right, a fact that the brands that hire them are fully aware of, and in fact, counting on to build awareness of their brands. These celebs exude such star power that we all – almost without exception – know them.
Brands like Barack Obama… Oprah Winfrey… Bruce Springsteen… Hannah Montana… Adolf Hitler… Tony Blair… Abraham Lincoln… Winston Churchill… Nixon… Michael Jackson… Princess Diana… Elvis Presley… Mohammed Ali (Cassius Clay)…
The list is huge even without religious figures (!)… However, with each and every one of these strongly branded individuals, we are instantly taken to a different place. We feel we knew them, what they were striving for, indeed the very value system that they represented and fought for. We don’t have to like it, but we know it.
Why do we remember these people? Why do millions continue to worship at the altar of some, and continue to question the motives of others years, decades and even centuries after they are dead?
The answer is simple – we know what they stood for. We knew exactly what their stance was in life. What they valued. Where they came from. We loved the little quirks in their personalities. We embraced what they embodied… and the truly amazing thing is – they embody those things today.
How can this be? How can someone who died hundreds (thousands?) of years ago continue to own a slice of our conscious (and unconscious) minds?
So, my question to you right now is: What do YOU stand for?
Is there something you do, some belief you hold, some personality trait – anything – that makes you – YOU?
I want you to think about that for 5 minutes, and if you are not able to identify anything of value immediately, DON’T panic. Read on, and by the time we are done, you should be in a very different place. If on the other hand, you are able to identify multiple things, then you have probably gone too broad, and what you have identified is not unique, differentiated or ownable enough to create value for you.
While you are thinking of this, you will come to understand a little bit of the dilemma faced by marketers & brand builders every day. The need to make your brand stand out is paramount in the minds of such people – it burns hot in their minds and hearts. For a brand to be seen as undifferentiated usually means death in the near term.
For people, it’s not much different. If you fail to maximize your “brand equity”, it usually means that you will end up in a dead-end job, with an unsatisfactory personal life, always wondering why you are on the outside looking in. Your earnings potential will remain unrealized.
The bad news is – this is the case for the vast majority of working people today.
The good news is – there is a way to fix this situation, and it starts right here & now.
Chapter 2 Why is it so difficult to build a Brand (specially your OWN!)?
Given the pervasiveness of brands & branding in our lives, why is it so difficult to create a powerful brand? BTW, in case you were wondering… the number of brands that you are aware of as a consumer is a TINY fraction of the total number of brands that are out there. That includes all those brands that are launched every year, most with some level of fanfare, only to fail in the market.
Think about it. There are literally thousands of beverage brands around the world, but you would be hard pushed to name 1% of them (unless of course you work in the industry.) ☺
So, why is building a brand so challenging, even for companies that depend on brands for their very existence?
Well, for starters, the brand-building role is seldom stated (there are of course many exceptions to this at a corporate level. Proctor & Gamble, Unilever, Nestle and many more do this very well!) However, when we apply this to building our own personal brands, it becomes the rule rather than the exception. Certainly, people like Richard Branson of Virgin have set about building their personal brands with clear & compelling objectives. But the majority of us do not see ourselves as brands. We don’t explicitly state this even to ourselves, and because we don’t, we are hardly likely to achieve brand status in our lifetimes.
However – once you start seeing yourself as a BRAND – and start working on all that comes with it, your world changes completely. You may be cynical now, & I can almost see you shaking your head… but read on, and we will talk again later. ☺
Secondly, brand equity is intangible. For most people – even those deeply immersed in the practice of marketing – defining brand equity can be a challenge. And if you can’t define it, then how on earth can you possibly quantify it? Well, I’m here to tell you that not only is it possible to measure brand equity without an advanced degree in marketing, it is imperative that brands measure their equity on an on-going basis.
The fact is that there are companies dedicated to carrying out this very exercise for large and well-known brands. In some cases, they have been known to carry out this exercise for High Net Worth Individuals (the very, very wealthy!). But is it possible for you to measure your own brand equity?
Yes. It takes a little bit of common sense figuring out, but it can be done, and once you have learnt the process, it’s quite easy to repeat. And you should repeat it quite regularly. In fact, I would suggest that you add a brand equity index to your New Year’s resolutions – because once you start measuring it, you will want to track it to see how you are doing!
Thirdly, there are always short-term pressures. We face decisions daily, hourly, that determine how our brand equity is going to move. In fact, every decision we make, every action we take, leads to either a deposit into the Bank of Brand Equity, or a withdrawal from there. If you start thinking of it in those terms, you will start to see the impact – positive or negative – on your Brand Equity balance.
Confused? Don’t be. Let’s take an example. Jane is an accountant. She makes $150 K a year, has great perks, a nice office and a company car. There’s only one problem. She HATES her job. She hates her boss, her work, her commute… she is deeply unhappy. This unhappiness translates into a stressed relationship with her spouse, and a non-existent one with her teenage daughter. And yet, she continues at her job, day in and day out, because that’s all she knows. Her confusion & anger grows, until one day her long-suffering husband moves out, and her daughter moves away to college. Unable to cope with the changes in her environment, and unable to understand how these have come about, Jane enters into a long-term therapy program. Eventually she comes to terms with her “issues”… or most of them.
Now what if Jane had laid out her Brand Identity early on? Perhaps things might have been different. In fact, once you have gone through the exercise yourself, you will come to realize that it would almost certainly have led her down a different path. And whichever path she had eventually chosen, she would have led a more fulfilling life overall – one with less of the negativity and stress of living a life that just is not YOU.
The fourth obstacle to building brands that confronts many companies is what I call “revolving brand managers”. Young, energetic people, some straight out of school, are assigned the responsibility of managing a brand, or brands. Many of these people – these brand managers – have only one objective: to build as many bullet points on their CV as possible in as short a time as possible, in order to maximize their growth trajectory, either in their current company or in another company. This is not necessarily a bad thing, and these are by no means bad people. It’s just that in their hurry to add talking points to their CVs, they sometimes do things that are not in the best interests of the brand that has been entrusted to their care. For example, a brand built on the quality of its offering might find itself a “football” in a price war amongst different retailers just so that a short-term gain in market share can be reported in the monthly report that goes to management. It does not seem to matter that the equity – the value – of the brand has been diminished in the eyes of its consumers. All that matters is that the market share blip was duly reported to management, and the brand manager’s “performance” recognized, either through a bonus, a promotion, or both.
Well, you might say that as the brand manager for your OWN brand, you don’t have that problem, and on the face of it, you would be right. After all, you are in control of your own destiny, right?
Perhaps not all the time… How many people do you know who seem intent on shooting themselves in the foot ALL the time? Self-inflicted injuries are more common than perhaps we realize.
You may have heard the parable of the elephant and the chain? When the elephant was a child, it was chained to a concrete pillar by the leg. Whenever it had the urge to seek freedom it found that it was unable to move, and over time, the chain became the reality. After that, and even when the chain was long gone, the elephant remained by the pillar because it was the only reality that it knew.
Therapy and analysis can help us understand just how much of the situation we are in is self-inflicted… or in our own minds. How many of us are stuck in dead end jobs, but inexplicably refuse to move to another role? How many people do you know who recognize that their current qualifications, degrees, certifications etc. are not what the market needs, but are unable to make the decision to GET new degrees? Of course there are short-term pressures – we talked about that already. Who among us is free of those pressures?
What separates the truly successful and happy people among us from the rest is the recognition that how they spend their time upon this earth should be a reflection of who they wish to be, or in some cases, to become. So we read about the billionaires who give away their entire wealth to serve humanity. And we see teachers, policemen, firefighters, nurses and many others around us, serving the community in their own way, happy & content in the knowledge that they are making a difference in people’s lives.
The key lies in knowing who you are as a person – identifying a clear & compelling Brand Identity for yourself that states EXACTLY who you are, or wish to be. It should be as clear & powerful as you can make it, and hopefully, it will resonate with you in such a way that only you could possibly bring it to life. More on that later.
The fifth and final obstacle to building a brand – and our OWN brand – is that we seldom take the time to truly measure brand equity. The major reason for this is that, even if we recognize the importance of measuring our equity, it seems an impossible task. After all, equity is intangible, right?
Not so. Anything can be measured, and if we take a bit of time to define what it is that we wish to measure, we can certainly come up with ways and means to measure our growth or improvements in those areas. There are more details in Chapter 8, the section on score carding, so don’t worry about it. You will get there soon enough.