Every organization has a brand, as does every individual working in those organizations. Developing and promoting that brand appears to be an important step to corporate – and individual – success. The key question is how to do it effectively.
Implementing an effective brand strategy is easier said than done. Among other things, that’s because social media makes it easier for potential customers to screen out “traditional” branding messages.
Professor Michael Porter, of Harvard Business School, is contributing to the branding debate via his views on creating shared value. He writes in the Harvard Business Review, “Companies are widely thought to be prospering at the expense of their communities… A big part of the problem lies with companies themselves… Focused on optimizing short-term financial performance, they overlook the greatest unmet needs in the market as well as broader influences on their long-term success.
“Companies could bring business and society back together if they redefined their purpose as creating ‘shared value’ – generating economic value in a way that also produces value for society by addressing its challenges. A shared-value approach reconnects company success with social progress.”
This concerns branding because the organization’s brand is its promise to customers. It tells them what they can expect, and it differentiates that organization’s offering from its competitors.”
Similarly, you derive your brand from who you are, who you want to be, and who people perceive you to be. It tells people what they can expect from you, and it differentiates your capabilities from those of your competitors.
Define your brand
Before you can have a brand strategy, you need to define your brand. This journey of self-discovery involves answering such questions as:
- What’s my mission?
- What are the benefits and features of my products or services?
- What do my customers and prospective customers think of me – and my abilities?
- What qualities do I want them to associate with me?
Do your research. Pay attention to the results of such things as 360° feedback and appraisals, but also discover the needs, habits and desires of your current and prospective customers. It’s important that you don’t rely on what you think they think. You must know what they think.
Are you an innovative maverick – or experienced and reliable? Do you represent a high-cost, high-quality option, or a low-cost, high-value option? You can’t be both, nor can you be everything to everyone. Who you are should be based to some extent on who your target customers – maybe colleagues, but also prospective employers – want and need you to be.
If you want to be “successful,” you can’t be “low-key,” “unobtrusive,” “shy,” “retiring,” “part of the furniture” or any other adjective denoting inconspicuousness. Businesses don’t flourish by deliberately adopting a low profile and going out of their way to not promote themselves. Neither will you.
Develop your brand strategy
Next, you should develop your personal “brand strategy.” This involves what you communicate visually and verbally, but it also means determining how, what, where, when, and to whom you plan on communicating and delivering on your brand messages. Where you “advertise” is part of your strategy – as is the distribution channels you’re going to use.
To be successful you must be:
- Yourself (if at all possible). No one likes living a lie – and it’s extremely difficult to sustain it for any length of time. Moreover, people “buy” people – so your brand strategy needs to reveal something of who you really are and what excites and interests you.
- Consistent. That’s the whole point of corporate branding. Done well, it adds value to you, makes you recognizable, and enables you to charge a higher price for your “product.”
Promote your brand
The third step is to promote your brand. It may help you to:
- Write out your key brand messages as an aide-mémoir, so that you keep them in the forefront of your mind.
- Develop a tagline of 10 words or less – a memorable, meaningful and colorful statement that captures your brand. Then, make sure you use it at any and every opportunity, so that it becomes recognized as “yours.”
- Develop a “logo.” This needs to be something that’s different and easily recognizable. It could be a flamboyant signature, style of dress, or way of walking.
- Integrate your brand into every aspect of what you do at work – including how you answer the telephone, how you interact with others, and so on – so that you create a distinctive “voice” for yourself.
- Remain true to your brand and, importantly, be consistent.
Remember that branding is all-encompassing. It isn’t just about marketing yourself. It’s about delivering consistently in every aspect of your life. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is credited as saying, “Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
Don’t forget, too, the help you can get from others in promoting your brand. In 2014, tennis star Maria Sharapova reputedly earned some $23m from product endorsements, while former soccer star is said to have earned more than three times that amount – from deals with drinks giant Diageo, watch brand Breitling, Sky Sports, and others. You may – or may not – have to pay others to promote your brand but never underestimate the power of “celebrity endorsement” from, say, a supportive C-level executive or a delighted customer.