This title isn’t just meant to get your attention or pique your curiosity. It’s an assertion I stand behind.
Over the past several months, I’ve been exploring the concept of branding and brand marketing since most of my professional experience has been in direct marketing. Last week I wrote about something similar in my post Brands Make Promises, So Should You.
Direct marketing is what you do when you send an email campaign or create Google Ads (aka paid search) and send them out into the world. Both of those things can be measured by saying we spent $X and received Y opens or Z clicks and some leads. The list goes on and on with what you can measure with the analytics tools and platforms available today.
Brand marketing is different. It’s not directly measurable. Sure, you could gauge brand sentiment if you interviewed people or asked them to fill out a survey, but most of your effort and money spent cannot be tied to specific actions.
Brand marketing has always been a sort of an enigma to me. I always thought it was solely for people who were all kinds of creative, and I didn’t put myself in that category. Which wasn’t fair and was short-sighted.
I’ve heard branding described as what people say about your brand, product, or service when you’re not around. I’ve also heard this said about someone’s reputation.
That’s why I’ve finally decided that personal or (professional) branding is a real thing.
Personal Branding (or Not)?
I’ve been torn over the concept because I can see the other side of the argument that brands are too corporate or they manipulate people into believing a certain thing, and it can be seen as “fake.”
I can see why someone would think that, and it gave me pause for a while as I thought about the concept of a personal brand.
However, as I’ve learned more about brand marketing and building a brand, I’ve decided that it’s not solely a business thing.
I also think that there are core elements to everyone’s brand or reputation that crossover between their professional and personal lives, and those are based on your values.
Your Values and the Stories Other People Tell About You
Values don’t (or shouldn’t) change just because you’re in a personal setting or professional setting.
They may change and evolve over time, but they should never vary based on a situation.
I also think many people aren’t happy with the way they think people perceive them – professionally or personally, and most of the time, the two are connected.
If you’re not happy with how you think people perceive you, then change what you do and how you act.
It’s a decision. It’s not genetic and irreversible.
Brands Take Time to Build - and Seconds to Destroy
It may be difficult and take time to change a negative perception. It’s actually proven that it requires more effort to turn a negative perception positive than it does to turn a positive perception negative. That can happen in no time.
The same is true for a brand. It can take years to build trust and identity tied to a brand but can take minutes to destroy it.
Say the wrong thing, and that will stick with people for a long time, regardless of how many times you apologize.
In my opinion, there’s a difference between a personal brand and a professional brand. A personal brand refers to how friends and family see you, which is different than how you’re viewed professionally.
One of the most significant differences has to do with what you’re known for.
From a personal standpoint, this could be a very diverse list of things. For example, I’m enjoy hiking, gardening and horticulture, sports, beer and wine, and many other things.
Focus Narrowly to Build Value
Professionally, we’re typically known for only a few things – and if we’re great at what we do, that will be narrowed down to really one thing.
I think my progress in my career has been challenging because I graduated from college, not knowing what I really wanted to do.
I started in environmental services, moved to sales, then got an MBA in marketing but somehow ended up in corporate recruiting, and then, finally, in a marketing role.
Some people still view me as a recruiter—others as a marketer. As a result, I don’t feel that I’m known for being great at one specific thing. Even being known for marketing or recruiting is too broad.
Being known for SEO within a particular market is more valuable. Being known for tech recruiting in a specific market is more valuable than being known as just a recruiter.
I guess being a “jack of all trades” could be useful if someone wanted to work for a startup. In fact, I just saw an article yesterday (saw the headline only) about why being a “jack of all trades” was a good thing in today’s world. I may have to track it down and read it.
It could also be useful if I wanted to start a business, but I still feel to be successful at that, I need a core competency around what the company is based on. The other things just help me to need less help from others in the day-to-day running of the business and I can always hire people to fill the gaps in my experience and skills.
At the end of the day, though, I think being really good at something unique and valuable is the most advantageous thing you could focus on.
That becomes your brand. People think of SEO in the airline industry, and they think of you. They think of recruiting software engineers for a Fortune 500 company, they think of you.
You're Not for Everyone - Only a Few in the Market You Choose
You don’t need to be valuable to everyone. Only a few. A concept known as the “minimal viable audience” as coined by Seth Godin.
It only takes one company that wants to pay you for the knowledge and skills you have. Hopefully, there is more than just one, otherwise, you may need to pick a different market.
The better you become, the more well known you are for that thing, the more valuable you will become, and the more people will be willing to pay you.
Being known for hard skills is one thing. Being known for having those valuable skills and being easy to work with and friendly is another. That’s your brand.
Some people could look past the negative aspects of someone being rude and dismissive if they were great at what they did. Many people likely would not.
That’s someone’s brand.
When people talk with others about that person, it probably sounds like this, “he’s really great at what he does, but he’s expensive, and he’s a complete ass.”
No one would refer someone with a reputation like that without putting a disclaimer in because it then affects their reputation. Get it?
Every. Thing. We. Do. Is. Branding.
The email you just sent off. Branding.
The conversation you just had with someone. Branding.
Drip by drip. Email by email. Conversation by conversation. Presentation by presentation. Report by report. Perceptions are being built by those you seek to serve.
Your brand is being built up or broken down.
What do you want to be known for? How do you want to be perceived professionally? Down to the tone of your voice and email messaging. Down to the way you talk and the empathy you have for others. What emotions do you want people to feel when they see an email from you in their inbox? How do you want people to feel when they’re watching your presentation?
These are the same things that brand managers take into consideration.