There is so much talk nowadays about the importance of branding—both professional branding and personal branding. I knew nothing about this concept when I first set up my professional social media accounts. Now I realize what a negative impact that may have had on the people with whom I interacted. I was not clear about who I was or what I stood for. How could I be clear in expressing something I didn’t understand myself? Unfortunately, that was not the only time in my life when I experienced this lack of clear identity.
One company I worked for struggled to describe their brand. The company had been around for years and grown organically. However, it was always trying to be everything to everyone. As competition became fiercer, we struggled to find our niche and carve out our reputation in that niche. We wanted to be in all the niches. I had a long and vague description of both what our company did and what my job entailed. How valuable could our service be if we could not even define who we were?
“Branding is the art of becoming knowable, likeable and trustable.” —John Jantsch
Branding includes creating an image, an emotion, and an action. Branding takes time to develop. Consumers have to be taught about your brand and about what it represents. You want consumers to feel the emotion and take action when they hear your name or see your logo. That does not happen overnight. And it does not happen without some hard work.
You cannot expect others to know what you stand for when you can’t define it yourself. The definition has to be quick, easy, and meaningful. What are the two or three key things you want people to know about your brand? This is what you want to focus on, and you have to be consistent in this focus. It gets confusing when each time you hear about a brand you are told something different. The core message needs to be the same every time.
Your approach needs to be creative and interesting. Your message has to get the attention of your target audience and resonate with them. Everyone seems to have a very short attention span nowadays. You must be able to grab people’s attention, get your message across, make them feel an emotion, and inspire them to take an action—all within fifteen to twenty seconds! That takes some serious creativity, and it takes time. This same message has to be repeated again and again before it will start to stick.
In determining the focus of your message, you need to define what makes you different from your competitors. There must be something about your message that shows what makes you special. The key to this is knowing your target audience and catering your message and advertising accordingly.
For example, take Coke and Pepsi, two very strong brands competing in the same market. When I think about Coke, I visualize the logo and people of all ages drinking from a bottle of Coke while smiling. I can feel the refreshing liquid going down my throat, and it makes me smile too. The emotion is happy; the action is smiling. I like being happy and smiling, so I am motivated to purchase a Coke.
When I think of Pepsi, I visualize the logo, seeing teens and young adults drinking from a can of Pepsi then doing something bold and cool. I feel the energy and excitement of young people and their sense of invincibility. The emotion is power; the action is doing something cool. I want to feel empowered and be cool, so I am motivated to purchase a Pepsi.
The most successful brands have a clear connection between the emotion and the action. Emotion is what motivates people to act. However, if you are not clear on what action you desire people to take, it doesn’t matter if you have triggered their emotions; you will fail to create emotion or incite action.
Like almost everything, there is a process to creating your brand. Here is a quick overview of the six basic steps.
- Understand who you are. What are your strengths and your passions?
- Identify what you want to be known for. What are the skills, attitudes, and actions you want others to associate with you?
- Determine who your target audience is. Who needs to know about you? Who is mostly likely to need or use your products or services?
- Do your homework. Who is already known for what you want to be known for? Learn everything you can about the trends and leaders in your field.
- Develop you brand identity. What is the image, emotion and action you want to evoke?
- Spread the news. Embrace social media and grow your network. Tell your story and ask others to help tell your story by providing recommendations.
Putting It All Together
The most dreaded moment in a job interview is the invitation, “Tell me about yourself.” It is so open and broad that, even though we should be able to talk about ourselves, it can be challenging to think about the key messages we want to communicate to the interviewer. Plus, it has to be memorable and impactful to make us stand out from the crowd. That is what branding is all about. In theory, it should be easy. In reality, it requires forethought, effort, practice, consistency, creativity, and clarity. If done correctly, branding can be the key to your success.
While to company I mentioned in my introduction continues to struggle with its all-encompassing brand, I have clearly identified my own professional brand. By learning how to identify and articulate my strengths and passions, I was able to create a brand that I believe in and tells people why they should believe in me as well. The process to get there was both frustrating and enlightening, but the results are rewarding.
How are you branding yourself? Do you have separate personal and professional brands? Do you have a target audience for your brand? Is your brand clear and concise? Are you consistent in how you brand yourself? Does your brand create an emotion? Does your brand inspire action? I challenge you to reflect on your brand. Does it say and do what you intend it to? Do you have a brand that you believe in and that tells people why they can believe in you? If not, what changes can you make to improve your brand?
Revised February 2022. Origianlly published under The OD Pro in September 2019.