A Breakthrough Formula for Standing Out from the Crowd
Ever get the feeling that people—even people who know you (or should know you) very well—just don't "get" you? That they don't quite understand who you really are and what they can rely on you to do for them?
Ever get the feeling that the relationships in your life—some of them, anyway—are a little out of sync with your ideals and what you really want? That you're being forced to make choices, some of them uncomfortable, between who you know yourself to be and who someone else wants you to be?
Ever get the feeling that there's a troubling disconnect—maybe only minor, maybe profound—between your personal life and your professional life? That the demands of your job, your career, your business, are in conflict with your values?
In every case described above, there seems to be a gap between perception and reality, between the "real you" and the you other people see and interact with. At work, at home, in the community, in life in general, you're not getting as much credit as you think you should for who you really are and what you really believe. Somehow, it's as though you are being asked—even compelled—to be less of yourself rather than more.
Businesses deal with this dilemma constantly. Their most successful responses tend to focus on one key concept—brand.
We think successful people can do what successful businesses do. The principles businesses use to "teach" their customers what to expect from their products and services can have powerful applications in both our personal and our professional lives.
From our more than twenty years in the business world, we know these principles, and we've developed techniques based on them—techniques that work. Our "day jobs" involve helping businesses with just these kinds of issues. More importantly, we've discovered that these same principles apply far beyond the world of business. Best of all, we know you don't need an MBA to understand and apply these ideas. In the pages that follow, well show you how to conceive, convey, and manage a strong brand—an accurate reflection of who you really are—in ways that will help you define and meet the expectations of the important people in your life. We'll use business examples for illustration, but we won't overdo arcane science. We'll keep it short. We'll keep it simple. We'll keep it easy to apply in your own life.
What Exactly Is a Brand?
A brand is a relationship. It is not a statement. It is not a matter of contrived image, or colorful packaging, or snappy slogans, or adding an artificial veneer to disguise the true nature of what's within. In fact, a "branded" relationship is a special type of relationship—one that involves the kind of trust that only happens when two people believe there is a direct connection between their value systems.
Success is not something the world can define for you. It's what you define it to be, based on your particular values and aspirations. If those two basic premises make sense to you, there is an excellent chance that what follows will dramatically transform, for the better, the understanding you have of yourself and the relationships you have with the important people in your life: at home, at work, in all of the various communities to which you belong.
Dealing with issues that involve values can be a delicate matter. The word "values" has personal connotations in both the moral and the material worlds, and we have no ambition to take a stand in a pulpit, bully or otherwise. Yet, frankly, there's no other way to show you how to successfully build a personal brand than to connect it to your values.
Similarly, dealing with personal issues in conjunction with a powerful (and often misunderstood) concept from the business world can be equally dicey. Like "values," the word "brand" is often misused, its true meaning lost in the technical stew of logos and product offerings and ad campaigns and marketing slogans.
We've put the information into an orderly structure (so you know what to expect). We're going to deal with brand and values in each context—business and personal—separately. Then we'll show you how to connect them in ways that can have a profound impact on your personal and professional life. You know a lot of this already. You've probably just never considered it in the context of a brand.
In business, the concept of brand has a well-defined meaning:
A brand is a perception or emotion, maintained by a buyer or a prospective buyer, describing the experience related to doing business with an organization or consuming its products or services.
To put the idea of brand in a personal context, think of it this way:
Your brand is a perception or emotion, maintained by somebody other than you, that describes the total experience of having a relationship with you.
Everybody already has a brand. Your brand is a reflection of who you are and what you believe, which is visibly expressed by what you do and how you do it. It's the doing part that connects you with someone else, and that connection with someone else results in a relationship. In reality, the image of your brand is a perception held in someone else's mind. As that perception, through repeated contacts between you and the other person, evolves and sharpens, a brand relationship takes form.
The key to the concept, whether business or personal, is to understand the nature and needs of a relationship. Business success is seldom an accident, any more than personal success in life results from some cosmic coincidence. Nor can either form of success be achieved in isolation. Both hinge on the success or failure of relationships.
In business, the principles and techniques of brand management allow organizations to focus on strategies and tactics that build strong relationships. The success of those relationships helps the business's products and services—and, behind those, the people who form the business—achieve an overall set of objectives. But this only works when the relationships meet the real needs of the people with whom those organizations do business: customers, shareholders, other stake-holders, employees, and the community at large.
Finding a "bottom line" for personal success is less clear-cut. The individual values and objectives of people are so varied. But no matter what your vision of life may be, the most critical component of your ultimate success or failure is the breadth and depth of your relationships. You want your family, your friends, your employer, and your coworkers to truly understand and fully acknowledge who you are and what you do. That's what will make those relationships mutually enjoyable and valuable. That's the essence of a "branded" relationship.
A branded relationship is a special one—in many ways, the most loyal kind of relationship there is. Many of the proven, successful loyalty-building ideas and tactics used by businesses in managing their brands can be brought to bear on your own personal relationships, with outstanding results. As you learn to understand and apply sensible, practical brand-development and self-management principles, you will gain tools you can use to create and progressively strengthen your relationships with the people you interact with on a regular basis.
By developing a strong personal brand that is clear, complete, and valuable to others, you will create a life that is much more successful and fulfilling. They win. You win. That's the kind of success that can have far-reaching benefits.
The Images Between
What does a personal brand, strong or otherwise, look like? How will people know it when they see it? Think for a moment of someone you know well professionally. How would you describe your relationship with that person? Is this someone with whom you can easily discuss a problem, or someone you'd probably avoid in a sensitive situation? Do you think of them first when you need help or expertise in a particular area, or last? Why does this individual stand out among the hundreds of people in your mental address book?
That is your brand perception of them—a reflection of who you believe them to be, based at least in part on what you think their values are. Their brand exists in your mind (just as your brand exists in theirs) based on who you've known them to be and what you've known them to do. It's how you judge them now and how you know what to expect from them the next time you interact. It may or may not be a perception they've consciously worked to create in your mind . . . but that's getting a little ahead of our story.
Now think of someone you know well on a personal level. How would you describe your relationship with that person? Again, is this someone in whom you can confide? Someone to turn to in times of trouble? Or someone to steer clear of when the chips are down? Why does this person have a special place in your thoughts and affections? All these perceptions reflect a personal equivalent of the same brand relationships we've learned to recognize and resonate with in business.
Quality and Quantity
Personal or corporate, brands are all around us—so much so that we often look right past them or take them for granted. Some brand experts say that strong brands can "hide in plain sight." In other words, when a brand is really, really good we take it for granted, just as we can take for granted those people who are very important in our lives, and yet we rarely take the time to consider why.
Whether were aware of them or not, however, brands have tremendous power in our world.
Business considerations aside, however, what comes to mind when you think of the word "brand"? A color? A shape? A price? Maybe. But probably not. Instead, when you think about brands, chances are you think about whether you trust them or not, like them or not, remember them or not, value them or not.
Over the past two decades, when researchers have asked consumers what values they associate with brands, the number one answer is some variation on quality. Not quantity. Quality. And if you look for the dominant element in words like "trust" and "like" and "remember" and "value," you'll find it's a feeling, a strong emotional component.
Relationships have at their heart emotions—intangible attributes, not measurable ones. In the relationships that matter in your life, which rules, the head or the heart?
The heart, of course. When we flip the relationship coin, hearts invariably beat heads. Ideally, the emotions we feel (what our hearts are telling us) align closely with more objective measures (what our heads are telling us). But not always. Sometimes, in fact, the heart defies the head and we cling to feelings, positive or negative, that defy rational analysis. That doesn't make those feelings any less real, or us weird. It makes us human.
Consequently, for people to relate strongly to our personal brand, their hearts as well as their heads have to be involved. And the more positive both the quality and the quantity measurements turn out to be, the stronger the relationship will turn out to be.
In life, as in business, the relationships that have the greatest value and staying power are the ones where positive emotions predominate. The relationships between parents and children, spouses, very close friends, and long-time mentors and protégés are by definition much stronger than those between casual acquaintances. The emotional content is the difference. And it shows.
Think about the most important relationships in your life, and you'll come up with senses or feelings—emotions. When you think of your spouse, your children, your parents, or your closest friends, there's as much emotional kick in the mental image as there is in the simple objective label: "Oh, that's my dad, my mom, the love of my life, my kids, or my best buddy from college or the Navy or the team at work." Special relationships have emotions tied to them. That's what makes them so special.
Small wonder that really great brands, whether personal or product, transcend the quantifiable to conjure up powerful emotions, especially positive emotions. When a business brand achieves that status, it has real power. And when a personal brand builds similar linkages to the heart as well as the head, it too has real power.
Try this: If your best friend, spouse, or partner were a brand, what brand would they be and why? Conversely, if they were asked to describe you as a brand, what images would they come up with? Are you a Honda (efficient, reliable, functional) or a Maserati (exciting, exotic, spontaneous)? A Ritz-Carlton (high-amenity, attentive, elegant) or a Motel 6 (simple, unpretentious, efficient)? A Harvard (intellectual, demanding, teaching professional skills) or a KinderCare (safe, nurturing, teaching formative skills)?
Each is a strong, valuable brand. Each can be the appropriate brand for a given set of circumstances, yet inappropriate brand in other contexts. Whether it's right depends on the needs of the relationship, not the intrinsic nature of the product or service. You wouldn't send your high-achieving teenager to KinderCare or your four year old to Harvard. You can sleep like a baby at a Ritz-Carlton or a Motel 6, but your choice between the two may depend on whether you have a tight budget or a lavish expense account. Both a Honda and a Maserati have four tires, seats, and a steering wheel—and both can be satisfying to drive—but which one you want depends on whether you're going to a Grand Prix or the grocery store.
One Really Nice Guy
For Karl, a good example of a strong personal brand is Dr. Chip R. Bell. He's an author, a trainer, and a consultant. He has a well-developed sense of humor, an engaging Southern drawl, and a depth of expertise that extends from customer service to leadership and the protocols of great partnerships. But most importantly in this context, Chip Bell is a nice guy.
"So what?" you may say. The world is full of nice guys. Big deal.
No, Chip Bell is a nice guy. Chip Bell embodies an off-the-chart exuberance for life. To anyone who has come within the gravitational pull of his personality, he is the poster boy for contagious enthusiasm. Chip Bell radiates an active, assertive, outgoing friendliness into a room. A couple of years ago, he and Karl partnered on a consulting road trip in the Pacific Northwest, and Karl still clearly recalls witnessing dimensions of enthusiasm he had never suspected existed.
By his actions and example, Chip Bell inspired Karl—and undoubtedly a lot of other people—to take the personal brand component of optimism and enthusiasm to a whole new level. People do that to us periodically. They take something we believe is one of our own greatest strengths and redefine it right before our eyes, simultaneously transforming it and us.
But what makes Chip Bell such an extraordinary example of a strong personal brand to Karl is the sheer genuineness of his behavior, from the moment he greets you to the moment you part. When you look into Chip Bell's eyes, he's completely there. In that moment, the connection he makes has a power and a relevance that transcends anything else that's going on in the room.
Did Chip Bell set out to be the nicest, most enthusiastic guy on the planet? Not at all. He's not engaged in a competitive endeavor. Nor is it a function of his actions alone. Rather, Chip Bell values friendliness—values it extremely highly—and that, in turn, dictates his outgoing, involved behavior.
It's an amazing thing to stand next to and watch Chip Bell. There's no self-consciousness. No sense of pretense or artifice. In other words, Chip Bell's authenticity (a word we'll come back to at some length later) is so apparent that the impact it has on others is immediate and lasting.
Your values and habits may not be the same as Chip Bell's. Nor should they be, if his brand doesn't contribute to an accurate reflection of who you are. But when you can indelibly imprint yourself on the mind of someone else, you've arrived as a strong personal brand.
The Power of Two (and More)
So far, what have we established?
That brands are valuable to businesses. That relationships turn on their emotional content. That actions spring from and tie back to values. And that somebody named Chip Bell is a really nice guy.
Most importantly, we hope you can now clearly see that a brand reflects a perception or emotion maintained in somebody else's mind.
This is an area where perception is reality. It doesn't matter nearly as much what you think. It matters a whole lot what other people think. Your brand, just like the brand of a product, exists on the basis of a set of perceptions and emotions stored in someone else's head.
The good news about a perception or emotion is that once locked in place, it has tremendous staying power. Just as highly personalized perceptions and emotions stick with a product, they stick with a person. Their staying power is what gives a relationship its resilience. Once people accept the basic values of a brand, they judge their subsequent experiences with it against that norm—they interpret the actions they experience or observe in the context of the values they believe to be at the heart of the brand.
Building a personal brand is a lot more than a weekend project. For all of the talk about first impressions, brand strength actually comes from repeated impressions—impressions that, as we'll see in the next chapter, clearly stand out in the specific context of the relationship.
Getting Down to Business
What's the primary benefit to you of developing a strong personal brand? We think it's that you get to be more of who and what you are, not less. In other words, you get to live your values—to be acknowledged and receive credit not only for what you do but also for what you believe. You end up, therefore, feeling a whole lot better about life in general because—in essence and in fact—you are being true to yourself. That, to us, is the essence of personal success.
Building a strong personal brand can be very challenging, especially when you begin to apply brand-management principles in a world where so many different kinds of relationships define our lives.
In the next two chapters, we'll take a detailed look at the art of branding in modern business, with some initial observations on how to apply these principles on a personal basis. In the chapters that follow, we'll use the wisdom of the business form of branding to illustrate what makes people memorable, indispensable, invaluable, trusted, and desired—what happens when their actions connect back to their inner values. From this foundation, we'll then show you how you can use advanced branding techniques from the world of business to take your own personal brand to a much higher level with the people who matter most to you.
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