The Brand Called “YOU.”

December 20, 2004

With a new year fast approaching, many of us reevalute our lives and jobs and make resolutions to change. So I thought it might be helpful to think about how you can best improve and build your own brand for 2005. The brand called "YOU" is the most important project you will ever work on.

First of all. What is a brand?  A brand is a name that stands for something in the mind of the customer.  Volvo stands for “safety”.  BMW stands for “driving”.  Red Bull stands for “energy.” FedEx stands for “overnight.” You’re a brand. But what do you stand for? Not an easy question for most people to answer.

It’s important to note that just because a name is well-known, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a powerful brand.  What’s a Chevrolet?  A Chevrolet is a large/small, cheap/expensive car. Consequently, Chevrolet is a weak brand.  It’s no surprise that Chevrolet has lost its brand leadership to Ford.

The most successful business people consider themselves a brand and market themselves according. And like product brands, it’s not enough to just be well-known. You also have to stand for something in the minds of other people. John Kerry was well-known but he never made his brand stand for anything. He was the alternative to Bush, but that isn’t enough to win an election. Kerry needed to define his brand in a focused, positive way. George Bush defined himself as a compassionate conservative in 2000. In 2004, his brand message was focused on protecting America.

Other interesting brands are Hollywood stars. The best film brands are stars that stand for something in the mind of the movie-going public.

· Julia Roberts  =  Pretty woman

· Bruce Willis  =  Wise guy

· John Wayne  =  Man’s man

· Arnold Schwarzenegger = Tough guy (A brand image that also worked well for his gubernatorial campaign.)

· Adam Sandler = Immature goofball

When a Hollywood star steps out of character, the results can be disastrous. For example, what was Arnold thinking when he made a movie with Danny DeVito called Junior in which Arnold gets pregnant? And when Adam Sandler has tried to be serious it hasn’t played well either. Just look at this weekend’s ticket sales from Spanglish.

So, how do you turn yourself from an ordinary person into a powerful brand?  Here are some basic branding principles to consider:

1. Do you have the right brand name?

Remember your parents gave you a name, but it doesn’t mean they were expert marketers. So if you don’t have a good brand name, change it. When Ralph Lifshitz wanted to become a famous designer, he didn’t start by working 24 hours a day designing clothes. The first thing he did was to change his name to Ralph Lauren.

2. Narrow the focus, don’t try to be great at everything.

When you ask most people what they are good at, they generally say that they are good with people, good with planning, good with strategic thinking. In other words, they are good at everything! Traditional brands know that when they narrow their focus they are able to get into the minds of their customers and prospects.  Being a specialist and narrowing your focus allows you to get into the minds of your manager, headhunter, boss, colleague, spouse, et. al.  If you try to stand for everything, you will stand for nothing.

3. Use PR to build your brand.

The best and most credible way to establish a brand is with PR. You cannot go around boasting about yourself and your brand. You need other people to do it for you. PR is a third-party endorsement of your brand, someone else saying how terrific you are. So look for ways to be mentioned in newsletters, websites, and the local media touting your success. Make speeches about your “narrow focus” and try to get publicity in trade papers and other outlets. Then reproduce that material and start a file of our accomplishments. It takes one brick at a time to build the brand called you.