Understandably, many young careerists focus first on building a successful brand. However, it is just as important to understand what can negatively affect your brand, and how to avoid killing all the hard work you’ve put in so far.
A colleague of mine, Chris Collins of branddesigner.com, distinguishes between getting branded and getting labeled. Getting labeled means you’ve lost control; people are defining your brand behind your back in ways that would make you cringe, and your potential is being flushed down the toilet.
Luckily, you won’t have to fish your brand out of trouble if you avoid making these five killer mistakes:
Lack of Intention
If you don’t know exactly what your brand is, who your target audience is and what you want that audience’s perception of your brand to be, your brand becomes meaningless. I hear too many job seekers indicate they are trying to reach “everyone.” Well, reaching everyone just is not possible.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to be all things to all people, but the fact is that unfocused brands get slaughtered.
Taking Too Long to Explain What You Do
There’s a reason the art of the elevator pitch is alive and well. People have short attention spans, so your brand needs to make an immediate impact. If your brand doesn’t instantly resonate, you’ve already lost whomever you’re speaking to.
If I see someone at a conference I want to network with, I don’t approach them until I know exactly how I want to open the conversation. This most often involves identifying something to say that I know will resonate so I can develop enough rapport to connect. In branding, connecting is everything.
Those who are verbose get a polite nod – and a quick exit from the conversation.
Asking for Support Before You Clearly Demonstrate Value
Anyone who has watched “Shark Tank” knows that if you ask for a deal with an insane valuation without demonstrating value means you’ll be hearing “You’re dead to me!” before you can finish your pitch.
Similarly in the job market, your personal network, and especially employers, aren’t obligated to help you until you’ve clearly demonstrated value to them. How have you helped them? What networking karma have you established? See how you can help them.
Sowing seeds makes people want to reciprocate. No seeds, and you have nothing to sow.
Having an Average or Below-average Online Presence
Your online presence is an opportunity to clearly define your brand. And there is a very real opportunity to grow that brand and demonstrate expertise via LinkedIn, get feedback via Facebook and follow trends and employers on Twitter.
Just as social media can help build your brand, negative Google results can also spell the end of your credibility. Have you Googled yourself lately? What did you see? What do you need to fix?
Not taking great care with your social accounts, blog or personal website is the equivalent of inviting guests over to a dirty house.
Authenticity and maturity are two of the biggest factors that drive trust. Being defensive or contrived is a sure turnoff. If a contact, colleague or commenter asks you a question about your stance on an issue, do you respond with a smile… or do you get agitated?
When it comes to authenticity, realize not everyone needs to buy what you are selling. Not everyone needs to agree with you. And they won’t. But your brand depends on how you react to negativity – and how resilient you are when things aren’t going well. Turn into a troll, even once, and everyone around you will assume that is how you’ll react every time.
Building your brand is a huge investment of time and energy. Don’t let a weak brand leave your plans and goals dead on arrival… avoid these five brand killers!
I have a secret for you, though it’s hardly a revelation: most brands fail at what they are trying to accomplish. And the only thing more frustrating about how terrible so many brands are is how clueless many small businesses executives and entrepreneurs are about what branding is. Most people think of branding as simply “the logo,” but a logo is just the beginning of a brand’s visual aspect (which also includes the website, marketing materials, and ad copy – which in turn includes tag lines, marketing/PR/sales copy, and advertisements).
Importantly, a brand’s visual elements are only half of the story. Less tangible assets such as corporate culture, how the executive team and even how employees conduct themselves are all part of a brand’s DNA.
With that in mind, what are the keys to building a successful brand?
1. Create the right tagline
Spend a full day with three or four of your top team members talking about how you want to be perceived in public. What is the emotional reaction you want your audience to have when engaging the brand and what do you want them to remember? Develop your tagline based on this discussion.
2. Stand out from the crowd
Think about who your audience is. What are your top competitors doing in terms of their site look and how they are expressing themselves? Look for some core commonalities, and simultaneously prepare to identify where you can innovate and differentiate.
3. Develop your company culture
And then do all your hiring and your onboarding with this culture in mind. Don’t bring on people who could destroy client relationships you spent months or years to cultivate. Miller Felpax CEO, Steve Blue, points out in his book “The Ten Million Dollar Employee” that it only takes one customer’s bad experience with one bad employee to sabotage a multimillion-dollar investment.
4. Be patient with your brand
Take on every new outreach initiative with care. Think of it as your baby. Just as you wouldn’t start feeding solid food to a 3-month-old, don’t rush any of your outreach activities, whether they be PR, advertising, or marketing materials.
5. Be consistent
Think of your outreach as being interconnected, like a body. The brand is the brain. Public relations, advertising, marketing, and sales are all extensions of that brain, and they must be coordinated and aligned. The copy, design and language your team uses is must always be based off of the brand. If possible, don’t use multiple designers or multiple copywriters. Find people who capture the essence of your brand and use them consistently.
6. Get help
Branding isn’t easy. If it were, there would be a much greater number of stronger brands in the small business community. The reason the Nike’s, Lexus’s, and Target’s of the world can have strong brands is because they have the dollars to spend on it. But they weren’t always conglomerates; if they can achieve brand success, so can you. First, you have to nail down step one: your brand! A professional can take you through the process so you see things more clearly, get a different perspective, and go about branding in a way that will allow you to reach your market more efficiently.
7. Put people first
The brand is more than the company. It is the executive team’s and the individual employees’ personal brands as well. People do business with people. A strong CEO brand, executive brand, or personal brand helps build a positive reputation overall. Nearly everyone prefers working with businesses that are people-oriented and actually care about their customers. Be that company by embodying a people-first attitude in all that you and your employees do.
Rushing to get websites up by programmers who have no design skills and are using canned templates, bringing in the cheapest employees possible to do core functions such as customer service, picking generic business card templates with little thought, and running disjointed advertising, PR, and marketing initiatives all lead to brand stagnation and even death.
While talent can help you get your business going, your brand is what will sustain it. How does yours stack up?
Raoul Davis specializes in helping CEOs increase their visibility, revenues, and industry leadership status through a proprietary CEO branding model. He is a partner at Ascendant Group (www.ascendantstrategy.net) a proven top line revenue growth strategy firm through utilizing the power of CEO branding. Ascendant integrates brand strategy, PR, speaking engagements, book deals, social media and strategic networking to accelerate visibility.
When I work with CEOs to boost their brand through speaking engagements, social media and book deals, I often get this objection: "But I don’t want all the attention to be on me."
The CEO brand is just a starting point. Personal branding is extremely important for a company's employees as well.
The reality is that clients rarely make a personal connection with a brand — they usually make that connection with a person. An investor decides whether or not to invest based on that connection. Personal branding is vital to incrementally growing your business, and great companies are those that help employees build their own personal brands.
1. Understand the “why”
People make business decisions based heavily on the emotional connection with the person who is selling them the product or service. Having your team focus on specific areas allows team members to show clients a greater level of expertise, which will generate trust.
For instance, a financial firm should have investment advisors focused in different categories, such as investment planning for university professors, athletes, or real estate investors. Your team will be speaking a common language with clients.
2. Use LinkedIn to replace your cold calling efforts
LinkedIn allows you to target the exact people you want to go after, develop a connection with them, and then send a message.
The important thing is to demonstrate reciprocity. There are few faster actions in the world than the speed with which someone will delete a LinkedIn message that is completely one sided — and, unfortunately, 90 percent of them end up deleted.
Ditch the standard LinkedIn messages and take the time to compose a personalized note. A potential client will be much more likely to connect with someone who has clearly put thought and initiative into targeting a problem and presenting a mutually beneficial solution rather than someone who simply threw a wide net with a generic message hoping for a response.
3. Network in philanthropic organizations with your target audience
Have you ever been to a 5k or 10k road race supporting a charity? There are almost always vendor and sponsor booths around the event featuring every type of related good or service. These can vary from energy bars to athletic apparel — and even local heath care providers such as chiropractors or orthopedic specialists. Seeing those companies supporting a good cause is both priceless PR and a fantastic networking opportunity.
Have your company do the research so employees know which philanthropic groups to connect with. Providing that resource will save valuable time and free up your employees to develop client relationships.