This past Wednesday, I was invited to be a guest lecturer at Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology in Boston, where I taught a group of opticians-in-the-making about branding and marketing.
I love teaching. And by all indications, I’m good at it. But as a rule, I’m more interested in people than I am in imparting information. As such, I found myself naturally sliding into the role of mentor throughout the two-and-a-half-hour class. Whether these students ever wound up becoming opticians or not, I wanted them to go away from our short time together thinking differently about life, themselves and how they interact with others.
It’s actually not all that big a stretch to get personal when talking about branding and marketing. After all, in essence, every single one of us is an individual brand.
That is, whether we like it or not — or are even aware of it — we are constantly engaging in the same core functions as any business where marketing is concerned. We face similar challenges. And we are therefore subject to many of the same “rules” concerning success or failure.
Maybe you rail against commercialism. Maybe it gets your blood up that I’d be using capitalistic terms as a comparison in interpersonal matters. And that’s all well and good. But I’m afraid it won’t exempt you from experiencing gains and losses all the same, based on the foundational principles that follow.
Or perhaps you’d claim that you really don’t give a flying leap what anyone else thinks about you. And that may be true. Nevertheless, just as any company operating with such a mindset would suffer negative consequences, so will an individual who doesn’t qualify that statement and adjust accordingly.
Allow me to share a few terms from my Wednesday class, as well as some thoughts on how they might apply to brand you.
(noun) 1. a product or service manufactured by a particular company or other entity under a particular name.
You exist in tangible form. Moreover, you are available for public consumption (i.e., you share the world with other people). Therefore, you can be thought of as a product.
You come with intangible traits and actions that impact others. And so you are a service as well.
Due to the nature of choice, in the practical day-to-day sense, you are the maker of you. And the results of the choices you make become associated with your particular name.
Ergo, for all intents and purposes, you are a brand.
Celebrities and politicians aren’t the only ones who need to think about themselves as a brand.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re 3 or 93, consumers (i.e., other people) are sizing you up, making judgments. They’re forming opinions and sharing them liberally. And they’re deciding whether to engage with you — or to steer clear.
“Oh, come on,” you protest. “ ’Three or ninety-three’? Now you’re just being hyperbolic.”
Consider the following:
“I feel badly that I keep evading Janice’s invitations for my Bradley to play with her Hayden. But I just don’t feel comfortable having Bradley exposed to that kind of bratty behavior. Bradley is a gentle child and Hayden is a little bully.”
“I could sit and talk with my neighbor Stanley for hours on end. He has so many interesting stories to tell and still knows how to laugh, even with his wife having passed away last year.”
“Some cranky blue-haired woman got up in my face after church this morning, shaking her finger and giving me an earful about my son’s new ear gauges. Not very Christian-like — and, frankly, none of her damn business. ‘Good morning to you, too, you mean old biddy!’”
In actuality, I’ve heard versions of each of these in the last week alone, having only changed enough details to avoid getting myself into trouble with people.
That means all of us in between 3 and 93 need to consider the implications of our brand on others out in the world as well.
Perhaps it will help to think about brand you as your personhood and the effects of your choices on those around you. And just as a company’s brand choices result in profit or loss, our own interpersonal choices come back to impact us in return, for good or for ill.
(noun) 1. the unique characteristics for which a business or other entity wishes to be known, characterized in part by what sets them apart from other similar businesses or entities.
Some people think of a logo, color scheme and tagline as “brand identity.” In fact, some marketing writers say as much. But these things are just the outward symbols of something that is (or should be) decided before a business ever opens its doors.
Think of brand identity as the answers to these questions:
Who am I?
What is my driving purpose?
What are my non-negotiable principles?
What do I most want to be known for/as?
What sets me apart from others who may look similar to me on paper?
Bloggers, authors and life coaches may immediately grasp what I’m talking about. If you sound like everyone, you won’t reach anyone. Establishing a clear direction, niche and voice is vital.
Others of you may be thinking, “Well, I’m off the hook here. That’s all stuff outgoing ‘people-people’ have to worry about. I’m an introvert, so I’m quite happy to just blend in with the wallpaper.”
I’m here to tell you that there are even many brands of “quiet.” And which you are perceived to be … matters.
Some quiet people are wise. They are known as active listeners who merely reserve their words for when it really matters. So when they do speak, people listen.
Some quiet people are kind. They feel fulfilled working behind the scenes to share the things they bake, to write encouraging notes, to feed birds and tend gardens and beautify the world around them.
Some quiet people are aloof. They think of themselves as better than others. They are easily annoyed. And so they can’t be bothered to engage.
Some quiet people exude confidence even in their silence. Others remain quiet out of fear.
Some quiet people are depressed. Or angry.
Some are sociopaths.
It’s not about quietness. It’s about what’s behind it.
Introvert. Extrovert. Maybe a little of both. It’s irrelevant in terms of personal brand. Any Myers-Briggs profile can be a smashing success. And any can go down in flames. It’s not about personality type. It’s about choice.
And even if we don’t want to think about our brand identity — how we want others to see us — we’re being seen regardless. We’re becoming known for something. We’d just be leaving it up to others to decide who we are, rather than being an active participant in that process.
(verbal noun) 1. the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research, advertising and public relations.
As soon as a product, service or business is seen by someone else, marketing has begun.
Ideally, marketing is intentional and reflects the brand identity at all times. In thinking of brand you, that would be character and integrity.
However, make no mistake; just as with any company, marketing is happening whether you like it or not. It’s happening whether you choose to be involved in it or not.
Even if you were a hermit, you’d be subject to marketing by way of rumor, suspicion or urban legend.
Marketing is happening because people see you (even when you don’t think they’re looking).
Your actions are creating window displays.
Every word you speak is a commercial. Gossip to me about someone else, back stab or belittle them, and you can put money on the fact that I’ll be tucking that away, guarding myself based on the knowledge that I could just as easily be your next target.
Your social media accounts and emails are full-page spreads. Your posts and tweets are ad copy. They are creating expectations in the minds of a viewing audience. Are you the real deal … or are you guilty of false advertising?
People you don’t even know are talking about you, because someone you interacted with only briefly — no more than a blip on your radar — told someone else how wonderful [pessimistic, helpful, conceited, intelligent, mean] you were.
And that means there are unseen doors of opportunity opening or closing all around you, all the time. Job opportunities. Dating opportunities. Best-friend-of-your-life opportunities. All coming your way — or walking away — based on PR and word-of-mouth marketing going on right now.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying we should be worried about or distracted by what people think of us. One of the best things about getting older is that I care less and less if others agree with me. But that is because I’m coming from a foundation of knowing who I am and what I’m about. No target audience can include everyone. But even those who might not like me will be hard pressed to report that I am unkind, thoughtless or deceptive.
In other words, I strive to make my marketing reflect a clear brand identity.
As long as we know who we are and stay true to that identity, our accounts will be in the black at the end of the day. PR will work itself out in the long run, showing our character for what it is. And we will thrive.
(noun) 1. the impression of a product held by real or potential consumers.
Many people think that “brand identity” and “brand image” are synonymous, interchangeable. They’re not.
Brand identity is the beginning of a process, the cause.
Brand image is the result of a process, the effect.
Brand identity is how I want people to see me.
Brand image is how people actually see me.
The goal is for the two to align perfectly. But that takes being intentional.
It may take market research, by way of seeking and being open to feedback from others who will be honest with you.
Some cuts may be necessary for future growth, however hard in the short term.
You might need to shift your focus. Adjust your priorities. Change up the game plan.
But if you are diligent and consistent, making new choices when old ones are shown to be at odds with that core identity for which you want to be known, you’ll reap the benefits of a positive personal brand with a bottom line of more peace, purpose, joy and fulfilling relationships.