It’s Q4, which always has us thinking about the ending of one year and the beginning of another. All of this change brings on new ideas for improving business, starting with branding. An article published in Forbes Magazine, by Eric T. Wagner, outlined 9 Ways To Immediately Improve Your Brand (it also quoted Michael Jackson, which is so clever). The points made by Wagner are great ideas to implement into your Q4 business planning.
I’m starting with the man in the mirror… I’m asking him to change his ways…
Michael Jackson probably didn’t have entrepreneurial brand strategies in mind when he was crooning this song. Still, the lyrics dive right into the heart of branding.
Yes–it all starts by looking in the mirror.
That’s why I sat down with expert brand strategist Justin Foster, author of Oatmeal vs. Bacon: How to Differentiate in a Generic World, to gain some insight. Justin shares what we entrepreneurs must focus on—and why.
1. Don’t get stuck in the Information Age.
Like it or not, we’ve transcended the Information Age. Welcome to the social business era, characterized by a growing transparency (some of it unintended) that is revolutionizing the way we do business. “There’s now a distinct overlap—maybe even a full convergence—between three things that used to be separate,” says Justin. “Your brand, your culture, and your leadership style.”
First survival tip: comprehend these blurred lines.
2. Do understand the convergence between personal and professional.
“For leaders (certainly entrepreneurs), their personal brand is an integral part of their business brand; their business is a manifestation of what they believe in: their values, goals, and dreams,” explains Justin. It begins with you. Your leadership style (personal brand) is reflected in the business you create and in the teams you choose, which collectively form the culture of your company. In turn, this culture becomes your brand.
3. Don’t forget that the fish rots from the head down.
According to Justin, “Every bad brand decision is a bad leadership decision.” Leadership goes hand-in-hand with accountability. You’re not just leading by example; you’re the embodiment of your business. The face. Publicity is a magnifying glass, especially in the business world, so who you are gets amplified. If you’re a good person, that’s a tremendous brand advantage in Justin’s book: “Every story, from a customer experience to a successful PR or branding campaign, [can be] traced back to being a good person.” Just another reminder that nice guys can finish first.
4. Do work from the inside-out.
Successful brands, Justin tells me, are built “from intrinsic value (what you think about yourself) to extrinsic value (how you’re perceived in the marketplace).” In many ways, your business is an extension of yourself. Adding a little extra something to your morning oatmeal ramps up the appeal, right? Just so, branding is all about amplifying your traits and talents to appeal to the marketplace. Many people force an outside-in approach to change… which is where they lose their sense of self. Don’t do it. Instead, start from within.
5. Don’t lose your confidence.
“Ever met a sniper or a professional bull rider?” Justin asks. (Since I live in Oregon, I get to say “yes” to the latter.) Typically small, wiry, and quiet, these people’s trade value is their intrinsic value—an unshakeable self-confidence and surety. Confidence emerges from self-belief. “It’s hard to be different,” he points out. “But it’s even harder to be authentic if you don’t believe in yourself.”
6. Do be passionate, different, and authentic.
According to Justin, branding is the alchemy of three key ingredients: talent, uniqueness, and authenticity. He defines “talent” as a fusion of passion and skill. We’re all great at something. When we tap into that talent and immerse it in uniqueness and authenticity, we build our brand from the inside-out. “The most successful [people] have a fire in their belly. They have this conviction that they’re doing what they were born to do.”
Passion fuels their purpose.
Paired with conviction and confidence is the willingness to be different—and authentic. Think Muhammad Ali. Think Seth Godin. “[Be] a little bit of an outlaw, a little bit of an oddity,” Justin encourages. “It’s got to be real. And I believe everybody is a bit weird. In fact, I think it’s a little weird that somebody’s not weird, like they’re covering something up.” Embrace that which makes you different. Essentially, your very uniqueness becomes your brand.
7. Don’t try to please everybody.
The biggest pitfall in branding, Justin tells me, comes from ‘people pleasing.’ In other words, trying to please everyone. “A lot of entrepreneurs believe that they have to serve everybody. If being yourself doesn’t rub somebody the wrong way, there’s something off.”
I agree. Apart from it being impossible to create a message or solution that caters to everyone on the planet, it’d be untrue to you. You can’t do that while still being unique and authentic. Being your own person means that you’ll naturally repel some people. And yes—that’s exactly how it should be.
Winston Churchill’s take on it is my favorite: “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something in your life.”
8. Do rattle people’s emotions.
A successful brand rouses emotion. It’s riveting. Yes, even controversial. Brand strategists seek to trigger emotional responses from our right brain, the limbic, primal portion of our minds. A bit of controversy should be inevitable. Brand wars such as Apple vs. Microsoft have staunch supporters on each side. Justin summarizes it perfectly: “If you cannot generate emotion, there is no brand.”
9. Don’t eliminate all boundaries.
In this social network era of transparency, the lines between our professional and personal circles of life are rearranging themselves in an almost eclipsed Venn Diagram, featuring plenty of overlap. As entrepreneurs, we can use this to our advantage by using our personal brands as the cornerstone for our business brands. There are no “rules” for where your company brand ends and your personal brand begins, Justin reminds me, but there are certainly limits. Character and emotional intelligence are what will stop you from oversharing or sharing the wrong information. Be smart, be courageous, be you.
Today and every day, start with the person in the mirror.