Raise your hand if you have a personal brand?
Of course, that’s a trick question. Everyone has a brand.
A brand is your professional reputation, and it has a lot in common with your personal reputation. Just as you don't get to choose whether you have a reputation, you also don't get to choose what that reputation is. Others determine your brand and reputation based on their interactions with you.
Sometimes, marketing and branding get confused. They are closely related but not the same.
Marketing is like asking for a date. Branding is the reason someone says “yes.”
Brand by default
While others ultimately determine your brand, you do have the power to influence the brand they assign to you. This is a power you must leverage to its full benefit.
Think of the brands associated with you as having three levels:
- The industry in which you compete has a brand.
- The company which you work for also has a brand.
- Then there is your personal brand.
Humans are strange creatures; we want to categorize and label everything. Because of that, you will have a pre-determined brand even in the minds of those who have never had a single interaction with you. We call that a stereotype.
If you call on a prospect and they don’t know you, but they know your organization, they will assume you mirror the image they have of your employer. If they don’t know the organization you work for, they will assume you fit the image they have of the industry. In the insurance industry, that usually isn't a positive stereotype.
We all want to be right
You may be the furthest from the industry stereotype there is and cringe at the idea of being labeled as such. You resent how often you hear business owners state that all insurance brokers are the same. But you convince yourself that, once you get in front of them, they'll see how you're different. That seems logical, but it doesn't work that way.
Most prospects are meeting you for the first time; they don’t know you personally and probably don’t even know your agency. All that leaves them with is an assumption that you fit the industry stereotype. It is the stereotypical insurance broker they are expecting to see when you show up.
It is human nature; we all want to prove ourselves right. Proving you fit the stereotypical mold is no different. When you show up, subconsciously, they will be looking for cues from you that you fit the image they expected. Even if only 20% of your conversation falls into the stereotypical bucket, that is what will stick as they form their impression of you because it is what they expected, proving their assumptions were correct.
You may be right; you may very well have broken the mold and spent a vast majority of your time with that prospect discussing non-stereotypical ideas. However, because they weren’t looking for something different, the ideas don't affect your brand the way you hoped.
Use this to your advantage
While you can’t determine the brand someone eventually assigns to you, you can influence that assignment. By managing your brand, you can plant a seed before they meet you that you are different. You can start to mold the list of expectations they have when they meet you.
If you consistently talk about different ideas or even different perspectives on familiar topics (on your blog, website, social media, etc.), they will now be looking for those cues when they meet you. This will influence the brand they assign to you in a very positive way.
See also: Personal Connections Via Social Media
But remember, you can't just manipulate your way into a desirable brand. It must be genuine to who you are and the experience you offer. A couple of blogs and an occasional post on LinkedIn isn’t enough. You must show up consistently and be conscious of your desired brand in everything you do. Every interaction someone has with you will reinforce, strengthen or dilute your brand.
It does take work, but the results are worth the effort. A powerful brand creates trust, familiarity, differentiation and even an emotional connection with your audience. A strong brand makes your marketing and sales efforts more effective and attracts the “like-minded” to you.
You're going to have a brand no matter what. I would argue that nothing will affect your success more than effectively managing your brand.