Selling products and services successfully is totally dependent on how the product or service —the brand— is perceived. Everything about the brand sends a message and creates an impression.
Nothing is in isolation when it comes to how a brand is perceived. Everything matters and companies will spend lots of time and money to make sure there are no loose ends. But what about individuals? Our individual image also sends a message and it’s part of our story. After working with brands and companies in transition, as well as teaching branding, I’ve been able to condense the process and create some “Cliff Notes” on branding so that it’s simple and thus possible to change our own brand.
It Takes Three
A brand is made up of three distinct components. There is the personality of the people that create or make the brand. Think of the influence a Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or an Elon Musk have had on their brands. The second component of a brand includes the actual attributes of the product or service. For example a Hilton Hotel is vastly different from a Motel 6 even though they both essentially provide a night’s sleep. And the third component of a brand is the image of the user, meaning that the brands we purchase and associate with are a reflection of how we see ourselves. Are you a Motel 6 or Hilton type of person, or somewhere in between? Our choices of the car we drive (import vs. domestic), the stores where we shop (Target vs. Wal-Mart), the clothes we wear (Polo vs. Banana Republic), the business apps we buy (ERP vs. PSA) etc. all say something about us and cumulatively add to our own personal brand image.
We Are Our Own Brand
Our personality drives the decisions we make, which dictates our individual appearance and value; the subsequent impression that’s created lets others know how they should perceive us. There are so many aspects to the human brand that it’s usually difficult to find just one that can really define us. We are the sum of our parts. And how we accumulate the pieces takes time and deliberation and anywhere along the way we can choose to modify our image if the situation calls for it. Like borrowing our parents’ car to make an impression on a first date. The new suit, the fitness club we belong to, or the hairstyle and designer labels we select sets the tone and sends messages about how we view ourselves and how we want to be viewed. We get to decide.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Since we’re all unique, there is no one single way to modify our brand image. But if we must, or even if we want to “upgrade” others’ perception here are a couple of things to consider:
- Not everything we change gets noticed. The new purse or car we get may go unnoticed by our family, but may send strong signals to co-workers. When modifying our image be mindful of the target.
- Begin with a personal vision. Being current with fashion and trends is fine, but usually we evolve into our own personal style, which is often unintentional and based solely on habit. Take a look at what we wear, where we go, whom we hang out with and ask whether it’s a true reflection of who we want to be. “New and improved” works with people brands too.
- Brand loyalty is the goal and is based on relationship. Everybody that we’re close to has an image of us locked in and they depend on us to maintain the principles that allowed the image to be formed to begin with. If we are truly serious about modifying our own personal brand we have to change the perception of others (our brand resides in the minds of others) or we may need to be ready to sever some ties. When or if we get locked into someone else’s image of us that we need or want to change, be aware there is a price. Price could mean time or energy or a new focus and commitment.
Listen To Our Inner Voice
Steve Jobs once said: “Don't’ let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your inner voice.” He was successful in maintaining his internal mantra and made an impact because he stayed true to his story. You can hear his story as he told it at the Stanford Commencement in 2005.
Because we all share our lives with so many different groups of people, it’s possible and very likely that we are perceived differently by each group. And the reason we exist so easily with different settings and people is because on the inside, we’re still us. That’s why true and lasting change can be a challenge. Unlike the brands we buy, the brands we are, last forever - a combination of personality, personal attributes and the image we project. In the end, it’s about making an impression. It’s our own inner voice that tells us who we really and that’s what that sets us apart. It’s the brand we can trust.