The Brand Called You

Build and Protect The Brand Called 'You'

What comes to your mind when you hear Disney? What about Microsoft? Sony? Coke? The name DirecTV do anything for you? You don’t need to tell me, but I bet each of these conjures in you specific, even emotionally strong, thoughts and emotions. For Disney, you might picture happy children and a company that has, for years, provided beautiful, lifelong memories to adults and children alike. Microsoft? Well Bill Gates has made sure we’ve all equated the new computer age- technology advancement, in general, really- to the company he founded. With Sony, many of you may think of quality video and sound equipment such as televisions and stereos. Others may think of the efficiency with which the Japanese company is run, while still others may have negative feelings simply because it is not an American original. Coke- excuse me, Coca Cola- has been in our collective consciousness for so long that a whole brand category was created. Have you ever said “can I have a Coke”, when you really wanted a cola of any sort? I happen to prefer Pepsi, but still ask for “coke”, for some reason, when I eat out. And DirecTv! Don’t get me started with DirecTV. They probably hold the title as most known satellite television service, but for me the brand, along with my emotions toward it, has changed dramatically over the last few years. Ten years ago, DirecTv was the best thing ever! You mean I can see the Dallas Cowboy games- all of them- in the comfort of my own home, eating Frosted Flakes in my slippers?! Sign me up! Well, I still don’t miss a Cowboys game thanks to the satellite television provider, but boy have my positive feelings for DirecTV diminished. I won’t bore you with the details, at least not in this post, but let’s just say that the minute the Company loses its exclusive rights to offer the “NFL Ticket”, I will no longer be a customer.

Okay, Okay. Enough corporate brand talk. What is this, Marketing 101? What am I getting at? Well, this: have you ever thought of yourself as a brand? Ever looked at and thought about what you do, what you say, and how you act as Brand Management? Well, it is. It’s the Brand Called You. (I actually took that phrase from a Marketing class I had in Business School at Santa Clara, so if anyone from SCU is reading this, I’m giving proper credit. Go Broncos!) And like with any company, and with every brand, everything you do and say, every action taken (and not taken, for that matter) defines you. Every interaction you have with the world has a consequence. Every time someone sees you, hears you, reads about you, an impression is made, an opinion formulated.

On a much larger and more controversial scale, it’s not unlike profiling. Being a Black American, I obviously have strong feelings about profiling, at least in the media-driven sense of the word. What I realize, though, as a person that tries to read material on a wide range of topics seeking to better understand life, the world I live in, and myself; is that we all ‘profile’ in some form or fashion. It is what helps human beings survive. If we had to start from scratch mentally with every encounter, every situation, we’d be endangered every minute of every day. A young baby can see a man in a hooded sweatshirt carrying a shiny object and think nothing of it. Luckily, we adults know this scenario to be dangerous. A dog running lose through the neighborhood with a frothy mouth might make a toddler giggle, but we adults have seen and heard enough in our lifetimes to run for cover. The point I’m trying to make is that we must learn, over the years, to quickly process information in order to survive. Information on people, situations, and events. Information on relationships, work, even family. You don’t continue to loan your brother money after he’s suckered you a couple times. You quickly learn that people who don’t show up for work on time are not dependable. And sometimes we find that trying to please other people is a never-ending, often fruitless, battle.

This is productive, beneficial, even necessary profiling. But we all- ALL of us- profile in other, less positive, ways. We might think people who stutter are less intelligent. Or assume overweight people are lazy. We might think our coworkers who don’t keep tidy cubes and offices don’t care about their jobs as much as we do. Or that our spouse is disrespectful for not picking up his or her clothes. We might associate a well dressed person with success. We might think Blacks are athletic or Asians smart- naturally. Or see a quiet person and automatically assume she lacks confidence. And we do it all unconsciously and in a split second. The reason? Well, that’s complicated. It is a combination of dozens of factors, including our background and upbringing, the cumulative effect of our life experiences, and of course the media is at least partly to blame. (Isn’t it always. LOL) The best we can all do is be on the defense against these natural reactions, this natural “profiling.”

But what this post is really about is YOU. Because while you are at work profiling others, the world is at work profiling you. Okay, let’s use a different word. “Profiling” is so negative. Back to the brand called You. And just like most of us have feelings about brands even if we’ve been in touch with them in only a limited basis (most of us have feelings about brands we’ve never even purchased; what do the words Bentley, Tiffany, and Virsace mean to you?), many people will develop quick impressions about you, even after one short encounter. How you dress, how you talk, and what you say will tell people (at least they think it will) who you are and what you stand for. How you dress and keep your workspace will signal the quality of your work, even to those who have never worked closely with you. And I’ll stay clear of your skin color, religion, and gender because we have no control over them and the, but we certainly know people form judgments every day based on those.

What does this mean for you and me? For all of us. What it means is that we have a choice. We can either allow our brand to sort of define itself, leaving it up to the outside world to develop its own idea about who we are. It could be argued, after all, that we can’t really control what other people think. And while that might sound good and even be true in some respects, companies spin millions of dollars per year delivering their brand messages for a reason. It’s the same reason, I believe, that we should all take an active role in determining what that message is for our personal brands- the Brand Called You. And the reason is this: we, like companies, can indeed affect how others see us. We can help others associate certain qualities with our (brand) name. We can increase the demand for our product (ourselves). We can even develop customer (our friends and family, colleagues and bosses) loyalty. All by controlling the Brand Called You.

How? Well, that part is easy. Sort of. I’ve been wearing suits and ties to work since long before it was ever necessary in my professional career (like when I worked in a windowless data center with only male engineer coworkers). And I continue to exercise regularly so that I look good in those suits. (Wow, that sounded cocky; I really don’t mean for it to be. LOL) I continue to take necessary measures- including joining Toastmasters and seeing a speech pathologist several years ago- so that I can speak articulately and confidently, especially in business settings. I make an effort to connect personally with all of my coworkers. Some people term this 360 degree management where you network with and seek to give help so that you can receive it to your subordinates, colleagues, and superiors. Probably most importantly, I take extreme pride in my performance and productivity in all areas of my life, seeking to provide answers to questions and solutions to problems every chance I get. I do all of this because the brand I want people to see is that of an articulate, thoughtful, and productive family man, friend, and professional who is as disciplined in fitness and his personal life as he is with his career.

“But”, you may insist, “I don’t give a crap what people think!” Or maybe you even relish the less than globally accepted image you are projecting. And to that I respond, “That’s fine.” In fact, I want you to be who you are, whatever you want to be. We should all seek to be our authentic selves. But know this. Your brand- whatever that brand is- will have lasting effects. Sure, you might not care about what I’ll call the first generation of relationships you have- the relationships that you directly influence. You might be the jock in the back of the classroom that refuses to be recognized as a nerd. Mabye skating by at work, doing just enough to meet minimum expectations, allows you to devote more time to partying and having fun after hours. And you’re okay with whatever the direct ramifications are. Or perhaps you think it’s funny that your friends tease your wrinkled clothes and overall lack of organization.

But what about the relationships that branch from these ones, the relationships over which you have little, if any, control? What’s your coach going to tell the recruiter ready to offer you a scholarship when asked about your classroom habits? In the meeting your boss has with other department heads regarding “stars” in the company, do you think your name’s going to be mentioned? What if the meeting was about candidates for the first round of expected layoffs? Will your brand save or hurt you? And just where you think your brand is most safe- with friends and family- the importance of brand shows itself to be most damaging. You’re suddenly not invited to attend a baseball game with your friend’s coworkers because your friend thinks you’ll embarrass him. Or when asked by a respected and liked coworker if she has any good guy friends she could introduce, your friend mentions all of her single male friends- except you. The ripple effects of your brand are felt long after you’ve dropped the stone in the water. And you never see or hear about much of it. Unfortunately.

So what do we do about all of that? Well, as a consumer, you’ve certainly witnessed, even been part of, the spread of brand awareness. When you have a good experience with a company, service, or product, you happily spread the word. This is amplified exponentially with the Internet, but was powerful even in the days of horses and stagecoaches. Even then, Sears and Roebuck started a corporate giant by way of a simple catalog and word of mouth advertising. On the flip side, how quick are we all to complain about a terrible experience at a restaurant or poor treatment at a spa? Again, the Internet allows for quick dissemination of such information, creating more quickly than ever before ill will with current and potential customers.

The same is true for the Brand Called You. Like Microsoft and Coke, you have customers. They are your friends, your coworkers, and your family. They are strangers you meet and people to whom you are introduced. And like with Disney and DirecTV, these customers will have either a positive or negative experience with your brand. And they will carry that experience with them. If you are fortunate, you will have an opportunity to build upon that brand through multiple and continued encounters. And if you treat the customer with dignity and with respect, if you provide a value that they enjoy, a product or service that helps them in their lives; they will refer their friends and speak highly of you. And your brand will begin to pay large dividends, both directly and indirectly.

So, again, you have a choice. As I said earlier, whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not, there IS a Brand Called You. What that brand says, what that brand stands for, is entirely up to you. So, starting today, begin to look at exactly what that brand is and what you want it to be. And begin, in earnest, to control the message you send to the world, creating customer loyalty and developing lasting relationships. In the end, that’s what a strong brand is, right?

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About bbluford
I am an executive finance professional with a love for process and application development (MS Access, Excel, Quickbooks), mostly as it relates to Accounting and Business Functions. I also love to write and share ideas with other people in this world. I'm an admitted Gym Rat who works out excessively. The best summation of me is that I love to teach and to learn.

One Response to The Brand Called You

  1. Pingback: Your Personal Brand « BobbyBluford.com

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