Earlier today I participated in an online discussion posted on the National Speakers Association Facebook page. A fellow speaker lamented that he was tired of hearing about people being a brand. His take was that companies and products are brands, but people are not.
There were dozens of comments and “likes” of comments and unscientifically, it seems that–at least with NSA members–50% believe that a human can also be a brand, and 50% believe that a human is just that: a human being. Because I am a human being who also presents all over the world on the concept of “personal branding,” I of course had to contribute my two-cents.
In fairness to my fellow NSA members, I think the answer to, “can a person be a brand,” is dependent upon one’s definition of the word “brand.” If you follow the dictionary definition, my colleague is correct, a person cannot be a brand. According to Merriam-Webster, a brand is a noun defined as “a particular product or a characteristic that serves to identify a particular product.”
Having grown up in marketing as a creative director and marketing director working on behalf of such well-known brands as Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Polaris, National Geographic, and others, I think the concept of a “brand” is so much more. To me, a brand is an unstated promise of what one can expect doing business with a company and/or purchasing a specific product or service. To me, I think the definition of a brand can be summed up in one word: trust.
In my opinion, a brand is not a logo, an image, a song, etc. It’s not the Nike swoosh, the Olympic rings, or the Geico lizard. Those are the external messages used to create a memorable emotion. Brilliantly executed, and those messages can live in our memories for a lifetime. For those in my age bracket (born before humans set foot on the moon), who can forget Mean Joe Greene trading his sweaty football jersey for a bottle of Coke; who can forget the jingle “I’d like to teach to teach the world to sing;” who can forget “where’s the beef?”
Yet even though those advertisements are permanently seared into memory, they are not the brand. Rather, they are the external representation of the brand. They are vehicles to create an emotion that we associate with a company, product, or service.
To be effective, that emotion needs to be consistent with every part of the company, product, and/or service. Powerful brands like Apple (innovative and intuitive), Nike (crush the competition), and Coke (refreshing fun) are consistent in their brand promise, and the communication’s strategies and tactics are also consistent in their delivery of that promise. In other words, in every interaction with the company do I trust that my emotional perceptions will deliver a consistent reality?
What holds true with companies/products/services, especially in today’s world, also holds true with people. For example, Tiger Woods’ brand in 2009 was certainly different than his brand in 2012. A slight incident with a fire hydrant was all it took for the world to discover that he was not consistent with his brand promise. On the other side of the personal branding spectrum, Ken Blanchard has a brand–effective leadership–and he delivers on that brand promise in his communication and in real life. My good friend and mentor Harvey Mackay has a brand–sales and networking–and he delivers it in his external communications and trust me, he delivers on his brand promise consistently with everyone he meets.
But you don’t have to be an athlete or speaker to have a personal brand. In the world of data, I can find an incredible amount of information on just about anybody. Virtually everybody communicates a brand promise, whether they know it or not.
Thirty percent of the time, the individual I’m researching has created the information, for example on a LinkedIn profile, a Facebook post, by commenting on a blog, etc.; I guess we would call that advertising. Seventy percent of the time, the person I am researching doesn’t even know that the information I’m locating even exists in a way that is publicly accessible, for example, what others say about the person, volunteer activities, donations, personal hobbies, articles, etc.; I guess we would call that public relations.
When I meet someone–whether that’s a fellow speaker, business leader or even a neighbor–is he consistent to what I find in my research? Is how someone portrays herself in a public forum (online or offline), and is what others say about her consistent with who she truly is in my own one-on-one interactions?
Bottom line: can I “trust” that reality will be consistent with my emotional perceptions gained reviewing the external messages associated with a person? Can I trust someone’s “personal brand?”
You have a personal brand. Are you doing all that you can to manage it, now that you Know More!?
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