Strategy is the brains of branding. This is true for products, for companies and for people.
One way to figure out the best self-brand strategy is to look at brand strategies from the commercial world. Start by devouring good books on individual companies and products.
Successful brands always attract analysis. Or read about how brands develop winning strategies. Once you start studying the world of commercial branding, you’ll see how the branding strategies and tactics have lessons for you too.
Here are four brand strategies from the commercial world that people have used to build a strong self-brand. And there is no reason one can’t work for you, too.
Self-Brand Strategy 1: Be the First
Everyone knows being first is an advantage. The first mover generally ends up the leader in the category and is often the one we keep in mind. And because it’s the leader, everyone believes it to be the best in its category.
Being first is a formidable advantage. Michael Dell was the first direct seller of personal computers and dominates the business. Jeff Bezos created the first online book and retail marketplace, and it is now number one. And the list goes on and on.
You’re probably thinking, “These are business giants, and this kind of accomplishment would be impossible for a mere mortal like me. How can I be number one in anything?”
You don’t have to be a brilliant inventor or genius to create a first. New categories are popping up all the time, as you’ll see once you start looking. You just need the proper mind-set. Often, you can slice the category to create a new subcategory and be first in that. Think of it as carving a new niche out of a category.
The “be the first” strategy is a very successful one for entrepreneurs, but executives can use it too. Enterprising employees or entrepreneurs often create a new market niche-whether it is a new type of product, service, or customer niche. These firsts may end up being enormously profitable for the company and for the employee’s self-brand. And there are lots of different ways to slice up a category and create a new area to be first in. If you can’t think of anything, read The Origin of Brands, by Al Ries and Laura Ries. If you still come up blank, think about the question again before going to sleep, and you’ll have answers in the morning.
Self Brand Strategy 2. Be the Leader
There are many ways to define yourself as a leader. You can be the leader of your department, your company, or your favorite charity. Or you can be the leader in sales at your company, or a leader in sales of a segment of the market.
Many professionals have a leadership claim and feel they are doing leadership things, yet they are not perceived as a leader. To be perceived as a leader, you have to lead with ideas and lead by example.
As a leader, you have to have to be able to articulate ideas that are worthy of being remembered and you have to be able to inspire others. Ideally, you want to “own” a word or an idea in the minds of your employees (or whoever the target audience is) so they will know what your battle cry is. Most important, you have to underscore your ideas with actions, preferably bold actions that demonstrate what you stand for.
Bianca, had recently been promoted to head a department at her company. Bianca’s first task was to rally her team under her leadership. (Bianca had been promoted over them.) To articulate a department mission, Bianca created a mantra, “Full Engagement.” She wanted to introduce a new sense of “engagement” – a passion for excellence, a focus on clients and innovation.
Bianca asked each of her managers for a five-page memo outlining key initiatives, including what the company should do to get employees more engaged with clients and in its businesses. And she implemented the best suggestions on “engagement.” Her group’s focus on “full engagement” landed more business and created a dynamic spirit at the company. And positioned Biana as a leader.
Self Brand Strategy 3. Be the Opposition
As much as leaders are part of the mythology of our country, so are underdogs. We have a soft spot for the rebel, the lone convention-defier who takes the opposite path of the establishment (the leader).
Volkswagen put the Anti-Leader Position strategy on the map when it introduced the VW Beetle to the United States in the late1960s. The brand was positioned as the antidote to the big car habit with now classic advertising headlines like “Think Small” and “Lemon.”
That’s why being the opposite of the leader can be a good self brand strategy. Michael Moore is a classic example. His movies and books tweak “the establishment,” whether it was big industry (Roger and Me), the NRA and the gun lobby (Bowling for Columbine) or President Bush and the war in Iraq (Farenheit 9/11).
The Anti-position can be very risky, particularly in you work in a corporation (although many of them have a few maverick employees who ride the Anti-position horse). It is a self brand strategy adopted mainly by people who are very confident in their position or have nothing to lose.
However, the Anti-Position can be a great positioning strategy for entrepreneurs. You build your point of difference for your company as the antidote to the leader. You and your company symbolize everything the leader is not. You position the leaders strengths as weaknesses.So, if you like to go against the grain, the Anti-position may be for you. The strategy is simplicity itself.
Whatever the leader in your industry or line of work is doing, think of doing the opposite within reason. You could find a market that is looking for someone just like you.
Self-Brand Strategy 4: Own an Attribute
The most common positioning strategy for brands is to own an attribute. Mercedes-Benz’s brand strategy is built around prestige, BMW’s is driving performance, Subaru’s is ruggedness, and Volvo’s is safety.
For this strategy to work best, you should select the brand attribute that is credible for you to own and gives you maximum opportunity in your category.
For example, when Pampers first developed the disposable diaper in the early 1960s, sales were poor. The marketing was positioned around convenience, a brand attribute that had a clear-cut benefit for busy moms. Moms didn’t have to disinfect and clean the diapers themselves or use an expensive diaper service. Convenience was especially beneficial for moms on the go with their babies. They didn’t have to carry stinky cloth diapers around with them until they got home. But that attribute positioning didn’t resonate with mothers. They felt guilty. Cloth diapers were best for babies, while paper diapers were best for moms. So moms voted with their hearts, and sales were poor.
Then Pampers changed its brand positioning to “better absorbency,” which was a benefit for babies. Mothers could buy the diapers and feel that they were doing what was best for their babies, not best for them. Sales took off, and cloth diapers and diaper services went the way of the buggy whip.
Every category is associated with attributes that are important to customers and prospects. And you can slice your industry, profession, or job category to find the best fit for the attribute you want to own and the category in which you want to do it. This is true regardless of your industry, whether it’s financial services, manufacturing, marketing, law, medicine, academia, or what have you.
Your job as a self-brander is to stake your claim to the attribute that is best for you and is not owned by a competitor in the arena where you will have the most impact. Benjamin, had just been promoted to president of his company. The good news: it was a great job. The bad news: it was a difficult job. Sales revenue was down, and his industry was in a serious slump. Benjamin’s first task was to rally the troops and unify the company, particularly the division heads, most of whom were strong personalities with a tight grip on their fiefdoms.
We built Benjamin’s personal-brand strategy around the attribute of follow-through. It was an important attribute, one that many colleagues and employees associated with him because of his track record. Other executives might have great creative skills or people skills, as Benjamin did, but none had his sense of accountability and follow-through.
Follow-through was an important attribute for the company at this juncture. In Benjamin’s estimation, the company’s problem was not a lack of innovative ideas but the inability to follow through internally (by getting all the various departments to work together) and with clients (by focusing on being a real business partner, not simply on closing).
Benjamin wanted to lead by example in terms of follow-through with colleagues and clients, and he also took positive action to embed the attribute in the company culture. One of the first things he did was broadcast his management philosophy to all the employees. His rallying cry was “Follow through, everywhere, all the time.”
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