Personal Branding and the “Newspaper Test”

Photo Credit: Wikipiedia

At this point, most everyone has heard or seen the unfortunate occurrence between Chris Rock and Will Smith at the Oscars, so I’m not going to bother summarizing.  (If you’re interested, here’s a link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Will_Smith–Chris_Rock_slapping_incident)

You’ve most likely already heard more opinions than desired, too, so I’m going to try to keep my personal two cents out of the conversation (though I apologize in advance if I’m not wholly successful on that front).  I’d like to take a quick look at the situation from a personal branding perspective.

When your name and face are a brand, everything is harder.  There’s no time for meetings or extended deliberation, because every public word you say and action you take contributes to the ever-changing mold shaping your brand.

Prior to the Oscars, Will Smith had done a pretty remarkable job.  He started his career chanting, “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” as the Fresh Prince with DJ Jazzy Jeff.  I smile feeling a little silly even typing these collections of words, though as a child of the 80s and a teenager of the 90s, all these phrases rolled right off my tongue. 

Will Smith managed to use this start in his career as a springboard to eventually become a distinguished musician and actor with a slew of awards and accolades.  For people of my age, we grew up with the Fresh Prince and had the pleasure of watching as he evolved into something extraordinary.  Talented.  Accomplished.  Respected.  Honorable.  Now my children (12 and 14) are also fans . . . thirty-ish years since I was their age and getting jiggy with it.  Now, I’m feeling old as I type.

Anyway, I was at an extended family dinner when someone had caught the scene live.  He recounted the events for everyone, and the general consensus among our group was “good for him” (meaning Will Smith).  Having only a quick summation of the events and my faith in a strong personal brand spanning most of my life, I was inclined to believe Will Smith was in the right, too.  However, my 12-year-old son, who sometimes struggles with his own big emotions, was in the room, and the support just felt wrong.  I said (thinking mostly of him but in response to all the vocal supporters): you just never know in those situations . . . when your emotions are pounding inside of you and urging you to act . . . whether those actions will ultimately be the “right” reaction.  My son wasn’t actively involved in the discussion, so I question what (if any) of the conversation sunk in, but I do know I heard Will Smith cursing at Chris Rock echo from his phone numerous times in the days that would follow.

I digress. 

Thinking before acting means inaction in the moment, and I understand that’s dangerous territory with possible repercussions as serious as reacting incorrectly or inappropriately.  With my son, I’m going to stick with inaction being the better bet.  For an adult whose every action (or lack thereof) is reflecting a brand, my suggestion would be this:  take 30 seconds and evaluate the situation using the “newspaper test.”

Famous billionaire Warren Buffett, whose personal brand is near irreproachable, encourages his hundreds of thousands of employees to think of two measures before acting:  first — legality; then – transparency.  If illegal, stop there.  If legal but still questionable, think about the situation being described by an intelligent though unfriendly reporter in the newspaper the next day and being read by family, friends, and neighbors.  If you’re comfortable and confident with that visualization, you’re probably ok.

Right off the bat, Will’s intended actions would fail the newspaper test since assault is illegal.  His was a no-brainer when using that measure.  If you personally encounter a situation and are still unsure after using this practice, Buffett says, “it’s out.” 

Chris Rock is obviously also a very public figure with a personal brand of his own.  Watching the incident playback, he says very little after being slapped and appears almost contemplative after Smith screams at him for the second time.  He mutters quietly while laughing, seemingly having thought of a funny comeback, but he makes the decision to not engage and moves forward.  DAYS after the occurrence, he tells his stand-up audience: “I’m still processing” and promises to react publicly at some point in the future.  Chris Rock has tread very carefully.  While his original comment was extremely insensitive, his reaction (a conscientious, temporary inaction) seems to have benefitted his brand.

In closing, I would suggest we all deserve the luxury of a moment. When confronting a challenging situation, feel your feelings and then picture yourself reading the newspaper the next day. Happy branding.  😊

Small Business vs. Entrepreneurship vs. “Influencer”: Which Best Describes You?

The three categories of activity identified in the headline above have both similarities and differences. 

Since correctly recognizing the term that best describes you could have some bearing upon the way in which you brand your operation, we are using this article to explore these different categories.  That said, be aware that branding does play a key role in each . . . and you should understand that your personal brand may (but does not necessarily have to) play an important part in shaping your company’s brand.

Small Business vs. Entrepreneurship

According to the website DifferenceBetween.com

“The difference between small business and entrepreneurship mainly depends on the persuasion of growth. If the owner/owners of the business are content with the manner in which the business is currently operating and do not wish to engage in more growth opportunities, then it can be categorized as a small business. On the other hand, if the entrepreneur/entrepreneurs operate their business with a clear and creative vision and are interested in expansion opportunities, this type of business is an entrepreneurship. Since small businesses do not pursue growth, they remain small or medium scale throughout their lifespan. However, this does not mean that they are not successful; some small businesses may be cash rich.”

Entrepreneur vs. Influencers

According to a National Geographic article entitled, “Influencers:  The Modern Entrepreneur,” the following applies:

“Entrepreneurs are people who organize, manage, and take on the risks of a business. They often start a new business in response to a perceived need for a good or service. An influencer, on the other hand, is someone who has the power to affect or change people and their behavior through social media—often to get them to buy something. Influencers who start their own business certainly fall under the first part of the definition of entrepreneur, as they are managing their business and taking on risk.”

Brand Building

Typically, small businesses build brands overtime that reflect the product and/or service being provided.  The process involves finding the qualities that set the business apart from others and developing strategies to reinforce those traits and communicate them to customers.  Each interaction with the general public and consumer audience then plays a part in refining the brand to reflect the feedback received via comments, reviews, complaints, and sales.  This process of evolution should be never-ending.  (See our articles designed to help you get started building a brand.)

Very often, the brands of both entrepreneurs and influencers seem to take on the characteristics of the personal brand of the individual(s) involved.  (That said, a strong personal brand can be useful to a small business, too, which may not necessarily be seeking growth but would want strong customer retention – an attribute that could be helped by loyalty to an individual.)

Common Qualities of an Entrepreneur/Influencer

An Inc. magazine article entitled “10 Essential Characteristics of Highly Successful Entrepreneurs,” indicated that these individuals tend to be:  creative; passionate; motivated; optimistic; future-oriented; persuasive; flexible; resourceful; adventurous; and decisive.  In my experience, many of those kinds of words also ultimately end up being among those that define the brand of both the person and the company.

When I first started at GUARD (pre-Berkshire Hathaway days), the company was small (15 employees) and had been founded by a pair of entrepreneurs who had sketched the original structure of the organization on a napkin over lunch.  Frankly, each of the words identified by the Inc. article describe this husband and wife team very well . . . and also became the kinds of words that applied to the culture, products, and services of the company.

In the early days in particular, GUARD was an entrepreneurship that was independent, creative in thinking outside the box in developing unique products and services, flexible in responding to marketplace opportunities, resourceful in stretching available capital, future-oriented in building toward a big long-term goal, etc.

Understanding that personal and company brands tend to merge can be important in either choosing to intentionally build a personal brand OR in making sure steps are taken to separate the brand of the entrepreneur from that of the company.  Very often, this choice should be one of the first made by small businesses.

Ways to Enhance Your Personal Brand

Patrick Ambron in an Entrepreneur magazine article (“Is Your Personal Brand Losing You Business?”) identified four fundamental steps that could be taken to have a strong on-line foundation for a personal brand.

  • Claim your domain name.
  • Build a personal website.
  • Set up profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
  • Do some basic search engine optimization. 
    (i.e., Use your actual name wherever possible and link all your various pieces of online content to one another.)

Taking these steps can be very inexpensive and (using readily available tools) should be relatively easy.  (Learn more about personal branding.)

And So . . .

If you are an entrepreneur or influencer (or perhaps both), assume your personal brand is going to become part of your business.  Therefore, you better start paying close attention to the kind of statement you are projecting.  If, on the other hand, you are a small business, ask yourself whether customer sales/retention would be improved by linking your identity to that of your company brand . . .  or whether you want the two to make a different statement.

Ooooops!! My Personal Brand Was Showing!!

I first encountered the term “personal brand” over a decade ago.  At the time, I worked with an individual who could always be counted upon to incorporate the latest “buzz words” and concepts into his daily interactions.  The two of us were meeting with our boss at the time, and he made a passing reference to the personal brand I had established for myself, which included certain work habits we had been discussing in general terms.  After the meeting (and getting over my initial reaction of, “Huh?!”), I went back to my desk and started running some Internet searches to better understand the way in which working long hours, caring about grammar, and having a certain overall love of words had created a so-called personal brand for myself that apparently led other employees to expect to see those qualities in me even before I was formally introduced to them.

What did my search results yield?

Identify Your Personal Brand

Note: If this article is seeming familiar, you are right. We published the same piece under a different headline recently (see the original). We are republishing under a different one as part of a test to see which approach attracts the most attention. Feel free to offer any comments at the end of this story.

My co-workers were right.  A person can, indeed, consciously and/or unconsciously create “personal brand” qualities by regularly professing belief in those values and trying to support those words with accompanying actions on a regular basis.

In this instance, I was very fortunate because I was not the least bit uncomfortable with my so-called brand profile, which (while hardly very charismatic or exciting) was nevertheless useful in an occupational environment and had me liking the description well enough to try my best to sustain this image over time. 

The lesson to be learned from this message?

Whether you are aware or not, you may already have a personal brand.  If you do, learn what the brand is.  If you are content with the brand you discover, find ways to reinforce that image in people’s minds.  If you are not happy with the perception of you, begin to plot a strategy to create a more desirable personal brand.

Just remember – as is the case with all branding – the one you attempt to create must resonate with others and be consistent with their experience of you.  Otherwise, the brand won’t be “sticky” enough to last.

Official Definitions (as found on personalbrand.com)

Personal Brand: “A personal brand is a widely-recognized and largely-uniform perception or impression of an individual based on their experience, expertise, competencies, actions and/or achievements within a community, industry, and/or marketplace at large.”

Personal Branding: “The conscious and intentional effort to create and influence public perception of an individual by positioning them as an authority in their industry, elevating their credibility, and differentiating themselves from the competition to ultimately advance their career, increase their circle of influence, and have a larger impact.”

BTW – Yes, I know the above definitions have some grammatical agreement issues, but using a direct quote means you reproduce as is.  (However, I’m including this thought to show you one of the ways in which I can reinforce my personal brand, which includes being a bit of a grammarian!!)

Why Bother?  What Can a Personal Brand Do for Your Small Business?

When someone is closely identified with a company, the personal brand of that individual and the brand of the business tend to interact and merge.

For example . . .

When I hear the name of the international corporate conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, I see the face of Warren Buffett, not any of the names and logos of the hundreds of companies owned by the parent.  Consequently, Berkshire’s brand has become – at least in part – synonymous with the personal brand of Mr. Buffett (a no-nonsense image based on facts and accomplishments, a brand willing to live by results . . . not expectations, a brand that embodies basic fundamental values, and a brand that is not swayed by transient fads).

Just check out the web site at www.berkshirehathaway.com.  Simple.  Basic.  Not self-Important.  Relying upon substance, not style to win audience.

Need another example?

Apple and Steve Jobs.  If Microsoft and Bill Gates define the mainstream, Apple and Jobs were the contrarians that carved out a place – in part – by excelling at qualities not associated with the mainstream, including personal style and individual ease of use.  In other words, Jobs’ personality merged with Apple’s identity.

Consider the small businesses you have known.  I suspect that many (if not most) of these companies have a brand that reflects many of the same qualities as the owner.  Therefore, efforts to build your company’s brand can be enhanced by attempts to establish your own personal brand.

How Can You Go About Building Your Personal Brand?

You start by making sure you live the qualities you want associated with you personally.  Otherwise, the brand won’t resonate and won’t stick.  Then, you can consider taking some very conscious actions to cement your brand:

  • Embrace networking.  Use every opportunity to meet people and introduce yourself and your brand.
  • Grow your online presence.  Use blogs, forums, and social media (such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) to create a voice and personality for your brand.
  • Ask for recommendations.  Testimonials are a great way of creating trust and enhancing the authenticity of your brand.
  • Get featured in the media.  Position yourself as an expert in your field and make yourself available to reporters.  Over time, more and more will turn to you for comments.
  • Participate in forums, conferences, and events that feature your area of expertise.  Personal contacts of this kind will get your name and face out and into the public eye.

Remember, you must live your brand consistently and practice these strategies regularly.  Some people even find the act of creating personal vision and mission statements to be useful.  Regardless, your goal is to create an identity that will stay associated with you over time, though you should make sure your personal brand continues to evolve and change as the world does.

Bottom line – A Quote from Pia Silva

“With so much content and so many small businesses popping up online, a brand that connects to a person’s face is much easier to trust faster.  It takes less time and effort to build a relationship with a personal brand as compared to a business brand.”

Personal Brand(ing) – Another Way to Build Your Small Business

I first encountered the term “personal brand” over a decade ago.  At the time, I worked with an individual who could always be counted upon to incorporate the latest “buzz words” and concepts into his daily interactions.  The two of us were meeting with our boss at the time, and he made a passing reference to the personal brand I had established for myself, which included certain work habits we had been discussing in general terms.  After the meeting (and getting over my initial reaction of, “Huh?!”), I went back to my desk and started running some Internet searches to better understand the way in which working long hours, caring about grammar, and having a certain overall love of words had created a so-called personal brand for myself that apparently led other employees to expect to see those qualities in me even before I was formally introduced to them.

What did my search results yield?

Identify Your Personal Brand

My co-workers were right.  A person can, indeed, consciously and/or unconsciously create “personal brand” qualities by regularly professing belief in those values and trying to support those words with accompanying actions on a regular basis.

In this instance, I was very fortunate because I was not the least bit uncomfortable with my so-called brand profile, which (while hardly very charismatic or exciting) was nevertheless useful in an occupational environment and had me liking the description well enough to try my best to sustain this image over time. 

The lesson to be learned from this message?

Whether you are aware or not, you may already have a personal brand.  If you do, learn what the brand is.  If you are content with the brand you discover, find ways to reinforce that image in people’s minds.  If you are not happy with the perception of you, begin to plot a strategy to create a more desirable personal brand.

Just remember – as is the case with all branding – the one you attempt to create must resonate with others and be consistent with their experience of you.  Otherwise, the brand won’t be “sticky” enough to last.

Official Definitions (as found on personalbrand.com)

Personal Brand: “A personal brand is a widely-recognized and largely-uniform perception or impression of an individual based on their experience, expertise, competencies, actions and/or achievements within a community, industry, and/or marketplace at large.”

Personal Branding: “The conscious and intentional effort to create and influence public perception of an individual by positioning them as an authority in their industry, elevating their credibility, and differentiating themselves from the competition to ultimately advance their career, increase their circle of influence, and have a larger impact.”

BTW – Yes, I know the above definitions have some grammatical agreement issues, but using a direct quote means you reproduce as is.  (However, I’m including this thought to show you one of the ways in which I can reinforce my personal brand, which includes being a bit of a grammarian!!)

Why Bother?  What Can a Personal Brand Do for Your Small Business?

When someone is closely identified with a company, the personal brand of that individual and the brand of the business tend to interact and merge.

For example . . .

When I hear the name of the international corporate conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway, I see the face of Warren Buffett, not any of the names and logos of the hundreds of companies owned by the parent.  Consequently, Berkshire’s brand has become – at least in part – synonymous with the personal brand of Mr. Buffett (a no-nonsense image based on facts and accomplishments, a brand willing to live by results . . . not expectations, a brand that embodies basic fundamental values, and a brand that is not swayed by transient fads).

Just check out the web site at www.berkshirehathaway.com.  Simple.  Basic.  Not self-Important.  Relying upon substance, not style to win audience.

Need another example?

Apple and Steve Jobs.  If Microsoft and Bill Gates define the mainstream, Apple and Jobs were the contrarians that carved out a place – in part – by excelling at qualities not associated with the mainstream, including personal style and individual ease of use.  In other words, Jobs’ personality merged with Apple’s identity.

Consider the small businesses you have known.  I suspect that many (if not most) of these companies have a brand that reflects many of the same qualities as the owner.  Therefore, efforts to build your company’s brand can be enhanced by attempts to establish your own personal brand.

How Can You Go About Building Your Personal Brand?

You start by making sure you live the qualities you want associated with you personally.  Otherwise, the brand won’t resonate and won’t stick.  Then, you can consider taking some very conscious actions to cement your brand:

  • Embrace networking.  Use every opportunity to meet people and introduce yourself and your brand.
  • Grow your online presence.  Use blogs, forums, and social media (such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram) to create a voice and personality for your brand.
  • Ask for recommendations.  Testimonials are a great way of creating trust and enhancing the authenticity of your brand.
  • Get featured in the media.  Position yourself as an expert in your field and make yourself available to reporters.  Over time, more and more will turn to you for comments.
  • Participate in forums, conferences, and events that feature your area of expertise.  Personal contacts of this kind will get your name and face out and into the public eye.

Remember, you must live your brand consistently and practice these strategies regularly.  Some people even find the act of creating personal vision and mission statements to be useful.  Regardless, your goal is to create an identity that will stay associated with you over time, though you should make sure your personal brand continues to evolve and change as the world does.

Bottom line – A Quote from Pia Silva

“With so much content and so many small businesses popping up online, a brand that connects to a person’s face is much easier to trust faster.  It takes less time and effort to build a relationship with a personal brand as compared to a business brand.”