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.  😊

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.”

Is Brand a Scam . . . or the Real Deal?

Before a business owner invests the time, energy, and resources to systematically build a brand, some skeptics need to be persuaded that all this talk about branding is not a scam on the part of ad agencies and other marketers out to make money.

For starters, no less an authority of the business world than renown entrepreneur Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway fame was recently quoted as saying about the power of brands:  “Give me a $10 billion budget and ask me to bring out another Coca-Cola that makes a dent in Coca-Cola and I can’t do it.”  By inference, this statement seems to suggest that the branding of Coca Cola has a value of at least $10 billion (perhaps more).

Frankly, branding has a longer history than most people realize.

Do an Internet search for the term “history of branding,” and you get an extremely wide variety of responses.  Some talk about the cattle branding done in the 19th century wild west. An organization called Skyward traces the origins back further, saying, “The term derives from the Old Norse word brandr or ‘to burn,’ and refers to the practice of branding livestock, which dates back more than 4,000 years to the Indus Valley.”

Most sources seem to agree that some form of the concept can be attributed to the Egyptians (and ancient B.C. times) with some credit being given to the Chinese, the Greeks, the Romans, and more due to the marks put on items such as pottery to provide information about the creator and creations.  (For a good historical overview, read Skyward’s essay, “What Is Branding? A Brief History” found at https://www.skyword.com/contentstandard/branding-brief-history/.)

Obviously, the term branding has assumed a much different and more complex identity during the second half of the 20th century.  As Taylor Holland notes in the Skyward essay, “The meaning of the word has evolved so much over the centuries that even people who do it for a living have never made the connection between modern marketing and livestock.”

Contemporary branding is a 20th century phenomenon.  The advertising industry is generally credited with broadening the definition to include establishment of a corporate identity and promotion of sales.  During the “Golden Age of Advertising” in the 1950’s and 60’s, the concept started to encompass the creation of a unique personality for products – giving them qualities that often elicited an emotional response that helped foster brand loyalty.

More recently, we have seen the concept expand even further to focus on something called “the brand experience” with customer service and ease of use playing increasingly prominent roles in effective branding.  (For a quick overview of this process of evolution, see “20 milestones in the history of branding” – https://www.creativebloq.com/branding/milestones-history-branding-91516855.)

So . . . What Conclusions Can Be Drawn?

If the act of branding is, indeed, an elaborate scam, the charade is one that dates back thousands of years, has hoodwinked one of the 20th century’s most astute businessmen, and has evolved to reflect the needs of a changing world.  While the act of branding has certainly become more complicated (as has the modern world), the process still involves quick identification of a product through visual symbols such as a logo and the association of those symbols with positive attributes.  These characteristics will, in turn, always be useful to companies that must continually reprove themselves to their existing customers . . . while constantly being on the lookout for new ones.

Not Convinced?

Perhaps you are one of those people who need some numbers before you can believe.  For instance:
“Consistent branding across all channels increases revenue by 23%.”
From 80+ Branding Statistics You Should Know For 2020
– Ryan McCready, June 19, 2019.

If you are one of them, check out these 80 facts and many others found in articles made available by searching “data proving the importance of branding.”

Social Media: One More Reason to Bother! (Betting on the Long Shot)

Recently, my blogging partner published an article about getting started on Facebook, and she also set up a page for our blog – Brand Building for Small Business.  If you followed our lead and did similarly (creating your own site), you’ve probably posted several messages by now . . . and seen little tangible reason for continuing this exercise.

Well . . . the entire message of this article is “Stay the Course!”; you never know who might be paying attention and the kind of impact that person might have on your ultimate success.

Who knows? One day, you just might get kind words from the Oracle of Omaha or some other noteworthy individual that you’d like to pass along!!  Keep posting to get your social media platform ready.

My best real-world example that offers proof of the wisdom of this advice happened just a few short years ago.  I was working for GUARD (my employer at the time and an affiliate of Berkshire Hathaway).  We were just getting started with social media (an intentional delay on the part of our company), and we were experiencing slow growth in the numerical results usually used to measure success – likes, followers, visitors, shares, etc.

We had established a regular schedule (at first weekly; then twice a week shortly thereafter) for posting new content.  At that time, my employer was in the middle of a five+ year stretch of 25% per year growth and had new infrastructure needs to accommodate hiring.  As part of that process, the company had applied to the state for a significant economic development grant.  While that request seemed to have a decent chance of success because many new jobs would be created, lots of viable projects were competing for the same dollars.

Fortunately, we had just closed the books on a very good year. In fact, our run of success had been good enough that the Chairman of our ultimate parent company (Berkshire Hathaway) had elected to give us a “shout out” by name during the heavily publicized and well-attended Annual Meeting of the Shareholders in Omaha, Nebraska.  Turns out that when that gentleman, an individual by the name of Warren Buffett, chooses to praise you, people stop and take notice.

Recognizing an opportunity, we transcribed the sound bite and posted a social media mention of the message, quoting Mr. Buffett’s generous remarks.  While this content generally got more attention than our low norm at that time, the first person to “like” our message was the individual who would be responsible for evaluating our worthiness for the grant we were seeking!

Did our social media posting make a difference?  While we will probably never really know, I can’t help but believe some good was done that more than justified the entirety of the time and effort we had devoted to date to social media.

So . . . the moral of the story (especially during the early stages) is this:  you don’t have to produce eye-popping numbers for your effort to be worthwhile and totally justify the invested time and energy.  You just have to keep using the platform you’ve created to communicate your message (. . . AND YOUR BRAND!) in a number of new ways . . . and hope that somewhere along the line the right set of eyes will read your words.  (Rem:  Strong preparation creates opportunity.) 

Frankly, I’m an optimist . . . so I’m always imagining all sorts of interesting people reading my words on the other end.  Every once in a while, the imagined even becomes reality (and that IS fun)!! 

I hope you have a happy and successful New Year in 2020.   My partner and I would love to hear from you and explore suggested ways in which we might be of help.