The Brand Called “You”: Establishing Yourself as a Marketable Product
Have you ever looked at a competitor and thought, “I’m better than this person. I’m smarter. I provide a better service. Why does this guy get more customers than I?”? It’s boggling sometimes to see someone you know is a clearly inferior professional who clearly makes more money and possibly makes less.
The world is not fair.
Entrepreneurs don’t need to be told about the injustices that exist in any given industry. But there is a fair way to even the playing field to your advantage. It’s called personal branding. The leading professionals, the ones whose client bases seem to expand even during down times and who boast mid-six-figure incomes, continually attract clients because they have created a personal brand identity. And as any marketer will tell you, the brand is everything. If you want to turn yourself into a saleable, valued asset – instead of just another face in the crowd – you must build your brand.
Which Shoe is Better?
Take the multi-billion dollar category of athletic shoes. You have Nike, the colossus. Hard on its heels you have Reebok, Adidas, Fila and others. What’s the difference between them, other than logos and advertising? Virtually nothing. So why does Nike own the world of shoes?
People buy based on how a brand makes them feel emotionally. They don’t buy based on logic. If “Just do it” strikes a chord with a football player, he’s going to grab Nikes. It’s got almost nothing to do with quality. Your average American doesn’t check Consumer Reports ratings before he or she buys a pair of high-tops.
The same truths apply to any product or service, including financial services. If you can build a brand identity around your practice – something which instantly creates a reaction in your audience – you will attract clients and maintain your client base, no matter what times are like.
Charles Schwab was just a broker toiling on Wall Street. Then one day, he decides to turn his name into a brand. He sends the Street reeling with discount brokerage services, which brings up a powerful Personal Marketing principle: differentiation. But more important, Schwab turns on the marketing machine and begins saturating the media with his name, face and company identity. Years later, Schwab is perhaps the best-known name in finance to millions of Americans.
That’s the best example of turning a name into a brand. Martha Stewart is another. And there’s nothing in branding that prevents you from doing the same for your financial services business, on a smaller scale. The fundamental principles that you must follow in building your brand are:
• Differentiate yourself. Schwab and others started out by hanging their marketing hats on something that made them different from their competitors. Whether you choose to highlight your education, your high-tech equipment, an aspect of your service, or your expertise in a certain facet of finance, pick something that sets you apart from others and begin from there.
• Create a position. Your position is the place you occupy in the minds of your prospects. You might specialize in a specific service (Jiffy Lube made millions with this concept), or focus on a specific audience (real estate people often focus on a community, other’s can pick a dream client with unique needs and goals). Decide what position suits your background, abilities and audience, then build your marketing around driving that position home.
• Consistent and persistent. Once you’ve determined your position and your differentiator, create your brand by advertising yourself—over and over. Print ads, direct mail, radio, websites, speaking engagements, newspaper articles—use any medium available to communicate your name, your slogan and your message to the target audience.
• Customize your services. Once you’ve built your brand, begin changing – evolving – your services and business to fit your identity. If you preach personalized services, you need to qualify your identity by promising to offer a specified amount of one-on-one time with your clients. If you talk about your large, helpful staff, hire one. If you promise a unique specialty, back it up by offering a focused blend of products and services based on the specialty.
Branding in Action
Brian Williamson, a professional photographer in Missouri, had fallen into some less than desirable jobs in his career. It seemed, Brian was constantly being typecast as a wedding and senior portrait jobs. While Brian was making a good amount of money overall, he wasn’t making as much money per shoot as he knew he could, he was facing burn out, and he wasn’t living up to the potential of his skills. He wanted to concentrate on taking portraits for models – he knew that the work was there and that the marketplace wasn’t extremely crowded.
“It felt like I was in a rut,” said Brian. “I knew that I had to make some serious decisions if I was ever going to change my situation.” Starting in February 2000, Brian – with the help of a professional ad agency – printed and began distributing a personal brochure showcasing his works, philosophies, specialty, and his personal style of doing business. The brochure never mentioned the words “wedding” or “senior portraits.” It focused on the services he wanted to provide most.
“Of the 1,200 talent scouts, ad firms, and referred clients who received brochures on the first mailing, I received around 40 calls that led to 17 jobs,” Brain recalled. “The people who called later confided that thought they’d be comfortable working with me because I had shared my philosophies and personal information in the brochures and postcards.” After offering a referral discount to talent scouts and distributing his brochures through his happy clients, the brochure led to more and more business with every passing month.
Brian attributes the success of his brochure to the quality personal brand identity it conveyed to prospective clients. Where many photographers in the industry had reputations for being introverted and difficult to work with, he was positioned as a outgoing, caring professional who helped models take a crucial step in their careers.
A Single, Powerful Idea
Combine a personal connection with a memorable slogan and you’ve got something. A slogan is a single, powerful phrase that captures the essence of your position, your personality, and your services. Slogans like “Just Do It,” “Don’t Leave Home Without It,” and “The Ultimate Driving Machine” have become part of popular culture, showing the power of a memorable slogan.
In creating a slogan for your practice, focus on getting past trite phrases to find something that captures you as a person. Stay away from timeworn ideas and cliches that make you blend into the background. They’ve been done a million times, and they say nothing to your prospects. One of the core principles of Personal Branding is making your message unique to you, and for that you need a unique slogan. Focus on ideas that will elicit an emotional reaction from your target audience.
The Master Plan
A thorough marketing plan is the first step in any successful marketing program. Sadly, it’s a step many entrepreneurs skip. A marketing plan takes time to create and revise, and that’s time that many busy professionals simply won’t invest. If you want to brand yourself properly and spend your marketing dollars wisely, invest the time as carefully as you invest any other important facet of your business.
Some elements of a useful marketing plan:
• Budget. How much are you going to spend on your Personal Branding campaign? It’s shocking how many people create a plan without any coherent idea of what they’ll be spending. Look at your marketing budget as a percentage of your total income, and plan on spending between 15 and 30 percent of your income on marketing to conduct a proper campaign. If you think that sounds high, consider that some of the top independent professionals spend as much as 40% of their revenue on marketing.
• Strategy. What are your goals? In what amount of time? Who are your competitors, and where are they failing to meet the needs of your target audience? These are all strategic elements of your plan. They include the broad plans you have for your business: growth goals, where you’d like to be in five years, and so on. List them as specifically as possible and then outline how you’ll get there.
• Niche. Niche marketing is another tentstake of Personal Marketing. Under it, you don’t market to everyone, but to a smaller, select audience of carefully chosen prospects. It’s exclusionary marketing, and it’s proven to work. Look at the types of clients you want and the money you’d like to make, and the people in your sphere of influence who you think have the best chance of helping you reach your desired income level. Ideally, you should closely identify a single, exclusive demographic and focus your brand on their perceptions, needs, and demands.
• Tactics. What will you mail? When will you mail? How long will your mailing campaigns last? How will you distribute your brochures? What publications will you look at for print advertising? These and other deployment questions are crucial, and you must answer them all before making a move. Make sure you have complete direct mail schedules and a list of ideas for distributing brochures and other materials.
Some advisors think a marketing plan is for people who are already successful. In reality, it’s what advisors do to become successful.
Marketing Always Has an Effect
The trouble you’ll take in creating a marketing plan, developing your position and doing the demographic research in choosing your niche is well worth it for one big reason: marketing is never without effect. It either enhances your business or makes you look ridiculous. Proper Personal Branding, given a year to work its magic, will turn you into a brand that endures even when market conditions force your competitors to scramble for bottom-feeder clients.
Five tips for making the most of branding:
1. Clone Yourself. Branding gives you the chance to build equity and saleable value for your business that doesn’t depend on your sweat. By hiring the right staff to perform revenue-generating tasks that don’t involve you, you’re freeing yourself to create the most possible revenue, and building a business identity that has resale value, just as physicians and dentists do.
2. Watch Your Competitors. See what other people in your industry are doing and do the opposite. Most of them will make silly marketing mistakes, but they’ll try to take you down with them. Resist the temptation and stick to Personal Branding principles.
3. Use Your Name. Build your brand by using your name (Charles Schwab did it). You want to build a practice with enduring value around your persona and your name captures that idea better than anything else. Remember, your clients’ do not make decisions based on what is rational – it is the emotional connection they will have with you personally that will impact their decisions.
4. Publish. If at all possible, write articles, write a book, create a website. Having published information available to the public enhances your brand identity and increases your equity.
5. Saturate The Marketplace. When you think everyone in your area is sick of hearing your name, do another mailing. Research shows it takes the average consumer up to 5 strong exposures to a brand to even recognize and remember the name of a person or product! So even if you think people are sick of you, they’re not. Keep pushing your brand.
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Mark Montoya has been working in personal branding for more than a decade for hundreds of online and offline companies, small businesses and individual service professionals. His focus has been toward improving the way jobseekers find employment on the Internet. He has synthesized his expertise by helping job seekers obtain their ideal choice of employment over the Internet on his sites MyOnlineCareerSpace.com and MyOnlineCareerCoach.com, and through his books 101 Tips Every Job Seeker Should Know and The Ultimate Online Job Search eBook.
“It is the responsibility of the individual to reject the prospect of mediocrity and to strive for the betterment of society as a whole” ~ Mark Montoya