If you run a business in today’s competitive environment, the chances are that:
- You are not the only one out there who does the things you do.
- You do not do everything quantifiably better than everyone else in your field.
- You’re not better qualified than every one of your competitors.
- Your pricing (probably) does not set your product or service apart as the cheapest, nor the most expensive, that money can buy.
- You’re not Coca Cola: you are not the biggest or best known player in your line of business.
- Your marketing budget does not extend to a sustained multi-media promotional campaign that will blow your competition out of the water.
For 99 per cent of us, the statements above are correct. So what can you do to ensure that your target customers choose to come to YOU?
The answer, of course, lies in developing your brand.
As a communications specialist, I’ve long believed that a strong brand is the biggest asset that any business can invest in. Whatever your ambitions may be, it can only ever be an advantage to stand out from the crowd for all the right reasons.
Let’s be clear: when I say “brand”, I’m not talking about snazzy fonts and logos. Those are just the tip of the iceberg. I’m talking about the unique vision of your business that your customers and advocates buy into; the values that guide your every interaction and transaction; the tone, vocabulary and mood that suffuse every point of contact with your product or your service. Logo, font, and colour palette are simply the shorthand for all of the above: the stamp that seals the deal. Invest in building a company brand that is sustainable and credible, and you will carve out a competitive position that is unique and unassailable. An investment in your brand represents an investment in the future of your business.
But for many of the SMEs and entrepreneurs I work with, establishing a great business brand is no longer quite enough.
In today’s world of content-led communications and 24/7 social media, businesses do not have the luxury of operating as the faceless entities they once were. People today want to do business with people. The modern consumer is more likely to spend money with the businesses whose stories they feel they can identify with and relate to, and in B2B settings, it’s no less true: ‘thought leadership’ is king. There’s no escaping it: like it or not, the people behind the businesses have become brands in their own right.
Your personal brand, and the brand of your business, are inextricably intertwined.
Writing for Entrepreneur.com, online marketing expert Jonathan Long puts it like this:
“Today, building your personal brand is just as important as building your company’s brand — in fact, it might even be more important. Consumers want to hear the story behind the founders — the failures, struggles and the success. This means putting yourself out there and marketing yourself in addition to your business.”
So if you’re in business, you are a brand. Simple fact. Your name is the equivalent of your company’s logo: it’s shorthand for the approach, interpersonal experience, tone, values and standards that your customers, your team and your clients will come to expect from their dealings with you. You are already living that brand. All that remains is to embrace it.
The great thing about developing your personal brand, is that it shouldn’t really feel like hard work: because there’s no rule about what your brand should be. Extroverted or introverted; formal or informal; visual or cerebral: it’s entirely up to you. In business brand development, the holy grail is to first identify and then express the unique combination of attributes and characteristics that are particular to your business, in a way that is authentic and unforced. The same is true of personal brand development: find the confidence to be yourself in the way that is natural to you, and your work is done.
The real challenge, for many of us, is how to get your personal brand ‘out there’. Whether through lack of confidence, or simple lack of time committed to the task, it’s easy to allow yourself to become invisible: in person and online. Yet in terms of brand identity, there is no worse way to be. And here’s the rub: if your authentic brand is quiet and understated, then how on earth can you showcase that to the world in a way that doesn’t compromise your authenticity in the very act of revealing it?
The key here is to embrace what’s comfortable, and reject what is not. Just because Business Rival X has a killer Instagram feed or Role Model Y writes for the Huffington Post, does not mean that you should run yourself into the ground in the attempt to mimic them. Your brand is expressed not only by what you do, but by where you do it: so focus on putting yourself in the places where you genuinely like to be, and your personal brand will shine. Write, photograph, Tweet or network: do the thing that you can do well, and your brand will grow. As with any brand, there’s no obligation to be present everywhere: just as your business should use only those communications channels that play to its strengths, so you can free yourself to focus on those modes of expression that form a natural part of your life as ‘you’.
At the risk of stating the obvious: if you have a personal social media account, you already have a personal brand. You may already curate and tend your content carefully, or it may be a shot-from-the-hip reflection of everything that passes through your mind and your line of vision: but either way, from your choice of platform to your tone and style, it provides your connections with an insight into the person that you are and the values that you hold. Embrace that, and build upon it.
However you choose to express it, personal branding is a smart investment on which you can ill afford to stint. Now, more than ever, there’s no use in hiding your light under a bushel. The modern world is a crowded place and trust me, a hidden light will not be found. So find the space to let your authentic light shine. And hey presto, your personal brand is at work for you.
Coming soon: how to build your authentic personal brand