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
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
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 (Fahrenheit 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
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.”