NOTE: A big thanks to Robert Hamilton of www.maconraine.com for writing half this article.
Do you hear that choking sound? That sound is the last gasp of branding as we know it.
For the brand purists out there, this article is not for you. If you are BMW, Microsoft, Nike or Skippy Peanut Butter, don’t read this article.
Don’t get me wrong. Your corporate brand matters. Brands matter. But for many of the thousands of small or midmarket companies with little or no market recognition competing against thousands of identical competitors, brands are a foreign and strange concept. Impossible to measure without many thousands of dollars thrown at obtuse awareness studies.
For all of the brand investment, the definition of brand is slippery. Brand response and loyalty is getting harder to maintain. B2B customers are getting harder to reach. Fickle. Fragmented. Mass media is user generated. Long ago in web years, social media did away with the idea of “brand as simple awareness. ”
But in B2B, there is one kind of brand that is still strong and is worthy of investment. There is one kind of brand that is easy to measure. That is the personal brand. If you own a company or if you sell one-to-one at the director, VP or C-levels, of you are a director, VP or C-level executive, then your personal brand matters more than ever. A personal brand is job security. A personal brand helps you hit your quota. And, a personal brand helps you open doors.
Why? Because with a few exceptions, the two worlds of branding are colliding. The “awareness-oriented” branding that usually applies to large companies and established organizations; and the “action-oriented” branding that has more often applied to individuals. Company branding used to be centered on how they looked, how they talked, and the personality that slowly built up over time . Individuals were always identified by the actions they took, and the reputation that slowly built up over time.
No longer. A funny thing happened on the way to transparency (warts and all), universal connectivity and steady redefinition of the competitive landscape…with the increasing transparency made possible by everything being mostly one click away, action over time, the measure of execution against the brand promise, and the ability of individuals to spread the news when brand “talk” doesn’t “walk” has redefined “brand” to mean how you add value, how you serve customers, where your priorities are, how full of substance your promises are.
Brand used to be a two-dimensional thing for a lot of practitioners. Cover operations with consistent visuals and clever taglines, rinse, and repeat. But now it’s three-dimensional, it gets into the messy details of relationship, the daily executions of hard stuff, what operations are worth doing well.
Personal brand has always been about such matters — the opportunity you saw, the actions you strategized, the team you directed, the results you achieved, the areas of special expertise you developed as the landscape evolved. Advocacy of what was important, action on that advocacy, and unblinking evaluation of whether those actions made a difference.
Understanding that branding today is about the full relationship cycle, not just what the marketing slicks say, is the taproot that separates those who “get it” from those who don’t. Customers today are seeking solutions to their own three-dimensional problems and opportunities, solutions that may or may not fit neatly into your current product or service scheme. Developing a reputation that walks them through how your solution “lives,” not just how it “shows,” is the branding that differentiates, that gets remembered, that leaves behind a preference when additional solutions are needed.
The brand spotlight has moved from the public claims to the private experience of value, and accrues heavily to the individual who can tune the solution to deliver.