What can Oprah Winfrey, Richard Branson, Kim Kardashian and Apple teach us about building a personal brand.
You may have heard buzz about the importance of building your personal brand, wonder exactly what that means and what value it brings. Those are great questions. Whether you are a store owner, manager, sales professional or other team member, Personal Branding is a concept you can leverage.
There are brands out there that are incredibly familiar, globally recognizable, even iconic. Think McDonald’s, Starbucks and Apple. We know their logos and promotional materials. We are not only familiar with their products and services, but their brands are so strong that we can imagine how their products taste, how much they might cost, the types of services we might expect, and sometimes, even how they will make us feel. But branding is not limited to products. The importance of branding and your Personal Brand should not be underestimated. Your Personal Brand is associated with your values and the value you deliver to the world.
Oprah, Kim & Richard
Let’s take a look at some familiar faces. Let’s start at the top with Oprah Winfrey. If you were to sit down with Oprah, you would have a pretty good idea how that conversation would go. You and Oprah would probably have a discussion about mindfulness, philosophy, maybe even spirituality, but you can be sure it would be deep and meaningful.
Now let’s take another example, Kim Kardashian. Now opinions aside, there is no denying that there is a strong brand there. There is also no denying that if you sat down with Kim the conversation you had would be dramatically different than the one you had with Oprah.
Let’s look at one more—Richard Branson. Now if you had the amazing opportunity to sit down with Richard Branson, you would expect to have a conversation regarding the importance for providing exceptional customer service, building a strong organizational culture or possibly giving back.
In these three theoretical conversations, your expectations would not be haphazard or accidental. Each of these prominent figures have purposefully created an image that conjures an immediate association with them, personally and professionally. The values, and qualities we associate with Oprah, Kim and Richard didn’t just happen. Their messages were crafted, honed and communicated.
Building Your Brand
So what does it mean to build a personal brand? I think Laura Lake captures the concept quite well on her website www.thebalance.com: “It’s more than a trademark; it is how you present yourself online and offline to potential clients and customers. Your personal brand builds your business, but it still centers around you as an individual.”
This topic is important regardless of whether you are the business owner or an employee, because it focuses on the individual. The concept of building a personal brand is about developing an understanding of who you are and sharing it with the world.
Here is a 5-step process for building a strong and successful personal brand.
1. Know Who You Are.
What are your core values, passions, purpose? Give it some thought. If you are the store owner, you may have previously drafted a mission or vision statement. Take a moment to read it. Review it to make sure it accurately reflects your passions, values and purpose. Perhaps it needs to be updated? Perhaps reviewing it serves as a powerful reminder of why you built this business to begin with? If you are an employee, review the organization’s mission statement and determine whether the company’s values align with your own. They may not be a direct match, but should at the very least, not conflict. As an employee, you want to be sure you are a part of an organization in which you share and support common values.
Evaluate your strengths and challenges. What do you do really well? Where could you use some help? Often the solution to correcting or compensating for shortcomings involves first admitting them, followed by parting with some cash and control. Ask yourself these questions. What risk is involved in continuing to do something myself that I am not great at? What is the cost in missed opportunity because I won’t let it go? Focusing energy on your core competencies, delegating and outsourcing where you need support will make you more efficient. Ultimately, success depends on an authentic evaluation of who you are. In the consulting work that I do, I find that many of the most effective retailers are the ones that are very clear about where their strengths lie and supplement accordingly.
This step is really about self awareness. Often times retailers try to create and display a version of their Personal Brand that is less than authentic; opting instead to portray what they think people expect or hiding insecurities behind a false mask. This is a bad idea for several reasons. First of all it is just wrong. Second, people will eventually see through it. And finally, it is exhausting to keep up the charade. People who are honest with themselves, about their strengths and weaknesses navigate business with greater ease.
2. Know Your Place.
Knowing your place requires that you become a student of the home furnishings industry and also your competition. What sets you apart? What do you do better than anyone else? What is your Unique Selling Proposition? What makes you unique? If you are struggling with this one, think back to the feedback you have received from clients and customers. Have they told you how impressed they were with your turnaround time or your incredibly creative solutions? Their comments will most likely be the same things that still excite you—the reasons why you got into this line of work in the first place.
We are living in a time of unprecedented change. So, it is more important than ever to stay current so that you can adopt a progressive approach to your business.
Personal brands will differ greatly, but the ideal is to send a message to prospects and clients that you are highly competent, an expert in your field. Highly successful sales team members are those who take it upon themselves to stay current regarding their products, their market and industry trends. Strong retail operations recognize that there is a big return on investment in professional development for ownership, management and team members. If you carefully read industry articles, attend seminars and conferences — it will serve to keep you on the cutting edge and give you a competitive advantage.
3. Make personal connections a priority.
What we are talking about here is just building positive relationships. It’s a critical skill set. No one is going to bother to try and understand your Personal Brand unless you connect with them on some level. You have to be willing to put energy into connecting. This can be as simple as expressing an authentic interest in another person. In business, this is a beautiful and unexpected thing. Expressing an authentic interest in your customer’s or client’s needs often leads to a discussion about how you can meet those needs. There is huge value in relationship building when leveraged company-wide because people want to do business with people and brands they know, like and trust.
4. Embrace quality.
If you have taken the time to build relationships, you will want to maintain those relationships by embracing quality. When I talk about offering a quality product or service I don’t mean it has to be the top of the line. Perhaps you sell sofas that retail for $699 rather than $6999. Embracing quality means clearly communicating the value of the products and service you offer, value matched with your customers. Of course, it is always a good brand building strategy to take the opportunity to go above and beyond, exceeding customer expectations whenever possible. The concept of quality also involves follow through. Don’t you love the “follow-through people” in your life? Those people who when you ask them to handle something, you don’t think twice about it? Be that follow-through person for both your external customers, co-workers and employees.
Keeping your word is powerful. Following through and keeping your word are unfortunately no longer commonplace, so it is a strong strategy to set yourself apart. It’s also the right thing to do.
5. Communicate your brand message.
You have worked hard to understand yourself, understand the furniture industry, build relationships and embrace quality. Now you need to share this information by being visible and memorable. This requires that you match your communication strategies to your target audience. In communicating your personal brand, craft a clear, consistent message. In other words, your actions, words and marketing messages should be cohesive. You can use your personal brand as a barometer. Prior to creating and posting to social media, placing an ad in the local newspaper, or uploading your design blog to LinkedIn, ask yourself, are each of those pieces of information in alignment? Do they all support your personal brand? Highly profitable retail operations have mastered the art of strong, consistent messaging and this commitment is even more powerful when embraced on an individual level as well.
Here is a final thought from someone who knows a bit about branding, Jeff Bezos of Amazon. Bezos said: “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.”
Remember, when people hear your name or the name of your store, what should come across is that you are knowledgeable, likable and trustworthy. In other words, you are someone they want to do business with.
If you want to optimally grow your retail operation, it’s important to develop and utilize the power of personal branding. This requires hiring the right people, but also on a commitment to allocating the time and resources to coaching team members on how to build strong personal brands.
Rene´Johnston-Gingrich is Vice President of Training Development for the Profitability Consulting Group, specializing in delivering the programs Design Trac: Design Skills for Retail Sales People and Sales Trac III: In Home Selling. Rene’ has owned and operated an interior design firm for 17 years and now works with organizations to ensure they have the best possible team environment.
Rene´ served as a regular columnist for The Lewiston Tribune Business Profile and is an adjunct faculty member of Lewis-Clark State College’s Business Division. Rene' has a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Interior Planning and Design and a Master’s Degree in Adult Education and Human Resource Development. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read other articles by Rene´Johnston-Gingrich