Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How a Great Personal Brand Can Lead to Entrepreneurial Success

You must read this article if you're skeptical about the importance of branding yourself and your company. If you're already sold on the concept, then read it anyhow. It's thoroughly enjoyable. What does YOUR brand say about you?

Dan Schawbel, a personal branding expert, posted this on Facebook and I found it both interesting and applicable to most of my clients and colleagues, particularly those wh
o are entrepreneurs (a personal brand is important even if you work for someone else). You can find Dan on FB at

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Image Is Everything

Whether you’re a salesperson or a soldier, your image says everything about you.

At a cocktail party a few days ago, the conversation turned to the Marines situated at U.S. embassies. We were observing how they all are very tall and incredibly muscular, and carry huge guns that – without saying a word – tell anyone who is at the embassy to “not try anything stupid.” One gentleman, a former Marine, said that those soldiers are specifically selected to work at the embassies because of their intimidation factor. They resemble superheros, with tiny waists, huge chests and bulging biceps; they look as if a button on their shirts will pop if they gain a pound. We chuckled in agreement because that’s exactly what they look like.

Finally, the former Marine said what I had been thinking: image is everything.

Your image, and your company’s image, can be the reasons for your success or your failure. As you know from watching the news, a company’s image can be destroyed overnight. One bad public relations move or an inappropriate comment or action by your CEO (or even by an employee) can take your company from a leader in its industry to the bottom of the heap. And it will take a lot of digging to get out.

Therefore, it is critical to determine what you want your image to say about you and your company. There are four components of communication that drive that:

1. How You See Yourself

2. How Others See You

3. How You Communicate Your Image in Person

4. How You Communicate Your Image Online

How You See Yourself

Your self-confidence is likely the number one factor in your ability to sell yourself, your company, and your product or service. It’s visible from the moment you walk into a room. If you walk with purpose, have good posture and exhibit a sincere smile, people will approach you. Not only will others approach you; you’ll have the nerve to approach them. What’s the worst they can do? Walk away? Tell you that they don’t want to talk? Say no? These are all unlikely. What is more likely is that you will find your next customer or someone who can refer you to that person.

We hear it all the time among athletes and others who compete: it’s a mental game. The minute you lose in your head, you lose in reality.

How Others See You

The first impression is the one that matters most. If it’s negative, it will take a long time to change the other person’s opinion, assuming that that is even possible.

Take a few minutes to honestly assess how others see you and your company. Does that image go hand-in-hand with your vision? If you’re not sure, ask a colleague or a friend who will tell you the truth. It may hurt your feelings, but it can help your company.

Next, analyze how your competitors are viewed. Are they seen as more trustworthy, professional, and confident? If any of these is true, then you must evaluate how you can change your image by finding the one thing that makes you unique and then doing that better than anyone else.

If, after completing a competitive analysis, you determine that you’re at the top of your industry, then ask yourself and your employees if you have a clear idea of what your company provides. For example: Apple doesn’t just provide mobile devices and computers, it provides convenience. That’s where branding comes into play.

Without a clear idea of what it is that you do, then you can’t build a brand.

Communication is the number one factor in creating and maintaining your brand. Written, verbal and non-verbal means of communication tell your company’s story. However, there are times when you don’t know what that story is, how to convey it, and to whom it should be told.

Communications Strategy

To “brand” yourself and your company, you’ll need to follow – at the minimum – these few steps:

  1. Learn all about your product or service
  2. Discuss your process – how you do business, who your current clients are, and who you want your future clients to be
  3. Determine what makes you unique – take a good look at your specific product or service, compare yourself to the competition, and then decide what your unique selling proposition is
  4. Develop and implement a communications solution that fits the personality of your brand

Communication has many components, and you need to ensure that all those components work together to advance the image of your brand. If you’re a young and hip company with a “cool” product, make sure that that message is loud and clear. However, structure the message so that it’s written in the right “language” for the right audience.

Communicating Your Image In Person

It’s confusing to receive several marketing materials from the same company and not have a single one look like the other. Consistency is essential if you want to present a professional image. Once you know who you are, create a logo, choose some company colors, find a typeface that goes well with your brand, and use them consistently in everything. Letters, marketing materials, blogs, websites…you get the idea!

A consistent, well-written and professional message is also imperative. Check for spelling errors (and don’t rely solely on the spell check feature!), make sure that there are no obvious grammar mistakes, and write cohesively.

A professional appearance is just as important. Dress appropriately and ensure that your employees are doing the same. ALWAYS present a professional image, whether you’re at a business function or at the grocery store: clients are everywhere.

Sloppiness and laziness in your written, verbal and nonverbal communication is inevitably associated with the same qualities in your work. Consider this scenario: If Company A didn’t take time to edit the proposal it sent me, then how careful will it be with my very important project? I’ll hire Company B, whose proposal was professionally presented, well written and showed a level of competency that I’m confident will transcend into how it handles my project.

Whether those conclusions are valid or not, that’s how the client thinks. Next time you see your brochure, ad or other piece of written communication, really think about whether or not you would hire your company for the job.

Communicating Your Image Online

This is where communication gets really risky. With so many online communication channels, both personal and professional, it is difficult to monitor what is out there regarding you and your company. It’s challenging to control your image when others can affect it at any moment…without your knowledge!

The goal, of course, is to be proactive and develop a social media policy for your company. Here is a helpful article from BurrellesLuce,

However, many sole proprietors or startup companies don’t have the time or resources to develop an “official” policy. Many use common sense: don’t post pictures that can be misinterpreted, don’t include personal information, don’t slander anyone, don’t mention the competition...the list goes on. Right?

Oh, “no,” you say. You don’t follow these unwritten rules. Well, then maybe it’s time to consult with a social media brand strategist who can teach you how to develop an identity online that is consistent with the one that you have developed in the “real” world.


A social media brand strategist can help you do the following:

  1. Define your target audience(s)
  2. Decide why you or your company should have a social media presence
  3. Identify what online social media your company should use – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, blog, etc.
  4. Determine what information should be included in your various social media outlets
  5. Keep your message and branding consistent throughout the various mediums

A lot to think about? You bet! However, if image is indeed, “everything,” then think of what you’ll lose if you don’t.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Brand Experience looks at Internal Communications

Brand Experience looks at Internal Communications

This is a very funny video that illustrates the importance of communicating your corporate brand with your staff. Even if you know what your company's philosophy, products and culture are, it doesn't mean that your employees know. Plus, it's important that everyone in your organization is on the same page so that you can present a cohesive, consistent message to clients and others outside of your company.

"Business communication" is often mistaken for website copy, brochures, or other marketing collateral. However, true business communication begins within the organization itself. It involves branding and image development. It's about knowing your competition and differentiating yourself from "the other guys." It means talking to your colleagues, friends, and staff members to get their feedback.

Only then can you develop effective internal and external communication.

As Sydney J. Harris, American author and writer of the syndicated column, "Strictly Personal" wrote: “The two words 'information' and 'communication' are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.”

Take time to communicate within your organization and you'll reap the rewards of your efforts.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bet on the Power of Your Brand

“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” Sin City. The Hangover. With the exception of a failed ad campaign about a decade ago that touted it as a “family destination,” Vegas has worked effortlessly to build its brand as the place where adults go to play.

Interestingly, I’ve just returned from a trip to Las Vegas that seemed more like a trip to Disney World; ironically, I flew out of Orlando, where there were less children running around than there were in my hotel on the Strip.

Every year, my husband and I take a few days off from parenthood to vacation alone. Like many couples, it’s our chance to get away from it all, have some peace and quiet and do things (like eat dinner at a fancy restaurant at 10 pm and then go dancing) that you just can’t – or shouldn’t – do with young children.

Therefore, we choose to go to Vegas because it’s the perfect destination for us. We stay at a high-end, modern-looking hotel at the end of the Strip. It’s located inside a resort that has the best pool in town and has all the amenities and conveniences that we could possibly ask for during a grown-up vacation. What we never had seen, and what we certainly didn’t count on, were the hoards of crying babies, scampering toddlers, hyper kids and tweens that seemed to have invaded the resort.

Whatever became of: “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?” Perhaps these kids DID “happen” in Vegas and mom and dad were taking them back to visit. Kidding aside, it just didn’t make sense. We’ve been going to that hotel for the past five years and had never encountered the issue. Other than “The Lion King,” which has been playing at that venue for a couple of years, there were no other events scheduled for kids. In fact, most other events were definitely Vegas-like in nature, meaning that kids were not the target audience.

So what could it be? We were perplexed and a little annoyed. Our kid-less vacation had taken a turn we didn’t expect.

In Vegas, you expect to see 20-somethings passed out in the elevators, not 20-month-olds passed out from a day chock-full-of activities. You expect to find some interesting items floating in the pool, but the Silly Bandz I found threw me for a loop. I couldn’t understand the child phenomenon, but I wanted to get to the bottom of it.

I finally got my answer when I went to the spa, where I was the only customer. Now, this particular spa used to be one of the finest in Vegas. In fact, two years ago I would have had to make an appointment weeks in advance just to get in for a pedicure. This time, the appointment book was empty. Apparently, busy moms on vacation didn’t have the time or money to pamper themselves.

So I asked the spa employees about the child situation and they mentioned that during the summer (now that the economy is in the dumps), locals are booking low-cost rooms at the hotel just so that they can use the many water park-like facilities. Wow! The “staycation” phenomenon has even affected one of the largest tourist destinations in the country. And with a city like Vegas, where the heat is oppressive and there isn’t a water park in sight, booking the cheapest hotel room at the resort with the best pools is practically a deal for the locals. I suppose that they know the REAL Vegas and, as locals, can ignore the seductive marketing campaigns and take advantage of the many attractions that the city has to offer.

As a communications and branding exec, I thought about this and I realized that the Vegas board of tourism is experiencing what other companies are probably experiencing, too: the loss of their brand during harsh economic times. In an effort to drive business any way they can, they’re focusing less on their typical customers and taking business from wherever they can get it. This, while perhaps important or necessary in the short-term, is a destructive move that will not only kill the brand that they’ve worked so hard to create, but it may kill the city’s economy altogether.

If it’s the locals with children who are being wooed to the hotels, then the gambling, hard partying, bachelor/bachelorette and DINK (dual-income, no kids) crowds are being ignored. And even if they’re not being ignored, then they’re certainly being turned off by the gaggle of kids awaiting them as they step through the doors.

Naturally, it’s challenging to think of the long-term financial effects when in the short-term the bottom line needs to be met. However, in the case of Vegas – or this one resort, in particular – what will happen when the kids are back in school and the casino’s target market has been turned off by the ambiance? Plus, does the resort understand the damage that having so many kids is doing to the building itself? Kids run around, ding and scratch walls, break stuff and get things dirty (yes, I realize that not all kids do this, but the ones that I had the pleasure of seeing during this trip do). That ruins the resort, both physically and from an image perspective. That increases maintenance costs. That damages the upscale reputation of a hotel known for its coolness; George Clooney and Brad Pitt graced its halls during Ocean’s Thirteen.

I won’t be staying at this resort during my next trip to Vegas, but I hope to once again be able to visit and see that its reputation has been restored to match the image it created. However, given the economy and the damage that it’s inflicted to its own brand, I don’t know how quickly it will recover. I wonder what its marketing department is doing to ensure that the brand won’t suffer too much in the long-term? I also wonder if the marketing department is even aware of the damage that the loss of control of its brand has had for the hotel.

They took a risk and bet on the short-term gains that an upsurge in families would do to increase their bottom line and keep them in the black for the year. Let’s hope the house wins on this one.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Quality versus Quantity in Relation to Clients and Prospects

This post is by Jonathan Mead for Copyblogger: "How to Build a Successful Business with a Small Audience."

I found it interesting, particularly in this new social media frenzy that we're facing, where everyone wants to "friend" or "tweet" everyone else, without really focusing on who their target audience is and how to best reach those people. A few happy, great clients can be better than thousands of mediocre ones whom you cannot serve. Plus, scores of "followers" doesn't always equal a successful business; it may help with your PR efforts, but are you attracting the right client base? Social media is great, but there needs to be a strategy in place before you spend time (which is money, particularly for the small business owner) spreading the word about your business to potential clients.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to ask for help

Asking for help: in today's "I can do it myself" world, we often have a hard time admitting that we can't do it all. It makes us feel less competent, less intelligent and less useful. However, I argue that asking for help not only makes us the opposite of those three, but it actually allows us to increase our marketability, customer service skills, and knowledge base.

As the saying goes: "The older I get, the more I realize how little I know." In this information-driven age, have we somehow forgotten this? Or, have we determined that - with so much information available at the touch of a button - we don't need anyone's help except our own? Have we become so independent that we're affecting not only our relationships, but also our businesses?

Marketing materials are a great example of the do-it-yourself mentality that can ruin a business. Today, we have online printing companies that can help you create a (somewhat customized logo), collateral materials, and business cards. Web services make it possible for you to register a domain name, upload your logo and photos onto template (again, somewhat customizable) pages, and immediately have a web presence. Blogs and social media sites allow you to deliver information to your potential clients, colleagues and business associates. You can do it all! Or can you?

I know that I can't, and I'm quite savvy about most of that stuff. My website, which I've attempted to create myself, is atrocious. Yes, I admit it! I don't like it and I feel that it conveys the wrong image about my company. My logo: well, it's allright, but a professional would have done a better job, and I'll most likely change it in the future. My collateral materials: they're acceptable for now, but they have the potential to be so much more AND by being so much more, help me market my brand in a more efficient and visually-pleasing manner. Finally, the content on all of these is average, since I've devoted so much more time on working on others' communication materials than on my own; I'm my worst client! So, what have I learned from this experience? I need others...very, very much.

Fortunately, I am now partnering with a terrific branding expert and designer who is revamping my site (look for an upcoming blog about my own "branding consultation session" -- it was an eye-opener!). I have relationships with those in the printing business who will develop brochures and other collateral materials that I find worthy of my company and my image. And, I can hire a social media expert to keep me current regarding Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, various other sites, and SEO optimization. With all these people working with me to fulfill my business branding goals, my company will certainly have a more professional, polished look and will, undoubtedly, garner more customer and media attention.

Finally, I have the world's best business consultant who gives me sage advice, snaps me into reality regarding market potential, pricing, and customer relations, and assists me with all financial matters. This, especially, is something that I could not do myself. Or - at the very least - I could not do it efficiently, effectively or (most likely) correctly.

So learn that there is still so much more that you have to learn and refuse to do it all yourself. You're probably not a highly skilled writer, graphic designer, programmer, social media expert, financial consultant, and branding expert. Focus your time and energy on what you know best: your business. You, your customers AND your bottom line will benefit from it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Picture Can Say a Thousand Words...or Nothing At All

One of my current projects involves revamping the website of a well-known event producer; ideally, we want his revamped site to illustrate his creative vision, the tremendous scope of his projects, and his high-end clientele. To do this, of course, I'll have to generate great content to describe the events. But most of all, the site designer will need fantastic photos to showcase the events themselves. This is where we've run into a problem. And, it's a problem that I encounter with clients on a regular basis: the case of the missing photos.

For an event producer, lacking an arsenal of professional photos that showcase hundreds of events is a HUGE problem. Even the most prolific, descriptive, professional copywriter can't show someone an event. A writer can describe the magnificent lighting, the custom-made ice bar shaped like a dragon, the models wearing unitards that were designed to showcase the Tiffany jewelry; but, without photos, the images are simply those created in the potential client's mind. And, if the potential client is someone without much of an imagination, or a person who cannot visualize well, then he or she might envision some strange stuff that doesn't sound fabulous at all.

The issue of the missing photos is not limited to event producers, florists, artists, or those whose work requires visual proof of his or her abilities. If you sell a product, you need to have a great photo of that product on your site; in fact, the more photos and the more angles of the product, the better. The more you show the potential customer, the more likely it is that he or she will choose what you have to offer.

Some real estate agents, for example, know that lesson well. If you've ever searched for a home online, you'll notice that some listings have one photo, while others have dozens of photos (and often videos) showcasing the property. Which property would you be more inclined to view in person? My guess is that you'd be wary of the property with the solitary photo and be more inclined to visit the one with which you have become familiar. Again, a description of a beautiful master bathroom or gourmet kitchen is essential to adequately describe a magnificent home; but, without a photo, the description is lost on the potential buyer who may not be able to visualize granite countertops, dual vanities or a jetted tub.

Finally, if your product or service centers around you, then show your customers who you are. This can be achieved either by having photos of yourself (which I believe are key to breeding familiarity and comfort between you and your potential clients) on your site or of images that describe you or your personality.

People gravitate toward the familiar and like to see what they're getting before they purchase a product. Words are important, but the power of a good image shouldn't be overlooked. So, before you develop your site or marketing materials, make sure that your pictures say a thousand words. The copywriter will take care of the rest.

Talk, talk, talk

It's a very simple concept: tell everyone you meet about what you do. Now, I'm not suggesting that you go around boring complete strangers with endless information about yourself. However, it never hurts (under the right circumstances) to drop a few hints here and there regarding your job, service, product, etc.

One of these things is likely to happen:
  1. You'll be ignored. That's okay. It's not the end of the world. Maybe the person didn't ignore you, but simply didn't want to talk to you at that moment. But, at least he or she probably heard what you had to say and that person may contact you when you least expect it.
  2. You'll be told "no." Well, we've all been told "no" at some point in our lives. It's not a big deal. After all, not everyone will be interested in what you have to offer.
  3. You'll be lied to and the person will tell you that he is interested, when - in fact - he's not. We're all guilty of doing that, so we can't really blame him. If you say you've never done this, then you're lying right now.
  4. A person you're NOT speaking to will overhear the conversation and be interested. Your next, and perhaps even best, customer may be a couple of feet away.
  5. The person you're talking to will sincerely be interested in your product or service and will want to know more. That's when you go into "sales mode." But don't be too sales-y or the person will get turned off thinking that you were doing a sales schtick all along.
  6. The person you're talking to will like what you have to offer, but may not be able to use your product or service. However, she'll give you the names and contact info for others who are ideal customers. Leads, leads, leads...I'm guessing that it's a salesperson's second-favorite word, right after, "sold!"
Naturally, there are other scenarios and various outcomes, but more than likely, these are the situations that you'll face. None sounds too frightening, and all have the potential to gain exposure, find a new customer, or make a sale. So go on, and talk, talk, talk...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Selling Girl Scout Cookies: Why the 5 W’s and the H are the keys to any successful sales pitch.

My daughter, a Girl Scout, was gearing up for their yearly cookie sale. Her goal was to sell 200 boxes. It was an ambitious – but attainable – goal. The door-to-door sales period started in mid-January and, before taking her around the neighborhood, I asked that she practice her sales pitch. After all, she wasn’t the only Girl Scout in the area; therefore, she needed a great pitch in order to beat the competition.

I told her to go work on what she was going to say when a potential customer opened the door. After about 20 minutes, I checked on her progress. Assuming that the pitch was good to go, I thought we’d head out the door that day and start the selling marathon. Boy, was I wrong.

To ensure that the pitch covered all the basics, I asked for a demonstration. Happily, my daughter began telling me all about herself, how cookies are delicious, how the potential customer should really buy a few boxes, and on and on and on. Stopping her after a few minutes of sweet, but totally useless information, I reminded her that she had left out the essential information: the five W’s and the H.

The what???

The 5 W’s and the H, I explained, are the basis for all sales pitches (and news articles, for that matter). The letters stand for who, what, when, where, why and how. In the case of the cookie sales pitch, my daughter needed to tell her potential customers the following – and only the following – information:

  • Who: who she is (first name only), the fact that she’s a Girl Scout, and her troop number. The “who” must be limited information, per Scouting rules.
  • What: what she is selling. Cookies, yes. But, what kind of cookies? How much does each box cost? What is her favorite flavor? Know your product! Also, what is she trying to accomplish by selling the cookies? What’s her goal (for example)? “What” can have several meanings. Think of several “whats” that may be asked and be prepared to answer each.
  • When: how long is the pre-sale period? When should customers who are kind enough to pre-order expect their cookies to arrive? Will cookies be available again after the pre-sale period?
  • Where: where will customers be able to get their cookies? Will they be delivered to their homes or offices, or do they have to pick them up somewhere? Where else will the cookies be available (booths, at-home sales, etc.)?
  • Why: why should they buy them from her instead of another Scout in the neighborhood? Why should they buy cookies, period? Why should they support the Scouts? Why are cookie sales important? I could go on and on…
  • How: how does the pre-sale process work? How does she plan on reaching her goal? How do the Girl Scouts work?

After a little coaching (and a lot of groans, moans and resistance), my daughter finally had answers to the 5 W’s and the H. Ironically, the pitch was only used a couple of times due to inclement weather during the pre-sale period, but at least she learned a couple of valuable sales lessons: don’t ever assume that you are going to make the sale and never assume that the customer knows what you know. Brief, thorough information is the key to a winning sales pitch.