Building Your Brand

At dinner recently, I was chatting with the kids about going to a movie. The teenage girls (my daughter and her friend) were giggling over a rated R movie starring some good looking men. I commented that there was no way we could see that because, “Your mom would never forgive me.” They assured me that I could simply tell her mom that we saw something more acceptable — they said that I could lie. Then a sigh went around the table, “She would never do that, she doesn’t lie.” 

And that is what brand looks like, an instanteous certainty of who someone is and how they will act.

When I was studying branding basics in grad school, I didn’t think of it beyond its business applications. We talked about the research on brand recognition, we discussed the Tylenol scare and Johnson & Johnson’s response, and we did case study after case study on some of the strongest brands in the world. It was easy to see how important a company’s or product’s brand was to its success. I just didn’t realize until later that the concept of personal reputation is too simple — that looking at oneself as a brand is much more inclusive.

I spend a lot of time thinking and worrying about my brand. Like in business, at the end of the day that is all you really have. You can lose your possessions, your job and your looks, but the way you have acted and the impact you’ve had on others leaves an indelible aura in the world. Your brand creates a spontaneous reaction when someone hears your name. Brand is why people join communities and companies, or why they leave.

And yet there is no “good” brand — some people like Starbucks, some like McDonalds — what matters is consistency. Knowing that day after day, week after week, year after year you will get what you expect. The individuals who have the strongest brands are those who don’t shy away from who they are and how they act. Love them or hate them, their brand roars through and refuses to be compromised.

When I graduated from high school, I wanted to rebrand myself. I picked a college so far away from where I grew up that there wouldn’t be a hint of the vapor trail I had created in my first 18 years. I set about creating new experiences with a new group of people. I started over with a white piece of paper. And a funny thing happened, the same brand re-emerged. So, I stopped thinking my brand sucked and leaned into it.

It’s a lot more fun that way. Trust me.

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