Branding – Making it Effective

It always amazes me at the somewhat common sense things that are shared through an intellectual prism courtesy of TED. Founded 29 years ago, TED has been spreading worthy ideas through its annual TED conferences, regional TEDx conferences and other events by bringing intellectuals and leaders from various industries to speak boldly about how the world can improve.

This week I was fortunate enough to watch two very powerful, and yet so very simple, TED presentations. Both of which center on the basic issues of persuasion and branding, and more importantly – using both to connect with customers. Because after all, what is the purpose of a brand? And if you’re in business, you must accomplish some level of positive persuasion if you wish to remain in business.

A brand, classically defined as an organization’s recognizable name, symbol, combination of characters or images that reflect the entities distinct characteristics that separate it from others, can be a very powerful persuasive tool in and of itself. From a marketing and advertising perspective though, the brand is not just the traditional definition – but much more. One TED video this weekend emphasized the point that an organization’s brand is “…what other people are saying about you when you are not in the room.” Principally enforcing the mantra that how you operate as an organization is far more important than simply your logo or slogan.

There is a significant undercurrent of brand analysis that occurs on a continuous basis due to the explosion of social media and an increased level of connection amongst various consumer bodies. Shopping mommy blogs have popped up, YouTube has allowed independent reviews from regular folks, Facebook and Twitter both serve as an immediate reflection of an organization’s product or service, Yelp allows wise shoppers to review an establishment and provide originally created content to reinforce the legitimacy of the review.

Perception is key in these instances of outside bodies influencing an organization’s brand. Management teams were not that fast in adopting social media policies that protected their brand’s presence online. Many organizations learned the hard way that they do not control their image and brand’s anymore. They can attempt to control the “official” external projection of who or what they are as an organization through countless slogans or logos, but there remains an underground environment that exists beyond the confines of an organization’s physical boundaries.

Tastemakers and early adopters on the cutting edge of consumerism are exploding on the scene regularly to attack or praise an organization. Thankfully organizations have improved the means and frequency by which they engage with consumers – of all levels. Organizations have successfully set-up independent social media customer-service departments with specially trained representatives that are engaging with customers nearly immediately after a customer voices a concern through a social media platform. On the positive side, organizations are regularly retweeting or sharing creative praise from consumers as well, thus reinforcing the “social proof” element of persuasion. Additionally, organizations are using reputation management software / processes to protect its brand from negative impacts in areas of the internet not regularly accessible.

Believe it or not – all of the above also applies to us as individuals. Regardless of if we have an independent business, each and every single one of us has a personal brand that is displayed whether we know it or not. Now, would you rather – as the manager of your individual brand – take steps to define your own brand, or would you rather allow the outside world to judge you and your actions and define your brand for you?

Much like an organization develops and protects its brand, you should as well. I have spoken about this previously, but as individuals we choose to either put ourselves out there or to stay within our comfort zone. We can either step out and be adventurous or we can maintain the status quo. We can decide if we will be trendsetters or if we will be trend-followers.

My professional and academic background is diverse, that is without question. However, I have tried to establish my personal brand as having the qualities which best reflect my abilities as a professional, regardless of the craft in which I am practicing for a client or employer. You will receive the same level quality of production whether I am operating a commercial flight, providing communication advice, forecasting the weather, or developing organizational strategies to maximize ________ (insert goal). Those who have worked with me, or who have had me work for them, would all say the same thing regarding my level of dedication towards accomplishing the goals of the organization. My mission oriented mindset was developed many years ago, and one thing is for sure – it is not going anywhere.

However, it is also key to be aware that one’s personal brand is not simply how they operate as a professional or practitioner of their craft. Much as Coca-Cola is well known for making the most delicious beverage known to man (according to my very unscientific research, just go along with it), Coca-Cola also does a lot more than just producing and selling Coke. Coca-Cola also works with local communities to improve infrastructure by building fun recreational areas for children and adults and also has a wide-ranging charitable giving operation. From the personal standpoint, these things an organization performs beyond its primary mission is similar to that of what it is an individual enjoys or represents when they are not working.

Your presence on social media says a lot about you. Be mindful of what you share, but do not be so concerned with the professional personal branding that you fail to show the relaxed personal branding. Future business partners and employers want to know that they are not just getting another quality employee or service-provider, they want to know you are not a robot and that you are capable of enjoying life beyond the tangible tasks of employment.

From the organizational paradigm, this is an effort to protect the organization’s brand when its is not in the room. Successfully managing this new landscape will mean proactively engaging with the online community and directly connecting with new audiences regularly, not only to protect the brand but to also remind folks of what it is the organization does and stands for.

As a defender of one’s personal brand, work to establish your brand through your actions and the way you interact with clients, your employer, and even your peers. Additionally, defend it. Be strategic about the things you share, but prove to potential clients and employers that you are not a robot.

The way in which others view you, or your organization, directly impacts the level of persuasion you have over consumers or future clients. Improve your brand – and then protect it, and enjoy the increased legitimacy. Whether as the best beverage maker in the world (Coca-Cola) or as professional in your trade. Regardless, wouldn’t you wish to be viewed as a subject-matter expert having some say in discussions that directly impact you – or are you enjoying sitting on the bench while decisions are made without your input? Get up and jump in – the water is warm – but not hot.

I certainly recommend enjoying the two TED videos that served as the catalyst for this blogy-blog. If you feel so inclined, here they are for your viewing pleasure. Until next week, take care!

http://www.ted.com/talks/tim_leberecht_3_ways_to_usefully_lose_control_of_your_reputation#t-373739

http://www.ted.com/talks/rory_sutherland_life_lessons_from_an_ad_man#t-978367

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