Tag Archives: Chris Farmer

Can a Leopard Change?

Personal branding cannot change who you are, but it does change how people perceive you.

CHANGE IS NOT easy. Any time we want to try something new or try to change something about ourselves, certain people are only too happy to smile and say: “A leopard cannot change its spots.”

In saying this, the clear meaning is that people do not change. That maybe we cannot change. And if we could change, it would be incredibly difficult – so much so that we would most certainly give up. That we are what we are, and we shall ever be thus.

Personally, I am not sure how much I believe that. People are changing all the time, but often we do not perceive it. The function of personal branding comes from this idea: that we can affect the perception people have of us, in order to help them understand us as we would like to be understood.

Same leopard. Same spots. But another point of view.

HAVING A PERSONAL brand today is almost obligatory. The need comes from social media and the online culture in which we have immersed ourselves. When someone wants to check us out, or find out who we are, they open Google. What the search engine spits out is the sum total of our existence online. Many HR departments and recruiters insist on perusing the social media sites of prospective candidates, asking the candidate to friend them, follow them, and link with them, and the candidates assent to be “browsed.”

Some recruiters, moreover, take a pass on anyone who either a) has no social media footprint, or b) refuses to share it out of privacy or other concerns. The mere act of writing that sentence made my skin horripilate and break out in goosebumps. The idea of being browsed is bad enough (it sounds like stalking), but being punished for refusing to submit to the prying eyes of strangers? It feels like a sci-fi plot – and a fairly predictable one too!

Nevertheless, this is how we size each other up today, and all the crying in the world will not change it.

If we like you, we swipe right. If not, thanks for playing.

The question we are looking at now, however, how we can manipulate the perception of our personal brand, especially if we effect a major change in our lives or in how we would like to be perceived. This could be as dramatic as looking for a new job, moving to a distant country, or running for public office. Or it could be much subtler: new interests, new friends, breaking old habits, changing old associations.  

Whatever the extent of the changes in your life, you will need them to be reflected in your social media presence, your personal brand. This is especially true if you are a “public” kind of person, posting often about your life. But it is also applicable if you are more discrete, if only to ensure that people know how to stay in touch with you.

Altering Perceptions

THE IMMEDIACY OF being online is both a gift and a curse. On the one hand, it allows you to be in constant contact with many people all at once, imparting rather personal and sometimes intimate information in a rather impersonal way. It overlays a gossamer net of trust over you and your “friends” – they share with you and you share with them. It is a new kind of trust, one that is quite easily given and lost, that the internet and social media engender. Psychologists aver that online chat and communications give rise to a false sense of intimacy among people who do not really know each other. This happens because we project our own feelings and opinions onto the others whenever there is an information gap.

Your personal brand, therefore, is a kind of “persona” that you create for others. People will like, follow, or connect with you because they are attracted in some way to your persona. Because faith in your persona is based on relatively little – some pictures, information, videos, or thoughtful posts – changing any part of it needs to be done carefully. Your online personal brand (excluding people you know in real life) will not include any of the shared experiences that help to create real bonds between people.

If you are looking for a new job, for example, you might consider the kind of people who will be seeing your online persona. Your current boss and colleagues might be shocked to see it, and prospective new bosses might think it a little indelicate. On LinkedIn, there are hundreds of profiles that state LOOKING FOR A NEW JOB in the headline, some of which on profiles of people who are still working.

A subtler way to approach it would be to change your headline from “Sales Representative at Acme Sales” to something like “Proven sales professional in pharmaceuticals”. The fact that you do not refer to your employer, Acme Sales, any more is a clear signal to HR people but perhaps less of a slap in the face to Acme.

What people remember is also something to consider. Last year, with the idea of starting up somewhere new, I announced to the world that I would be moving to the Philippines. When things did not work out as I hoped and I ended up NOT moving, I neglected to alter my persona. Because it felt like a setback, I failed to communicate it – but I have been answering questions about the Philippines for the past year now!

YOU MAY NEVER be able to change a leopard’s spots into a zebra’s stripes, but by curating your personal brand you can make sure that people interpret your spots in the right way. Our online culture pushes us to make snap judgements about each other based on images, but the tools exist to create a full personal brand online, as long as we do not neglect any part of it.

By paying attention to the details, introducing changes slowly and subtly as opposed to bluntly and suddenly, then you can effect a total transformation of your personal brand in very short order.

Spots aside, the leopard is still a leopard.

Website-less in Cyberspace

Branding and Your Website

Labrador has no website Since 1993, there has been a small and steady footwear manufacturer in Zemun whose rise to recognition has been less than meteoric. It is a boutique shoemaker, designing for both men and women, and bringing out new and interesting models each season. Reasonably priced and attractive, this brand should be taking the country, the region, and maybe even the world by storm.

But you will not find them on the web.

Labrador Shoes. Ask anyone around me and you will see that I have been puzzling about this brand for at least two years. I am puzzled by the strategy. I am puzzled by the existence of a website address that has nothing behind it (for at least two years). Worse still, it also shows a Wrong websiteweb address that belongs to another company! I am puzzled by the shoemaker’s ambitions and goals. Are they only interested in Belgrade? Only Serbia? Is there a reason? All things that this inquiring mind wants to know.

Labrador has a Facebook page, adorned with lovely photos of the shoes, listing retail outlets, but not referring us to any kind of headquarters. Perhaps they have the market they want. Perhaps they are happy with organic growth – after all, they have been in business now for 24 years even if I only discovered them relatively recently. Clearly, there is a reason for it. I would very much like to understand it.

It makes me think a lot more about the nature of today’s brand and business environments. There was a day when having a shop on Main Street was your ticket in. You opened your doors, you had a listing in the Yellow Pages, you perhaps took out a few ads in local papers, and Voilà! You’re a brand!

Almost.

In those days, no one could imagine a low-cost vehicle that placed you immediately in front of the entire known world. Dependence on word-of-mouth was high and, if supplemented by advertising, would be just about all you could do to get your brand out there and understood. Brands were built more slowly before the Internet: people grew to love them over time, with experience, and by testimonials.

Fast-forward to today, however, and the story is completely different. People use the web as a first resource in learning about products and brands, and even people. How many times has someone mentioned a name in a meeting and you have Googled them? Or checked them out on LinkedIn? We have developed an info-reflex that we trust more than our own brains and memories.

In this environment, it is a mystery to me how a company like Labrador – ostensibly a brand that wants to sell and wants to win hearts and minds – can be happy not having a working website.

Sine Qua Non

The reality is that a website is all but indispensible. You may not use it to sell your brand online, but it is a showcase for your brand and its messages. All the stories, the values, and the character of your brand can come out of your website. It encompasses all the value of word-of-mouth marketing in one place.

From the days before a websiteVery importantly, having a website is a legitimizer. A company without a website will not be taken as seriously as one that does. A business that only uses social media could be regarded as “cheap” or untrustworthy. Just like the Yellow Pages once was, when you can set up a website for the price of a good meal, it makes people wonder why you do not have one.

But a word of warning – your website must also be good. Since everyone else is out there online, you have to cut through the dross of bad content and poor resolution photos. You must make your website into your Brand Ambassador, always dressed for the occasion. Writing for the Entrepreneur, Tim Knox puts it nicely:

“It’s actually better to have no website at all than to have one that makes your business look bad. Your site speaks volumes about your business. It either says, ‘Hey, look, we take our business so seriously that we have created this wonderful site for our customers!’ or it screams, ‘Hey, look, I let my 10-year-old nephew design my site. Good luck finding anything!’”

– Tim W. Knox, Entrepreneur

Cyberspace, once a word reserved for Sci-fi films, is now the place where our businesses live. We owe it to ourselves and our brands to give them life and fill them with everything necessary to get to know us.

Being without a website in cyberspace is just not an option.

 

 

 

 

Love. Attraction. Branding.

We all want to be attractive. We all want to be loved.

These two desires however, while not being mutually exclusive, are certainly not the same. In your daily life and personal relationships and in your relationships that you develop with brands, the idea of being attractive is what brings you to the door. The thing that makes you stay is love.

Attraction is primarily a surface level idea. It is sensory and it appeals to us without any foreknowledge on our side. If we see someone who is attractive, we may think they look beautiful or sexy or edgy or comfortable and familiar. We don’t know the first thing about them, but when we see them at the bus stop or in the supermarket or at the gala reception, we are attracted. They have caught our eye and our attention.

Attention Please

Talking with a friend this morning, she was worried about her branding and her business. She is a yoga instructor in New Delhi and holds classes and seminars. She is well respected within her small community but is only one of many that offer her type of classes in her city.

The real problem lies therein: she has to compete with myriad others for the attention of potential students. She has to show her offer to be attractive and worthy of grabbing that attention. Not knowing how to do it, she considered the possibilities.

She could gouge her prices, trying to be the cheapest. She could offer some free service, or benefit, or product for people who sign up. My question to her is why does that make your business more attractive?

The price consideration is only a small part of the branding question. It is a rational argument. It is a justification. We may choose Brand X over Tide for our laundry detergent because Brand X is much cheaper. We rationalize the choice, even if we have never heard of X. Even if we already know and are happy with Tide.

Discounts and slashed prices are attractive in the sense that everyone likes to save money, but we still have not nailed down the question of what we are saving money on. Promoting savings works very well for a marketing campaign. If we see that Dove soap is cheaper this week than Nivea or Palmolive or Fa, then we are motivated to buy it. But we already know Dove and Nivea and Palmolive and Fa.

We know them because they have developed brands, and they mean something to us. We know Dove because of their advertising campaigns, their messages about body image, their values of wholesomeness and simplicity. We know them because we remember their logo and how their name is written – their logotype. For my friend, all this work is ahead of her.

Attractiveness is a universal desire. No matter who we are or what we do we want to be attractive. We want to stand out in a group that matters to us. It does not mean we want to be international fashion models or movies stars. It means we want people to see and appreciate us.

Attractiveness is, to be sure, a superficial consideration. This is because we do not attract from an intimate space but from a longer distance. Once we attain the intimate space, we can deepen the connection with qualities that are not necessarily visible from a billboard. This is where we can get into a brand’s personality, character, and value set. But before arriving there, we have to attract the attention of the consumer. He or she has to stop and say –

Hey, what’s this?

Even older and more recognized brands need to be attractive. This is not only to attract attention but also to maintain the status of an attractive brand, worthy of loyalty. Nike operates this way – we are attracted to the excitement generally produced by their ads. We are further attracted by the fact that many people around us have adopted the brand already. And we are attracted by the fact that its popularity – real or perceived – confers membership in a select group.

We wear Reeboks. We use iPhones. We drink Tropicana orange juice. We drive Mazdas.

Affiliation in this group is important because of the status it implies. People on the outside look at us and ask themselves if they might not want to join too. That is the appeal of branding. We buy brands for others as much as we buy them for ourselves.

As to my friend and her yoga classes, the first questions to ask are the deeper ones. What are these classes really? What do they give us? Strength? Inner peace? A centered Chi? Happiness? We must dig deep into the reasons she had for starting this business. It is not just because she knows yoga, it is because she loves it, is passionate about it, and she truly wants to share it with others.

These qualities say more about her classes than the variety offered – be it Hatha, Vipassana, Bikram, or “Hot Yoga”. Those are just names, not emotions and not feelings. A brand becomes attractive when it appeals to us directly. It must speak our language and touch us where it is most sensitive. Coke sells us love, not soft drinks. AT&T sells us family, not phone services.

Uncovering and revealing the attractiveness of a brand is a voyage of self-discovery, and one that every brand that wants to be loved must take. Your brand is your identity. More than just who you are, it is who you aspire to be.

And knowing that is infinitely more attractive than a bargain basement sale.

 

 

Questions about your brand? Want to launch something new? Contact notapipe brand consulting today and we will assess your situation, give a frank appraisal, and real ideas and usable suggestions about how we could work together to make your brand the best it can be!

Brand Refresh: The Good, the Bad, and the Smelly

Every country in the world is chock-full of smelly brands.

Old brands that have somehow survived the test of time by having no direct competition, by a sense of nostalgia, by price-gauging, or other means, sometimes boggle the imagination at how they have managed not to die. An example of that from the US market is Old Spice. Continue reading

René Magritte, Les Valuers Personnelles

Branding: It’s Only Human

Do you talk to your cat?

As humans, we tend to endow human qualities to a wide range of unlikely things. We give our pets names and we attribute to them the ability to think and understand us. We talk to the dog and the cat and the fish and the fern and allow ourselves to think that they “get” us. In fact, many pet-owners will say that their pets get them more than humans.

Our brands “get” us too!

Our brands feel the same way we do about child-labor (Nike), about ethical sourcing (Starbucks), about speed and elegance (Maserati, Alfa Romeo), about families (Apple, BMW, Heinz, Disney, McDonald’s, and many more). Our values are reflected in our brands and we choose our brands for their values.

This happens for the simple reason that a beloved brand (for us) enters into our DNA. It becomes a part of our identity, and while it is always possible to change this identifier, we only do so in changing ourselves. The change can be subtle as in a shift away from Nike to Puma, or it can be dramatic as in deleting a cigarette brand when we quit smoking. In the first case, it is a matter of our personal style and the statement it makes, in the second it is much more about deep-seated value decisions about your life. Marlboro cannot be part of your identity anymore if you have become a non-smoker.

On the other hand, people who quit smoking half-heartedly keep their identity in tact – and usually become backsliders.

Most people contain a number of brands within their personality mix. We do it in order to establish an identity both to ourselves and to the world at large. Since I am and have always been very sensitive to brands, I will use myself as a test case.

My Brands

When I am shoe shopping – which does not happen more than once a year or so – I do not go out with the intention to shop randomly until I discover what I want. If it is a new pair of sneakers, I look for Pumas. If it is work shoes, I favor Italian brands. In the first case, it is a quite specific brand. In the second, it is a specific category.

It might sound heretical to say so, but there is no quantitative difference among Puma, Nike, Converse, adidas, Reebok, or any of 20 other brands. Most have features to distinguish them, but before I leave my flat to head out to shop for them, I have already made my brand choice. I like Puma.

Why? God knows!

In my experience they do not last for more than a year without coming apart. They are less common and therefore harder to find. And they are priced at a premium compared to others. This is not a value for money choice – it is a clear brand choice.

A number of things go through my head – I like Nikes and they were among my first sneakers that I chose myself. I like how they look and feel. But I am annoyed that they are everywhere. I don’t like Reebok – the association I have with Reebok is that of a secretary walking to work with heels in her bag (that used to be a thing). And I like New Balance generally, but the name bugs me. I like Puma because it is none of these things. It seems like it is all about style. It’s about me. So my choice – in this little bit of stream-of-consciousness, which is automatically felt and never clearly articulated unless pushed to do so – is already made.

I once bought a pair on holiday because I needed a new pair (the old ones were shot) but did not find any that fit me well. But I bought them anyway and wore them for about six months while they actually hurt my feet each day.

Puma for me was an identity. It was not pushing sales down my throat. It was not about organizing contests and ten-mile runs. It simply is. And because I feel that way about the brand, I immediately filtered out the many others and concentrated my search on them.

Another of my brands includes a Mont Blanc Meisterstück pen, a brand that has been close to me for many years. I use the Mont Blanc for signing “important” documents. It is a personal ritual and part of my own brand. I also contain Alfa Romeo cars in my personal brand. Although I currently do not own one, I have had two in my life, and they are “my” car and thus a part of my brand. I will very certainly own another one again!

A few other brands – in no order – include:

Why would I include a city in my brand? For many people, their home towns are an integral part of their brands. The place where you grew up or spent your formative years becomes an integral part of your branding. For me it is Rome, Italy, even though I have lived in a number of European capitals and other countries and cities over the years. Rome is my brand without question – it is the one place that I love without needing to justify or qualify with reasons. This does not make Rome a “better” city than Paris, London, Munich, Belgrade, or Shanghai.

It makes it my city.

In all the examples above, the brands that are part of my identity are those that have had a lasting presence in my life, by my own choice. Pasta De Cecco, as another kind of example, is a remembered brand. It is unavailable in Belgrade where I am living today and I have not been able to buy it in years. But I remember how much I liked it. I can picture its logo and brand identity. I associate it with excellent pasta. And again, it may not objectively be better than Barilla or Buitoni or Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, but it is my pasta brand.

The brands we love communicate with us on a much more intimate level than those about which we are indifferent, only just “like”, or have ambivalent feelings. Looking at Place Branding (also called Nation Branding), we can break down the reasons for which Rome continues to be my brand. It appeals to a number of deep emotional triggers – nostalgia, familiarity, consistency, and trust. In Place Branding, one could use the same triggers to alter my personal brand by communicating heavily in all these areas regarding Paris, for example. It would not be a direct appeal to me – because the agencies working on Paris as a brand do not and could know me – but to the same base phenomena that attach me to Rome.

The brands that comprise me, moreover, need not be static.

Newton’s first law of motion is in play here. It is commonly stated as: “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”[1] In our context, it means that I will happily stick with my own personal brands until another one of sufficient impact comes along to bump the old ones out of the way.

Some will try. Many will fail. But some will get through!

 

 

 

 


 

[1] “Corpus omne perseverare in statu suo quiescendi vel movendi uniformiter in directum, nisi quatenus illud a viribus impressis cogitur statum suum mutare.” Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, Sir Isaac Newton, 1687.

 

Questions about your brand? Want to launch something new? Contact notapipe brand consulting today and we will assess your situation, give a frank appraisal, and real ideas and usable suggestions about how we could work together to make your brand the best it can be!

 

 

I am Brand

When you get up in the morning and look in the bathroom mirror, what brand do you see?

Bright and fresh (or gloomily pre-coffee) you see someone you know very well. It is the same person that once met a famous movie star in a breadline in Paris. It is the same person who had her first kiss in a darkened movie theatre. It the guy who crashed his old car and traded it in for a better one. Continue reading