If You Don't Control Your Brand, Others Will

Why Promise-Based Personal Branding Matters

By George Stephan

Managing Partner, Watermelon Social

If you are having problems building new business relationships and new opportunities, you should ask yourself, "Do I control my personal brand?" You might say, "Of course I control my brand. I have LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook pages, a biography and a website – plus I speak, publish and stay in touch with my network through posts and email … you name it."

But that doesn't necessarily mean you control your brand. Because your brand isn't what you say it is; your brand is what the public says it is. If your audience's perception of your brand isn't what you want it to be (and, more important, what you need it to be) ... then you don’t control your brand.

Want proof? Think of some of your competitors profiles on LinkedIn. What are the first words that pop into your head? They might be "highly paid but worth it." They might be "attractive but not reliable." They might be "old-fashioned and not cool." And if your descriptions are pretty much what others say, guess what – that’s how those professionals are perceived and branded. In the same way, whatever the public thinks of you right now (most first impressions start with social media) ... that's exactly what your brand is.

So how do you get control of your brand? Start by understanding your brand this way.

A brand is a promise

A brand is not a logo or a tagline (although it may include these). A brand is not a mission statement or a website (although it may be expressed in these). A brand is a promise you can keep ... a benefit to your audience that is understandable, believable, delivers superior value and differentiates you from the competition. Whatever your current branding efforts are intending to do, they are perceived by your audience as making a promise. And if that promise is not what you want to communicate, then you're in trouble.

So consider doing research with your audience to find out what they think: what your brand really is, what people perceive of you as promising.

And discover if you're standing out … in the way you want. 

Seth Godin. Purple Cow. Personal branding and digital marketing. Personal branding and social selling. Personal branding for social media. Personal branding for professionals. Personal branding for professional athletes. Online branding. Promise-based branding. Brand promise. What is a personal brand? Building business for your personal brand. Communicating your brand. Communicating your brand promise. Branding yourself. Putting a brand to your name. Developing your personal brand. How to define your personal brand. How to brand yourself on social media. Differentiating yourself on social media. Showcasing your personal brand online. Maintaining your personal brand. Personal brand story.

Avoid the commodity trap

Ask Seth Godin, business guru and bestselling author of The Purple Cow: "You're either a purple cow or you're not. You're either remarkable or invisible. Make your choice." Brands like Starbucks, Google, HBO, JetBlue and Amazon are so remarkable that customers seek them out. Brands without a remarkable brand promise risk becoming a brown cow, a cow like every other cow ... a commodity. Stand out among the 320 million+ LinkedIn users, be a purple cow!

To avoid the commodity trap, try to have "only" in your promise. Here are some that have gotten a lot of mileage: 

"Volvo. For life." Only Volvo promises you the safest ride.

"Volvo. For life." Only Volvo promises you the safest ride.

"UBS. You & Us." Only UBS promises global reach and individual attention.

"UBS. You & Us." Only UBS promises global reach and individual attention.

To really differentiate yourself, try to own the "next big thing" – the emerging benefit that resonates with your customers. Fifty years ago car makers were afraid to talk about safety. But Volvo realized that the culture was changing, that drivers wanted safety and wanted to hear about it. Volvo was the first car company to promise safety – and it has grown on that promise.

"BMW. The ultimate driving machine." Only BMW promises you the ultimate driving experience.

"BMW. The ultimate driving machine." Only BMW promises you the ultimate driving experience.

A personal brand builds a better bottom line

What does promise-based branding do for you? The first thing it does is build an emotional connection between you and your audience. By saying this is what you promise, it says this is who your customers are. It reinforces your customers’ self-image. It establishes you as the go to expert. What flows from a personal brand promise? New relationships, new opportunities, new business and a better bottom line.

How to develop a brand?

Start with a brand-promise assessment. From interviews with your audience and from a review of your competition, you learn three things: What your audience wants. What benefits you deliver. What your competitors don’t promise. Where these three circles intersect – that gap or sweet spot – can be your brand promise.

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Where do you deliver your promise?

You deliver your brand promise at every point of contact with your audience. Start with internal communications to your friends, family and business associates. So everyone knows and internalizes your promise, and becomes an ambassador for your brand. Think of how Obama won. Millions of his supporters internalized his promise of "Change we can believe in." When these supporters talked with their friends, family and co-workers they stayed "on message" and told people that’s why you should vote for Obama. In fact, to make sure everyone gets the consistent message (your promise); you might become your own CMO: Chief Messaging Officer. Then you can lead with your brand promise in social media, personal and business websites, outreach digital marketing, collateral materials, events and public relations. And sync your personal branding with corporate branding where appropriate.

Case Study: Nicholas J. Davis 

Nick came to Watermelon Social for personal branding to define and differentiate him from competition in the world of clean energy and climate change preparedness. Nick is Managing Director, Agrion Americas, the global think tank and business network for new energy, cleantech and corporate sustainability. He has helped transform Agrion into a catalyst for growth in the low carbon economy, bringing together change-makers in the public and private sectors. 

Nicholas J. Davis (Before)

Nicholas J. Davis, NEA (After)

Watermelon Social developed Nick’s branding platform that included: a new brand promise with a supporting story, a newly invented title: New Energy Architect (NEA), new photography and background imagery to add to his stature in the clean energy industry, and optimized business social pages. Nick’s “Building a New Energy Future Today” brand promise is represented in this LinkedIn summary and in other social media platforms.

Building a New Energy Future Today

Nick Davis is an executive shaping today’s new energy architecture. At a time when the world has reached a tipping point in the way we consume energy, Nick leads energy preparedness for businesses, cities, states and countries. Dedicated to supporting a better and cleaner new energy economy, he helps energy users do more with less, ensuring that future generations have an energy surplus rather than an energy deficit.

Take control

Personal branding based on a great promise helps you today and positions you for tomorrow. If you don’t take control of branding by making a great promise, your audience will continue to brand you in ways you may not want – and to that extent your future will be out of your hands and in the control of others. 

About Watermelon Social

George Stephan is Managing Partner of Watermelon Social, a personal branding and social selling company. Watermelon Social is a division of Stephan Partners, a branding and digital marketing company based in NYC.

Watermelon Social works with senior professionals, corporate teams and professional athletes who use social media for business and who believe personal branding and targeted outreach matters on LinkedIn, Twitter and other professional platforms. We are a company of strategists, writers, designers and photographers who "get" the power of social media to build brands and sales. Our promise is to help our clients grow their business in a more personal and connected way.

For additional information, visit www.watermelonsocial.com or contact George Stephan at 646-254-8516.