People Don’t Like You and That’s OK

Your brand is not for everyone. The sooner you stop worrying about being liked and focus on the people you can best serve, the sooner you will create a distinctive personal brand.

crying child

Acceptance is a basic human need. Psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed love and belonging (i.e., having relationships with others) as being one of five types of needs we strive to meet. In Maslow’s hierarchy, these social needs sit squarely in the middle, pursued once physiological and safety needs are met. When we are satisfied with relationships and acceptance from others, we are freed to pursue higher level needs: esteem (feeling of accomplishment) and self-actualization (achieving one’s full potential). Please don’t leave; the psychology less is now over!

I share a brief review of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs with you because it has implications for personal branding. Our pursuit of fulfilling the need to belong and feel loved could lead us to try casting a wide net. At an extreme, you want everyone to like you. Forget that extreme—everyone will not like you or me. Once we embrace this marketing fundamental we can focus on creating value for the people who matter most.

Hit the Target

Identifying a target market is a default marketing strategy. That means targeting is not a question of should you do it but rather how should you do it. If that is disheartening to you, think about it— a brand cannot be all things to all people. When it comes to product brands, even highly successful products and services do not appeal to everyone. For some people, the price is too high. For others, they do not see the brand’s image as being compatible with their self-image. Yet others do not like a brand because of negative information held in memory, whether it be from first-hand experience or word-of-mouth. I could go on to create a lengthy list of reasons people do not buy a particular brand, but you get the point.

Free yourself from trying to be a brand for everyone. Instead, focus on serving a target market. By definition, a target market is a group of people most likely to be interested in what you have to offer. Knowing your target market is important because it enables you to make two important decisions:

  1. How to best utilize your talents to create value through your work, content creation, volunteerism, and other ways you have impact.
  2. Gives direction on how to allocate two precious resources, time and money, to serve other people.

When you embrace serving a specific target market, it will give you clarity in how to use your resources. More importantly, you will feel less pressure to try to please everyone.

Finding Your Target

Understanding the benefits of serving a defined target market is one thing, figuring out what that market is can be a more daunting task. My favorite approach for determining your target market is to ask three questions that give insight into the people you serve. They are:

  1. What benefit or unmet need can I help people realize or fulfill?
  2. What are the personal characteristics of people I can help (i.e., age, profession, geographic area, life situation, etc.)?
  3. What are the best communication channels to reach and engage these people?

Effective marketing involves asking questions, lots of them. Defining your target market is no exception. Ask questions about the people you serve, and you shall receive clarity on your target market.

Take a Stand

Creating a distinctive brand entails taking a stand to be the real you. It is this choice that will turn off some people from your brand. For example, Gary Vaynerchuk is known for having one of the most powerful personal brands in marketing and social media. His direct, sometimes profane delivery at the same time attracts and repels. People turned off by his style can go elsewhere to consume and learn. Gary will do just fine without them. Why? He has clear answers to the three questions about the people he serves. Gary creates value for those people; his message resonates with them.

Taking a stand means you will have non-fans, detractors, and even haters. The alternative is indifference because your brand does not elicit reaction. The former is preferred to the latter. Don’t let a quest to gain acceptance dilute your convictions. Stay true to your brand.

Questions, Questions, Questions—Keep Asking

The answer to creating a better life depends on the questions you ask.


My wife, Sara, has been my better half for thirty years. She has many admirable qualities, but one that I often observe is her penchant for asking questions. Sometimes, I do not perceive it as a desirable trait, such as having to explain that it is a penalty when a defensive back wraps his arms around a wide receiver before the ball arrives… even though the defender’s job is to tackle the offensive player. Doesn’t everybody know that? Of course not, but when we forget to walk in someone else’s shoes we lack empathy and awareness of others.

When I read a quote from personal growth expert Tony Robbins recently, it changed my view about the questions people ask. All questions matter regardless of depth or perceived importance, at least to the person asking them. Questions serve valuable roles in our life, and instead of questioning the questions we should be thankful they are asked. Moreover, we should consider how asking questions can spur personal growth.

Tony Robbins quote on questions

Why We Must Ask Questions

It only took thirty years, but I now understand why my wife asks the questions that she poses about football, current events, and more. And, the reason has nothing to do with ignorance or lack of knowledge. We ask questions to raise our quality of life, as Tony Robbins states. Asking questions is not an indicator of inadequacy. Rather, a willingness to ask questions means we are open to growth.

Asking questions powers growth in three ways:

  1. Questions fill in the blanks. It is impossible and unrealistic to think we can know everything we need to know to get by in daily life. Differences in upbringing, environment, experiences, and more mean we have knowledge gaps. We simply have not been exposed to all that there is to know. Questions are a natural vehicle for closing knowledge gaps. My wife says she asks questions for this reason. She has a curiosity that she seeks to overcome, and asking questions is the ideal way to make it happen.
  2. Questions challenge our assumptions. Asking questions aids in understanding our beliefs about the boundaries in which we operate. Not asking questions could lead to us accepting things as they are… but they could be better. One of my favorite stories related to this point is about a family gathering in which the women of the family are cooking a meal. One of the women prepare a ham to put in the oven. They cut off the end of the ham. When questioned by her daughter why she always cuts off the end of the ham, the mother responds “because my mother always did it.” Well, her mother was there, so the reason for this practice could be uncovered. The mother’s answer? “I cut the end off because my mother always does it.” The matriarch was in the room, so she, too, was asked this question. The secret was finally revealed: “I cut off the end of the ham because my pan is too small.” Failing to ask questions could lead to us continuing to cutting off the end of the ham, not really knowing why we do it.
  3. Questions move us beyond status quo. Once we challenge assumptions by asking questions about why things happen, we can ask more questions to effect change and in turn, growth. Returning to the family gathering, the aha moment when everyone learns the end of the ham is cut off because the baking pan is too small should lead to follow-up questions. Is there a reason we never got a larger pan? What size pan do we need? What options are available? Answering these questions could lead to taking action… and discontinuing the practice of cutting off part of the ham.

What Holds Us Back

Given the benefits of asking questions, shouldn’t we be posing more of them? Unfortunately, we often pass on the chance to ask and as a result miss growth opportunities. As I think about it, I let far too many chances to ask questions slip away. It helps no one and negatively affects quality of life as Tony Robbins suggests. What is holding me back?

  1. Pride. One of the biggest deterrents to personal growth is pride. How can that be, you might wonder. Why would anyone stand in the way of his or her own development? It can happen when we are too proud to admit we do not know very much. Instead, we should adopt a mindset of if we do not know, ask.
  2. Indifference. Another obstacle to asking questions that we foolishly erect is indifference. We do not know something, but we have survived just fine so far without knowing. So, why bother asking questions? Yes, I may be able to live in blissful ignorance, but at some point that crumbles as a personal development strategy.
  3. Fear. In contrast to the laziness associated with pride and indifference, fear of asking questions relates to what we might have to do based on answers to questions we have avoided asking. Will I expose a glaring weakness I must confront? Am I going to have to admit inadequacies that make it difficult, if not impossible, to reach goals? We must be brave enough to ask questions of ourselves regardless of how uncomfortable answers could make us feel.

No Question about Questions

I have reflected on Tony Robbins’s quote several times since first reading it. That one sentence has changed how I look at asking and answering questions. We give ourselves permission to , learn, understand, and grow when we ask questions. It is one aspect of our growth for which we are in charge. We do not need permission to ask questions, nor are we limited in the number of questions to pose… no question about it!

Get Excited about Saying Goodbye

Henrik Lundqvist
Image Credit: Bridget Samuels

A flood of mixed emotions are racing through my head this morning. It has nothing to do with Monday, going to work, or other everyday obstacle. It’s a new situation; one that will certainly play out again in the future. A child is leaving the nest- not permanently but for the longest stretch of time in his life (five months). And, he is going far away (to The Netherlands). His semester of study abroad will pass quickly. I know because my semester as a college professor invariably moves fast… seemingly faster as I get older. It was not a long-term goodbye, but nonetheless a parting that led me to rethink my role as parent and teacher.

Saved by a Goalie

Feelings of sadness over my son’s departure were soon replaced by comforting words that I read when I needed them. And, of all of the sages who could have uttered timely words, it was a hockey goalie who spoke to me. Henrik Lundqvist is a star National Hockey League goaltender. Lundqvist plays for the New York Rangers and has played for his native Sweden in the Winter Olympics and World Cup of Hockey. By all measures, Lundqvist has made it.

Despite his successes in hockey, Lundqvist acknowledges there is a person who can be credited with an assist in his accomplishments: his father. Lundqvist recently authored a letter to his eight-year-old self. In the letter, he touches on the influence of his father. Lundqvist shares that his father encouraged him to dream big, to see himself playing professional hockey and for his country.

Lundqvist observed the following about his father’s impact in shaping his destiny:

My job as a parent is to prepare my children to say goodbye because they have achieved their dreams. By extension, my role as a teacher is to do the same for people studying under me.

It Doesn’t Feel Like Sacrifice

Henrik Lundqvist observes the true meaning of sacrifice is to help position people we care about to succeed and expect nothing in return. As I think about his words and what I have done for my three sons, I realize it does not even feel like sacrifice. The first time I heard about 6:00 a.m. hockey practices when my youngest son took up the game I thought to myself “that’s crazy- we will never do that.” It may be crazy, but we have done it many times… and many other crazy things, too. But, my wife and I have never sought sympathy or Parent of the Year awards. We do it because we are preparing our son for that day when he says goodbye.

Enjoy the Ride

I am going to follow my own advice I shared with my middle son as he departed today. Many possible words of wisdom crossed my mind, but I kept returning to one idea: Enjoy the experience. I have the opportunity to enjoy it with him through photos and stories. I will focus my energy there, and not dwell on his absence or count down the days until he returns. Such thoughts are selfish and do not help him (or me) grow. Saying goodbye can be taken as a signal that our work as a parent or leader was well done. Thus, it is not a sad time but one of growth possibilities.


Three Questions Behind Your Personal Brand

question marks

Many of us have a love-hate relationship with instructions. Sometimes, we follow instructions for a while but stray from them when they become too complicated or vague. Other times, we forgo instructions altogether under the belief that we can “figure it out.” And, we may be able to figure it out with some success. Ultimately, the choice not to follow instructions can leave us with a less than ideal outcome, like assembling a piece of furniture with a couple of screws left over. We do not know what to do with the screws because we did not follow instructions and hope that the unused screws do not come back to haunt us later.

Your own brand is too valuable to be left to chance or following only those instructions that you find easy or comfortable. Instructions can answer questions you do not even know you have. You may want to transform your personal brand. Or, you may come reluctantly to personal branding because someone has made it a requirement- a teacher or boss has given you an assignment to complete.

Regardless of where you are coming from, reflect on three important questions that inspired Colby Jubenville and me to share our instruction set for personal branding in Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, & Why You Matter to the World: 1) Why me? 2) Why not me? 3) If not me, then who?

Why Me?

It is possible you are taken aback by our book’s title: Me. If you are a millennial (often defined as persons born between 1981 and 2000), you are tired of labels associated with your generational group of “self-centered” and “self-absorbed.” A book about “me” seems to play to those labels. Contrary to that notion, a decision to proactively market yourself has positive connotations. First, no one else in this world has the incentive or urgency to manage your brand that you have- not parents, spouse, friends, or boss- only you. These important people in your life can support you as you build and maintain your brand, but they cannot do it for you as well as you can do it for yourself.

Second, managing your personal brand creates value for the people with whom you interact or serve. The personal benefit to you in terms of professional growth, income, and satisfaction are by-products of the value you add in others’ lives. So, far from being a venture in self-indulgence, personal branding is an ongoing process of creating benefit for the world around you.

Why Not Me?

Personal branding is an ongoing concern just as brand management is an ongoing concern for companies and products. However, do not look at managing your brand as a burden to bear or price to pay. Rather, you will enjoy the fruits of proactively managing your professional and personal identity. You should not be excluded from the potential growth that managing your personal brand offers. As you observe others who have “made it,” consider that they most likely earned whatever success or status they have attained- it was not handed to them. Similarly, you can be that person other people notice moving up and ahead because of your commitment to nurture your brand. Give yourself permission to grow through building a distinctive personal brand.

If Not Me, Then Who?

It is not surprising that many people hold themselves back through fear of failure. They cannot fathom what will happen to them or what others will think of them if they do not land their dream job, do not get the promotion, fail at a major project, or lose their job. Some level of fear is natural and can even be motivational, driving you to overcome limiting fears to achieve goals. But, another fear that may be more surprising is fear of success. “How will my relationships change if I am promoted?” or “What will my new goals be if I reach my current ones?” Yes, we can be afraid of what we will encounter if we actually get what we want.

The combination of fear of failure and fear of success can serve to sabotage our growth plans, ensuring we do not get hurt… except that is exactly what happens when we limit our own growth. Could someone else step up? Yes, but do not shortchange yourself. Do not defer to others at the expense of your own growth and advancement. A clearly defined personal brand will give you confidence and direction to deal with and overcome the dual threat of fear of failure and fear of success.

The Only Dumb Questions…

You have heard the expression that the only dumb questions are the ones never asked. This timeless saying applies to personal branding, too. You should be asking “why me,” “why not me,” and “if not me then who” daily. These questions keep us oriented as to why our brand matters and how proactively managing it can create value for others.

Personal Growth Requires Small Thinking

small small small

It’s easy to associate growth with big thinking. You have to imagine possibilities that stretch previous accomplishments. It requires higher aspirations in learning, relationships, and personal accountability. In short, it is assumed that to get better we must think bigger.

I came across a different way of looking at personal growth in a quote from Pope Francis. Instead of thinking big to grow, Francis suggests we must think small. At face value, the idea is counter-intuitive. To do, have, or be more wouldn’t you have to reach for more and see a “bigger you?” Not according to Pope Francis.

No one can grow if he does not accept his smallness

What Does It Mean to be Small?

The words of Pope Francis were constantly on my mind for days. Accept my smallness? What does it mean? What must I do? As a marketer, I advocate for brands and people to stand out. Is accepting one’s smallness counter to brand building? While the question of what does it mean to be small has branding implications, it is a much larger issue.

What does it really mean to be small? Three ways of looking at it:

  • Estimates of today’s world population run about 7.5 billion people. I imagine a circle containing 7.5 billion dots and realize I am but one of those dots. My smallness comes through loud and clear in a visual way.
  • The dots in the circle are interchangeable. We will all die and replaced by new dots. The world can get along just fine without any one of us. My important brand is not so important after all.
  • Most accomplishments do not come from grand performances or events. They accrue from daily interactions with the other dots in our own world with whom we serve, teach, or love. It’s the life equivalent of “small ball,” a strategy in baseball of focusing on singles and base-running to score, not relying on belting home runs.

Small Thinking and Personal Branding

From a personal branding standpoint, a question that arises is whether accepting one’s smallness in order to grow clashes with personal branding practices. If an aim of personal branding is to rise above competition, is it possible if I am just one of 7.5 billion dots? The answer is a resounding “yes.” A brand in general and personal brand in particular is vulnerable. It is not a programmed machine but rather a living being influenced by emotions and relationships. Those vulnerabilities, emotions, and relationships contribute to the stories that are your brand.

Accepting smallness does not diminish the potential impact of a personal brand. The value of a personal brand is not found in vanity metrics of likes, followers, and connections. It resides in the value you provide others through daily encounters… the “small ball” of life, if you will.

The Humility of Smallness

Smallness is not a personal brand weakness. Rather, it is a default setting. A closer look at personal brands associated with being successful, distinctive, and big usually reveals someone who consistently creates value for others. They entertain, inform, support- to serve and benefit their audience. A common trait that can be found in most distinctive personal brands is that a sense of smallness has never been lost.

It is humbling to accept our smallness, but it is also essential for preparing to grow.

Making Brand Taglines Great Again

Make America Great Again cap

Today, Americans will observe a distinguishing trait of our government: smooth transfer of power. Donald J. Trump will become just the 45th person to hold the position of President of the United States. Our country has been on a wild ride the past year-and-a-half. Candidates and viewpoints deeply divided us, a division quantified at the polls. In the end, Trump won out. Looking back, it was more about his brand than platform that put him in the oval office.

Politics is left to other forums and people to discuss. But, as Donald Trump becomes President Trump today it is worth taking a look at a key to his movement: a brand tagline.

“Make America Great Again”

For all of the talk of building walls, draining swamps, and securing jobs, four words energized Donald Trump’s campaign for President: Make America Great Again. These words resonated with millions of Americans who felt America had lost an edge. A brand is more than a tagline, of course. However, a tagline aids in brand recall and serves as a thumbnail to explain a brand’s meaning or value. In the case of Donald Trump, his brand makeup in terms of political experience lagged behind most of the other candidates, both Republican and Democrat. Trump’s campaign masked that deficiency by creating a brand promise that attracted voters to him.

How did “Make America Great Again” compare to brand taglines of Trump’s competition? An article from the Washington Post early in the 2016 campaign season critiqued several candidates’ slogans. Here are three:

Ted Cruz: “Reigniting the Promise of America”

Mike Huckabee: “From Hope to Higher Ground”

Marco Rubio: “A New American Century”.

Trump’s slogan differed from these messages in that it conjured images that voters could imagine. In contrast, many people might struggle with explaining a “New American Century.” A tagline must be more than a clever combination of words and phrases.

Why a Brand Tagline is Important

Donald Trump’s unconventional presidential campaign offers a case study in the importance of a brand tagline. “Make America Great Again” did not get him elected by itself, but the tagline played a role in Trump’s victory. How did it play a role? “Make America Great Again” met three criteria for a brand tagline:

  1. Aids in brand awareness. Donald Trump had high brand awareness in terms of his personal brand. His campaign tagline took awareness to the next level by building awareness for why he wanted to be President.
  2. Differentiates from competition. Branding practices in general serve to set apart a seller from competing offerings. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” message stood out in a sea of unremarkable slogans associated with his opponents’ campaigns.
  3. Relates to pain points of the target market. Ultimately, a brand exists in the minds and hearts of the marketplace. An underlying question we mull over any time we are presented with an offer is “what’s in it for me?” A brand promise encapsulated in a tagline must be about the benefit of the brand for the target market.

Branding is important because it is unrealistic to expect customers to know everything about you. You want them to latch on to salient characteristics and benefits you possess. A tagline has the power to do just that, even for complex buying decisions like which candidate to support for President of the United States.

Now What?

Another characteristic of branding is once strategy is set, a brand must follow through on promises made. Time will tell if the Trump administration can back up the promise to Make America Great Again. The ability to bring brand promises to life that sets apart great brands from the pack.

The inspiration for writing this post did not come from the events of today as much as what Trump said earlier this week. In an interview, Trump dropped hints of his 2020 campaign tagline: “Keep America Great.” Will Trump fulfill the promise of Make America Great Again to the point that Keep America Great would resonate with voters? Stay tuned.

Reports of the Death of Email Marketing Exaggerated?

email icon

One of the most memorable quotes about customer relationships I have read in recent years comes from The Elusive Fan by Irving Rein, Philip Kotler, and Ben Shields. In the book, the authors make a point that sports fans today are easier to reach but harder to engage than ever before. We have an abundance of tools to connect with a target audience. While getting to an audience is crucial, getting through to them to achieve desired results is proving to be far more challenging.

This characteristic of easier to reach, harder to engage is not limited to sports fans. Businesses in virtually every industry can say the same about their customers. New options for communicating with customers continue to emerge. The evolution of communication channels has the unfortunate effect of further fragmenting audiences. Thus, creating meaningful customer engagement that meets business objectives has become more challenging.

The Staying Power of Email

One communication channel that seemed to face an uncertain future is email. The strength of permission marketing via opt-in email was offset by problems including message overload, irrelevant messages, and an image crisis caused by spam, phishing, and Nigerian princes seeking to get into your wallet. Surprisingly, email has overcome these challenges to become a marketing star.

When it comes to delivering results, marketers are bullish on email. Digital marketing firm Econsultancy surveyed over 300 marketers in its annual Email Marketing Census last spring. When asked to rate different communication channels in terms of return on investment, email won going away.

Econsultancy 2016 Survey

Although channels like social media and mobile are like sleek, shiny toys, they do not deliver results on par with email according to marketers surveyed.

The Three Ts of Email Marketing

Why is email a cut above all other communication channels in marketers’ eyes? The answer is in three characteristics email possesses that set it apart from SEO, content marketing, and other channels included in the survey question. You could call these characteristics the “Three Ts”: targeting, timeliness, and track-able. It’s not that the other channels are devoid of these traits, but email tends to deliver against them more consistently.

  • Targeting. Compiling email subscribers’ demographics, coupled with buyer behavior in the form of purchase history, enables sending communication to the right audience. The cleverest creative or unbelievably attractive offer does not matter much if they are not in tune with audience desires.
  • Timeliness. Email is a flexible channel for creating and sending messages quickly to take advantage of marketing opportunities. A school holiday could be the catalyst for a restaurant’s email campaign to entice family visits.
  • Track-able. The days of “half my advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half” are gone. Tools to track marketing performance no longer give us a pass to spend and hope for the best. Email offers many metrics that shed light on how well (or poorly) a campaign performs.

No Offense, Mobile

One surprising result from the Email Marketing Census is the perceived ineffectiveness of mobile marketing. Only four percent of marketers surveyed said mobile was excellent for delivering ROI, tied for last with online display advertising (ouch!). Mobile possesses the three Ts of targeting, timeliness, and track-able, too. Some mobile marketing advocates bristled at the findings of the Econsultancy survey, suggesting that marketers’ attachment to email was based on outdated thinking.

Why would mobile rate so low on marketers’ list of channels ability to deliver ROI? One reason could be many of these same marketers are still trying to figure out how to make mobile work for them. An encouraging sign is email design for mobile is gaining in importance. A survey of retailers last fall found using mobile-optimized design was the top email marketing tactic used (64% reported adopting the tactic).

retailer survey fall 16

This statistic, along with recognition of that mobile has become the number one platform for checking email, will undoubtedly boost marketers’ motivation to become more adept at mobile marketing. Going forward, email and mobile should be viewed less as competing channels in favor of a complementary view.

Embracing a Personal Branding Mindset

Open Sign

As a college professor, I love the first day of a semester. This reset is a time of great anticipation and excitement. It is like New Year’s Day. Many students embrace this new beginning with energy and optimism. However, the shine of newness soon fades and the grind of classes, assignments, exams, and other tasks can overtake the big picture goals of learning and growth.

The struggle to keep focused on goals is not limited to the journey of college students. We often become sidetracked while on the road to personal growth. It is not deliberate self-sabotage. Rather, losing focus tends to come from a combination of competing demands on your time and others making their priorities your problem. Your focus shifts from managing your situation to putting out other people’s fires. The next thing you know, months have passed and you have not even begun that project or started working toward a personal goal.

Always On

When it comes to managing your personal brand, you cannot afford to let competing priorities consume you. Why? Think about it, no one else in the world has as much motivation or urgency to care for your identity and reputation as you. Even the people who love you most— parents, significant others, or close friends— have less vested in your success.

What I am about to share with you is not meant to scare you; I merely state fact when I say once you embrace a personal branding mindset, you have made the decision to be “always on.” Your brand is not active Monday-Friday 8:00-5:00 only.

A brand is an ongoing concern. Nike cannot afford to take a day off from caring for its identity, and neither can you. This call to be always on is not intended to be a burden. You will not be working at 3:00 a.m. (unless you choose to work at that hour). But, for best results you will always be mindful of how your values, thoughts, attitudes, and actions impact personal development and how you are perceived.

What Is Personal Branding?

Before embarking on a journey to build a better personal brand, it will be helpful to establish what we mean by personal branding. One of my wife’s co-workers said she equated personal branding with tattoos that have names or symbols of loved ones. If you are averse to body ink no worries, personal branding does not require getting tattooed!

In the book Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, and Why You Matter to the World, Colby Jubenville and I define personal branding as “a process for identifying, developing, and communicating your unique value.” The process of personal branding is the ongoing, always on approach to fine tuning and improving the unique value you offer.

Reinforcing a Personal Branding Mindset

Details on personal branding and suggestions for fulfilling the awesome responsibility of managing the world’s most important brand are the focus of a book I just published titled Brand New Year52 Ways to Create a Distinctive Personal Brand. In Brand New Year, you will find 52 ideas for implementing a personal brand mindset.

Brand New Year cover

I suggest reflecting on one idea each week over the next year and follow through on the Brand Builder recommended action at the end of each chapter. Some ideas will have significant positive impact on your brand. You will scoff at other ideas as being so not you. That sentiment is fine, but even if you feel that way about a particular idea reflect on how it could help build one’s personal brand.

Brand New Year is not written from the standpoint of an expert or teacher as much as it is written from the perspective of someone who is grappling with the same challenges as you to build a meaningful brand. Embrace personal branding and enjoy the journey.

Personal Branding the Antidote to Crowds

Many people seem to have a love-hate relationship with crowds. I have no hard evidence to support that claim other than you can find crowds in many different settings- sporting events, concerts, amusement parks, and stores, to name a few. However, being part of a crowd does not necessarily mean you like being in crowds. You just happen to share an interest with all of the other people there.

I am not a big fan of crowds, but one characteristic of crowds I like is the ability to blend in among the throng of people. In some ways, it is as if I am not there. It is possible to enjoy anonymity in a sea of faces. While the freedom to get lost in a crowd might be appealing when shopping, it would be disastrous to creating a distinctive personal brand.

Be Found, Not Lost

This week, I am focusing on a quote attributed to leadership expert Lolly Daskal. She cautions against allowing yourself to blend in with the crowd. Simply put, when it comes to your professional identity you cannot afford to get lost in the crowd. You can be more educated, more competent, or more engaging than others who do the same work as you, but those advantages are negated if you are unknown.

The antidote to the harmful effects of following the crowd is personal branding. In the book Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, & Why You Matter to the World, Colby Jubenville and I define personal branding as “a process for identifying, developing, and communicating your unique value.” Personal branding does not allow you to reside in the comfort zone of a crowd. It leads you to focus on how you genuinely stand out by adding value to others.

Get on the Personal Branding Train

As a new year begins,  now is an ideal time to commit to managing your brand. A brand is a “name, symbol, or other marks that distinguishes one seller from another.” The phrase “distinguishes one seller from another” is a call to manage your personal brand. It comes back to Lolly Daskal’s suggestion that we must stand out.

In my upcoming book Brand New Year: 52 Ways to Create a Distinctive Personal Brand,  I share three reasons for taking control of your brand:

  1. A brand must have a defined meaning. Think about a brand you admire or that you connect with on an emotional level. It is likely that the brand resonates with you because of its values or priorities. Similarly, you will attract people to you when they can relate to the core of your brand that defines you.
  2. Differentiation is essential. Most businesses avoid at all costs finding themselves in a situation known as Commodity Hell. It refers to an inability to distinguish a business’s offerings from other sellers (the definition of what a brand is meant to do). Differentiation must be real and relevant. You could dye your hair purple or wear polka dot clothing every day and be different. Still, the difference would not be meaningful or add value to other people.
  3. You have competition. Differentiation would not be so important if the need to stand out was not so great. Competition exists to get a foot in the door to start your career, to move up in an organization, and to branch out into new opportunities.

To Be or Not To Be Known

Some people are reluctant to embrace personal branding because they see it as “tooting their own horn.” Yes, personal branding requires self-promotion (i.e., communicating your unique value). Why you? I’m not going to do it for you, nor will your boss, teachers, friends, or mother (OK, well your mother might but that does not count). Make branding about your value contribution to others to convey how you benefit others through your skills and abilities.

The good news is most people do not manage themselves like a brand, making your personal branding quest easier. The decision to manage your brand does not guarantee success, but it puts you ahead of many would-be competitors. The choice is yours to fit in with the crowd (and likely get lost) or stand out.

A (Re)Brand is More Than a Name

GNC logo

When you hear the term ”rebranding,” chances are you associate it with a change in name, logo, colors, or tagline associated with a brand. If you make those associations, you are correct more times than not. Most rebranding initiatives are more about style than substance; they are minor tweaks to update or freshen the brand.

In other cases, rebranding is more radical. One situation in which a major brand overhaul is needed occurs when a brand needs a fresh start to distance itself from undesirable associations. The brand identity (i.e., name and tangible assets like a logo) may have value in the marketplace, but brand equity has been hurt by other associations attached to the brand. This description fits the place where vitamin and supplements retailer GNC found itself.  The chain of over 4,400 corporate stores experienced revenue and same store sales declines of more than 8% in Q3 2016 compared to the previous year. Interim CEO Robert Moran said GNC was operating on an “old, broken model.” GNC was a prime candidate for rebranding, but what to do?

If It’s Broke, Fix It

The opposite of the saying “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” applied to GNC. Its business model was broken, and business as usual would likely deliver the same results… which were not good! Among the marketing problems contributing to the broken business model were:

  • Different pricing for in-store and online channels
  • Noncompetitive prices for many products
  • A complicated loyalty program
  • A stale in-store shopping experience.

Any of the four issues identified potentially sour the customer experience. Put them all into play at the same time, and it can have the effect of driving customers away. The sales numbers offer evidence of lost customers. More than sales trends were at stake; declining brand relevance could have serious negative effects on GNC in the long run.


The fix for GNC’s woes is a rebranding campaign called One GNC. It began with testing changes to the marketing this fall in 500 stores. The commitment to One GNC culminated with the closing all corporate stores on December 28 to replace signage and point-of-sale systems as well as make changes to merchandise presentation. Stores reopened the next day to formally kick off a fresh start for the brand.

So, what all did GNC undertake in the One GNC rebranding campaign? Marketing changes included:

  • Aligning prices across brick-and-mortar and online channels
  • Lowering prices on hundreds of product items
  • Introducing a simpler, free loyalty program called MyGNC Rewards
  • Freshening appearance of stores with new signage
  • Equipping sales associates with tablets so they can have greater information access on sales floor.

Never Lose Sight of Brand Ownership

The One GNC rebranding campaign is commendable. It is an effort to address the needs and desires of the constituency that matters most: customers. Why do they matter most? They are top priority because they own the brand. No, that is not a typo, nor am I referring to public ownership of a company. Brands reside in the minds and hearts of customers and others to whom a brand matters.

Sure, GNC owns intellectual property and “stuff” like equipment and fixtures, but ultimately brands are perceptions held by those who interact with a brand. If customers believe prices are too high, then they are too high. If a widely held belief is that sales associates are not very knowledgeable, then they are not very knowledgeable. You get the point—brands are what people believe they are until beliefs change.

GNC is reshaping beliefs about its brand and the customer experience. It is the best hope for meaningful change to come out of the GNC One rebranding campaign.