Three Defining Traits of the Dale Earnhardt Jr. Personal Brand

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was restless in the early hours of Tuesday morning. He admitted as much in a tweet.

A few hours later the world would find out the reason for Dale Jr.’s feelings. He announced his retirement from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at the end of the 2017 season. He is stepping away after 18 seasons racing in the Cup Series. Earnhardt missed much of the 2016 season after sustaining a concussion. Now, he will step away permanently at season’s end.

The planned retirement of Dale Earnhardt Jr. marks a continued changing of the guard in NASCAR. Jeff Gordon retired two years ago, followed by Tony Stewart last season. Earnhardt’s departure will leave a void for NASCAR, too. Dale Jr.’s retirement will be felt because he has one of the most distinctive personal brands in NASCAR. His brand stands out because of three traits: authenticity, accessibility, and likeability.

Authenticity

A distinctive personal brand must stand on one’s inner moral voice to guide actions. Making decisions in an effort to gain approval of others is not a sustainable approach. Your brand is not based on you at that point but rather your response to what others want from you. An authentic personal brand will not be universally admired, but that is OK. The aim of branding is not to please everyone. Instead, your task is to clarify brand meaning and act upon it—work, play, or anything else you do.

The outward appearance of brand authenticity can be described simply as “what you see is what you get.” This trait is salient for Dale Earnhardt Jr. He has not erected an elaborate facade that is his brand image. He is not the product of a PR machine. Like his father, legendary NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Sr., Dale Jr. seemed to become more polished over time as his role as product endorser and marketer expanded. But, he never lost the “feel of real” racing fans observed in him even before his professional racing career began.

Accessibility

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been a fan favorite throughout his racing career. You want proof? He has been named NASCAR Most Popular Driver by fans 14 years in a row. His retirement means someone else will get to win the award, but that driver will probably have to wait until 2018! Dale Jr. is at ease engaging fans face-to-face and on social media. He comes across as very transparent compared to most people living in the public eye. Dale Jr.’s accessibility to the public is a contributing factor to his brand authenticity. There are no discrepancies between public persona and private life.

Likeability

The endearing personality of Dale Earnhardt Jr. has enhanced the marketability of his personal brand. Although he has enjoyed his share of success on the race track (26 Cup Series wins, including two Daytona 500 victories), it is Dale Jr.’s brand image that attracts sponsors. A primary car sponsorship in the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series can run upward of $20 million a season. Racing teams are finding it harder to secure corporate sponsors. Dale Earnhardt Jr. is an exception. Some 20 brands are partners with Dale Jr. today. In 2016, Forbes reported Dale Jr.’s earnings at $23.5 million, with the lion’s share of his earnings coming through product endorsements. Sponsors seek to link their brands with the favorable associations racing fans hold for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

A Victory Lap

The remainder of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season will undoubtedly include many tributes to Dale Earnhardt Jr. He will be showered with recognition and gifts as he visits different tracks for the final time as a Cup Series driver. At a press conference discussing his retirement decision, Dale Jr. said “I just wanted the opportunity to go out on my own terms.” That sentiment is fitting for someone that has “been his own man” even though he was the son of one of the most famous NASCAR drivers of all time.

Enjoy this video tribute to the Dale Sr.-Dale Jr. relationship by the Zac Brown Band. Dale Jr. tweeted after watching it for the first time that “it made my eyeballs sweat.” Not a surprising reaction from someone who is as authentic as they come and lives his brand.

Authoring the Definition of You

dictionary

The definition of a brand is more complex than you think. A narrow view of a brand is that it is a name, logo, or other identifying marks that denote the owner or responsible party of a brand. Branding used for these reasons can be traced back to the medieval period. Today, the role of brands has evolved far beyond these functional purposes. A brand concurrently fulfills the roles of:

  • Identity (name, logo, etc. for which brands were originally created)
  • Image (perceptions in the minds of people who come in contact with the brand)
  • Promises (expressed and implied performance attributes associated with a brand)
  • Relationship (connection point between a customer or other person and the entity represented by the brand).

Brand building entails a tug-of-war between brand owner and constituents. Who defines brand meaning? The owner does… but so does the brand’s audience. The goal of brand management is narrowing the gap between how the brand owner wants to be perceived (identity) and how the brand is viewed (image). The wider the gap, the more branding and marketing attention needed.

"Accept no one's definition of your life; define yourself." - Harvey Fierstein quote This week’s One to Grow On quote admonishes us to fiercely protect our brand. Actor and playwright Harvey Fierstein suggests it is our obligation to author the definition of our brand. Others will want to do it for you, but their definition could be incomplete or worse, incorrect.

Harvey Fierstein knows something about the importance of defining one’s self. He was one of the first openly gay American actors at a time when few celebrities had come out. Rather than hide or skirt the issue, Fierstein has woven his sexual orientation into his brand. His self-definition comes through in his writing on gay issues and by incorporating gay life into dramas.

The Define Line

Why is Harvey Fierstein’s quote on defining your life (and by extension, your brand) so important? You must keep in mind that your brand will be defined. There is no such thing as anonymity when it comes to your personal brand. Some brands are more distinctive and better known than others, but all brands are defined. The question becomes who will define it?

We live in a world in which people are quick to form judgments about a situation or person. If you have any doubts, scroll through comments on just about any news article posted on Facebook. Sometimes, you wonder if the people making comments read the same article… or whether they read the article at all. Depth of understanding is no obstacle to having an opinion.

This instant reaction environment has huge implications for personal brands. While I loathe the parade of articles and blog posts about the importance of a professional looking photo in one’s social media profiles, the point made is valid. People make judgments about us with no more information than a thumbnail-sized square full of pixels. They surmise our age, form opinions on physical attractiveness, and immediately can have a like-don’t like position.

Although there is much, much more to personal branding than your photo, it is a reminder that you must put in the work to define yourself. If you do not, the world around you will be all too glad to do it for you.

What’s the Definition?

It is imperative that you proactively manage your personal brand. No product or corporate brand manager in their right mind would let their brand be defined however the market wants to define it. The reason for marketing as we know it is to create a process for influencing others’ definition of a brand. Rather than accept others’ definition of you, stake out the position you want. If not, the labels assigned as others judge us will be our defining attributes. Do you want to be known as:

  • Too inexperienced
  • Not assertive enough
  • Lacking the ideal education pedigree
  • Uninteresting
  • Incapable of leading others?

I am hard pressed to think of an instance where any of these labels would promote your personal brand. They are labels handed out by others. Do you want to own them, or do you want to operate the label maker?

Have Fun with It

Take on the challenge to define your brand rather than allowing others to have that privilege. For far too long, efforts I made to define my brand were reactive, even driven by fear. I wanted my brand to be flawless and avoid making mistakes. That was my first mistake! I have gotten over pursuing that unrealistic ideal.

Today, I am having more fun than ever living my brand. It is what it is, and there is a lot of value offered through it. It is not perfect, nor does it have to be.

Do Brands Live in a Parallel Universe?

parallel universe
Image Credit – Flickr/Chris Bentley

Hardly a week goes by that we do not see a brand succumb to foot-in-mouth disease. Size of company does not offer immunity from embarrassing one’s self. Two iconic brands have faced a PR crisis recently. First, Pepsico had to deal with fallout from a video that was widely criticized as being tone deaf and self-serving. Pepsi tried to co-opt the Black Lives Matter cause, attempting to inject its brand into the conversation. Its choice of Kendall Jenner to have a starring role in the “Live for Now” video added fuel to the perception that Pepsi was out of touch.

What saved Pepsi from even more scorn? United Airlines. A video showing a United passenger being roughed up while being dragged off a United plane drew the ire of the flying public. United’s weak response to the incident exacerbated ill will toward the United brand. Thankfully, brands should be able to learn from missteps like those made by Pepsico and United Airlines and avoid similar embarrassing situations. They should, but alas they do not.

Make It Three

The latest inductee into to the Marketing Hall of Shame is Adidas. The brand put itself in a bad spot with a marketing misstep in its Boston Marathon sponsorship activation. Adidas is a long-time partner of the Boston Athletic Association, with its sponsorship going back to 1992. Adidas reached out to runners of Monday’s Boston Marathon with an email the next morning. It was a good idea with a very bad subject line.

Adidas Boston Marathon email

The pain of the bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon is still felt by many runners and Bostonians. A message from anyone that says “you survived” brings back the sting to many touched by the tragedy.

It does not take a marketing or PR expert to know the headline is troubling. I asked my 17-year-old son if he remembered what happened at the Boston Marathon a few years ago. He said “yes.” I showed him the Adidas email subject line. His eyes immediately widened as if saying “how could they?”

Brands as Apologists

Social media has become a sort of police force for bad brand behavior. Brands are called out for words or actions deemed to be in poor taste. It is a level of accountability that brands have not had to live up to in the past. Brands shift into apology mode quickly in an attempt to soothe bad blood and often, to justify what they said or did. Adidas apologized the day after sending the “you survived” email, posting the following message on social media.

The apology offered by Adidas is refreshing in that it did not point a finger or attempt to justify the offensive wording. At the same time, it is troubling that Adidas would admit “there was no thought given to the insensitive email subject line…” I assume the brand is managed by Adidas employees. Thinking about the meaning of brand messages should be among their job duties.

What is Going On Here?

Adidas stated the obvious by saying no thought was given to wording of the subject line. The question is why it happens. Blunders like those committed by Pepsico, United Airlines, and Adidas paint a picture of brands existing in a parallel universe. Their words and actions are incompatible with norms of the people they want to serve. Among the reasons for this disconnect are:

  • They think they know their customers, but they don’t. Missteps occur  because customers do not think or behave in ways a brand expects. United Airlines will throw a few more compensatory dollars at bumped passengers until they do what United wants—take another flight. It did not happen in the case of the roughed up passenger, and now United is paying much, much more in lost brand equity, customers, and market value.
  • They put brand welfare ahead of customer welfare. Brand marketers are hopelessly corrupted, but it is not their fault. They live and breathe the brand. It is easy to get sucked into that world. I understand why Pepsi marketers thought the Live for Now video was a good idea. They saw Pepsi as endorsing “power to the people” through grassroots movements like Black Lives Matter. The company was taken aback by the criticism. The problem was Pepsi focused more on creating favorable associations with its brand than showing concern for its audience when it comes to social issues.

The Silver Lining

It is easy to criticize brands for their marketing fails. But, we must remember that brands are managed by humans. Humans make mistakes. Even the most tightly run operation will fail customers or the public in some way. It is how they respond that will influence brand perceptions going forward.

Another positive as I see it is one I share with my students whenever we discuss the latest marketing blunder. The practice of marketing will never be perfected. Thus, there will always be opportunities for someone to succeed by doing their part to practice marketing more effectively.

 

Learning: Homework Never Ends

books and formulas- we are always learning

The countdown to graduation is on for several of my students. Seniors eagerly anticipate the end of their final semester. Commencement will officially mark their transition from student to their professional life. Some of them are so excited they have countdown apps on their smartphones that remind them how soon until the big event arrives. I can poll a class any given day and find someone who can state the exact number of days, hours, and minutes until the Commencement ceremony. For some students, it must feel like being released from prison. They will no longer have to attend classes, listen to lectures, and take exams. They have been set free from learning.

I hope no graduating student feels that completing their college studies sets them free from learning. Yes, it might relieve them of the obligations of a college student, but their education has only just begun. Daymond John is known as the entrepreneur behind the FUBU fashion brand and regular panelist on the TV show “Shark Tank.” John has sobering news for anyone who thinks their education is almost complete. His directive is simple: Educate yourself every day. Learning is part survival strategy, part positioning strategy.

"The key to success is to educate yourself every day." Daymond John quote.

Learning as Survival Strategy

The need to educate yourself every day is borne out of survival. Your knowledge and skill set will be a significant factor as you compete for jobs and later, for promotions. If your field is changing rapidly, continuing education is not optional. One statistic drives home this point in the marketing profession. A 2013 survey of marketing executives found 76% of them believed marketing had changed more in the two past years than in the past 50. If education is a form of movement or progress in your life, then committing to ongoing education is a must. Otherwise, if you are not moving you will be passed by as the world (and your competition) adapts and grows.

Learning as Positioning Strategy

Think of education as a “get to do” versus a “must do.” Use learning as a means of differentiating your personal brand. In Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, and Why You Matter to the World, Colby Jubenville and I devote a chapter to building skill set. Many options exist for education, including formal education (e.g., a university degree or certificate program) and self-directed learning (e.g., online courses from Lynda or Udemy). The option(s) selected depend on the skills you need to learn or strengthen. In some cases, a do-it-yourself approach is more than adequate. In other cases, your best option is to enroll in an accredited, established program through an education institution.

Regardless of the type of education delivery you choose, the end result stands to be the same. In the short run, you will acquire skills that set you apart from others in your organization or even your field. In the long run, an ongoing commitment to learning can position you as an expert, a go-to person for an answer to a question or to solve a problem.

Congrats! Now Go Learn More

Although it is not quite graduation season yet, the train is pulling into the station. So, it is not too early to congratulate the Class of 2017 on reaching an education milestone. You have worked hard and persevered. The goal of earning a degree or diploma will be achieved. You have proven you are a learner. Now, it is time to embark on a lifelong journey of learning.

Embrace the challenges you had to conquer along the way as part of your personal brand makeup. They define how you made it through your formal education program. Maybe you worked two jobs on top of a full-time academic load. Perhaps you had to deal with family sickness or even death yet stayed the course to complete the education milestone you have reached. Those chapters in your life are not just part of your history. Allow them to shape who you are going forward along with the benefits from learning. Commit to educating yourself every day as Daymond John encourages us to do.

United Airlines’ Trust Problem

United Airlines Logo Meme

United Airlines does more than break guitars (see this story from 2009 for background). They can break the spirit of passengers, too. A United passenger flying from Chicago to Louisville on Sunday was randomly selected to be asked to leave the plane. He was one of four passengers asked to leave to accommodate United employees who needed to get to Louisville. The passenger refused and eventually police dragged him from the plane. Video of the horrific incident has garnered millions of views. Public outrage against United has been overwhelming, both for the actions to remove the passenger as well as the lame responses of United CEO Oscar Munoz in the aftermath.

The last thing needed is another armchair quarterback piece about what United Airlines, the police, or the passenger did wrong or could have done differently. I am confident enough of those pieces already exist. So, what is left to talk about? How about where United Airlines goes from here. Its stock took a beating early in the week as video went viral of how United treated a passenger in response to a problem it created by overbooking the flight. United Airlines’ market value dropped by $800 million due to negative publicity from the incident. That number is not insignificant, but it may be the least of United’s worries.

What a Brand Really Is

Marketers become enamored with the identity aspects of branding—name, logo, color scheme—and lose sight that customers are not interested in any of that. My friend Colby Jubenville likes to say that “brands are promises delivered in experiences.” I love that definition of a brand. The meaning (promises) and value (experiences) are what matter to buyers. Brands waste a lot of effort and audience’s time talking about themselves. You’re great, we get it. Now, tell us what is in it for us to do business with you.

The promises and experience the flying public takes away from the passenger being dragged from the plane will not sell many seats… at least not on United flights. I am sure United Airlines has thousands of committed, professional employees. Unfortunately, their work is now tarnished by colossal missteps in handling the situation as it unfolded and spinning it after the fact. United must engage in some soul-searching and articulate exactly what its promises are to customers.

It Comes Down to Trust

Expensive branding and marketing campaigns can be stripped down to an essential question: Do customers trust us? We are funny creatures in that we prefer to do business with companies that we like and trust. In a personal relationship, inability to trust another person is grounds for ending the relationship. We approach business relationships no differently. Choice exists for many products and services we buy. We do not have to put up with shoddy service or inferior product quality. Ironically, airlines might be one industry that is an exception. Consolidation has reduced competition and customer choice. Thus, you might be forced to fly United even if in principle you would rather not do business with the company.

As I see it, United Airlines has a major trust problem it must address. There is no reason to doubt United can execute on promises related to safely transporting passengers. However, seeds of doubt have been planted as to whether United can do the right thing when it comes to taking care of customers. United can be the safest air carrier in the world, but if customers do not have confidence that the company will do the right things it will not matter. Any corrective action taken by United Airlines must have restoring trust in the brand at the forefront.

Change the Plan, Not the Destination

Notes and notebook

Are you a planner, someone who loves coming up with detailed instructions for completing a project or goal? Plans are essential maps that give direction to reaching a desired destination. Without a map (plan), you might reach where you want to go. However, it will be a trip full of uncertainty, and you might end up somewhere other than the intended endpoint.

Plans are essential for goal achievement. Whether you want to lose 10 pounds or run a marathon, you must have a method for getting to the desired outcome. The problem is we can become discouraged when things do not go according to plan. Before you know it, the weight loss goal has been abandoned or we decide to leave marathon running to others. We let flawed plans dictate a change in goals.

This week, reflect on progress toward goals you have set. If you are not moving toward the goal, the problem could be the plan in place. If the plan is not working, rethink the plan before tossing the goal.

If the plan doesn't work, change the plan but never the goal. - Anonymous

The Plan is the Problem…

Lack of progress toward achieving a goal can be discouraging. You see a path to reach a goal, make a plan for goal achievement, but like a nightmare road trip you never arrive. More times than not, the reason for failure to arrive resides in the plan. Possible shortcomings of the plan include:

  • Unrealistic time frame. We underestimate the amount of time needed to effect change or complete tasks needed to reach a goal.
  • Lack of knowledge. A plan might be doomed to fail because of not enough information or experience to craft an effective plan. If you want to start a business but have no experience, your launch plan could be incapable of getting your business idea off the ground.
  • Lack of support. A plan can be sabotaged by others who are less interested in your goals. They may even want you to fail because success would put you ahead of them.

Or It Could Be the Goal

I embrace the spirit of the idea “change the plan but never the goal,” but it could be a situation where avoiding “never” or “always” applies. It is possible that the goal is the problem. If your goal is actually more like a dream, no plan will help you. The commitment to learn, grow, and even fail is probably not there. Other possibilities for a misguided goal could be:

  • It is someone else’s goal. As a college professor, I have encountered many students over the years who selected a major based on their parents’ desires. It is hard to be effective (or happy) when you are pursuing an outcome someone else wants to reach. You have to own a goal to engage in meaningful pursuit of it.
  • It does not align with passion. Your goal might arise from a fantasy-like vision. The idea of writing a book or vision of being an entrepreneur are fun to imagine. The work and rejection involved in those pursuits—not so much. Certain aspects of pursuing a goal can be a turn-off, particularly when you do not have a strong emotional attachment to the goal.
  • It is the wrong goal. You must acknowledge this possibility. Repeated failure or setbacks could be a sign that you are chasing the wrong thing. For example, if you fail a real estate agent exam once you might benefit from changing your plan. Do you need to study more? Use different prep materials? Meet with a mentor? But, if you fail the exam several times it could mean you are not meant to be a real estate agent.

Not So Fast

It would be naive to always stick with a goal no matter what. Sometimes, goal abandonment or revision is necessary. What this week’s One to Grow On quote encourages us to do is not give up on a goal too quickly. We owe it to ourselves to first determine if changing the plan will overcome a setback in pursuing a goal. While giving up or changing goals can seem like the practical thing to do, it can be the wrong thing to do.

A final thought on adapting plans. A mentor can be invaluable in discerning if the reason you are falling short in goal achievement is the plan or the goal itself. You owe it to yourself to get outside perspective.

Time: A Nonrenewable Resource

hourglass

Wow! Look at the calendar. First quarter 2017 has come and gone. In what might seem like a blink of an eye, we will be toasting the arrival of 2018. How are you faring in making progress toward goals or resolutions you set three months ago? Do you feel like you are moving forward or treading water? Lack of progress toward achieving a goal can be frustrating, but it is not something over which we should beat up ourselves. However, failing to manage time is a shortcoming for which we must hold ourselves accountable.

This week, reflect on how you spend your day. Time is a precious resource, one that cannot be extended. Everyone gets the same 24 hours. Benjamin Franklin observed that lost time is just that—lost. Accomplishing more entails becoming a better steward of our precious time resources.

Lost time is never found again.

Where Does Time Go?

Are you proactively managing how you spend time? I often hear the lament “I don’t have time to…” nearly everything under the sun. The missed opportunities include not being able to:

  • exercise
  • read or study
  • nurture relationships
  • do chores or housework
  • get enough rest
  • pray or worship
  • enjoy a hobby

There is a lot we cannot do, at least according to our own version of events.

The activities listed above represent some of the things you want to do or in some cases, must do in the course of a day. Yet, we know all of the “want to” and even some “must do” things do not get crossed off our To Do list. Who or what gets in the way?

  • Ourselves. We are our own worst enemy and main culprit for stealing time. At an extreme, we fail to prioritize how we spend time and wander through the day with no self-discipline. An even worse outcome is that we know how to set priorities, but we do not follow through on the plan. The result is similar in that we fall short of what we are capable of accomplishing.
  • Others. Demands are placed upon us by children, parents, bosses, friends, all of the people important to us. We can manage impositions by saying “no” to requests that compete with existing obligations, that option is not always possible. We must carve out time to serve others.

Resource Management

Effectiveness and time management go hand-in-hand. My ability to get things done is highly correlated with being intentional about how I spend the day. I perform best when I manage time resources at macro and micro levels.

  • Macro. Set goals. I could stop there, but goals are invaluable for giving direction to how I spend time. Goals represent destinations I wish to reach. That information is a starting point for plotting how to get there.
  • Micro. I break down goals into weekly and daily activities to do in pursuit of them. I spend time on Fridays planning the next week. Similarly, I do not want to start a day without a To Do list in hand. Beginning the day by waking up and saying “now what?” is not ideal. Many productivity tools are available; check this list of five such tools. I use Toodledo to keep projects and required tasks organized. It does not matter what you use as long as you have a system in place.

Take Charge

We do not always have control over how we spend time, but we can minimize time controlling us by committing to control that precious nonrenewable resource that is time. Q1 2017 may be gone, but now is the time to head off regret of lost time in Q2 and beyond.

Image credit: Flickr- giulia gasparro, Creative Commons license

Becoming Known the Key to Personal Branding Success

Known book cover

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be famous (assuming you are not already famous)? Celebrities and their lifestyles fascinate us. I once saw a “person on the street” interview in which a teenage girl said her career goal was “to be famous like Paris Hilton.” Fame has become a career path, apparently.

You may have no desire to become famous like Paris Hilton, but you can aspire to be something even more important: known. That idea is at the heart of the latest book by social media marketing expert Mark Schaefer. His sixth book is Known: The Handbook for Building and Unleashing Your Personal Brand in the Digital Age. Schaefer knows a thing or two about being known. He is recognized, err known, as an authority on blogging, content marketing, and social media marketing. His {grow} blog has legions of followers, and his podcast “The Marketing Companion” (co-hosted with Tom Webster) is billed as “the most entertaining marketing podcast”—and delivers on that claim.

A Fix for Bad Personal Branding

You can find a lot written about personal branding… and a lot of it is crap. Oh, you can find plenty of blog posts sharing the five or seven steps to building your personal brand. The problem is the task of building a brand is such a monumental task it cannot be tackled in a 600 word blog post.

Another shortcoming of most works on the topic of personal branding is that they are heavy on what you should do but light on how to do it. In Known, Schaefer overcomes both of these limitations. The book has the needed depth to walk anyone through the process of positioning and communicating your brand. Moreover, application exercises throughout the book enable you to gain personal brand clarity.

Becoming Known

Known is the culmination of extensive research and interviews with people who are where those of us reading the book aim to reach: being known. Schaefer distills his research into becoming known by identifying four critical factors.

  1. Finding your place (what it is you want to do and can do consistently)
  2. Finding your space (an “uncontested niche” to be differentiated)
  3. Finding your fuel (creating content in an “open space that reflects your interests and personality)
  4. Creating an actionable audience (activating responses through engagement, networking, and influence).

Schaefer’s presentation is so effective, it is tempting to say “it’s that simple.” OK, becoming known is not as easy as 1,2, 3, 4. It is hard work and requires persistence, themes that appear regularly throughout the book. But, the blend of concepts, how to, and case studies of people who have succeeded in communicating their personal brand’s value indeed make Known a personal branding handbook.

Best of the Best

So what are my takeaways from Known? Here is the list:

  • Be wary of following your passion. It is advice espoused by many personal branding and career experts. Instead, Schaefer advocates focusing on a “sustainable interest” that can connect your brand to the well-being of others.
  • While you seek to stake out an uncontested niche (i.e., your space), you do not have to be the first person there. First-mover advantage can be just that, an advantage. However, history reminds that being first does not equal being the greatest (think Atari video games and Commodore PCs).
  • Content is the fuel to become known. People may come to know you, but it will happen because they know your content, first.
  • Never publish content that can be created by someone else. Lack of distinctive content puts one on a fast track to anonymity.
  • Audience is the fire created by fuel (content). It is not enough to create great content. An audience must be aware of it, relate to it, and accept it.

Now What?

A drawback to many business books is that it is difficult to maintain momentum from ideas taken from a book. If that happens after reading Known, it will be our own fault. Why? The key to being known is consistency. Managing the four areas of your brand (place, space, fuel, and audience) is an ongoing concern. Consistency is a must. It will not come from a book, blog, conference, or other person. It’s our turn to become known.

Allow Fear to Motivate, not Dominate

winner's medal

March is one of my favorite months of the year. Yes, warmer temperatures and later sunsets signal that summer is around the corner. But, there is something else that excites me about March: the NCAA basketball tournament. March Madness has become a fixture in American popular culture. Fan frenzy spills over into restaurants, bars, and yes, even workplaces. The games offer inspiring storylines about teams, players, and coaches. And, the games themselves are high caliber basketball contested by teams all seeking to be crowned national champion.

The all-out effort given by the teams competing in the NCAA basketball tournament comes to mind when reading the quote below from Robert Kiyosaki, an author best known for his book Rich Dad, Poor Dad.

The 68 teams selected for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament should fear losing. Why? The reality is that 67 of the 68 teams will be classified as losers. They will fall short of the ultimate goal of being national champions. Only one team (Gonzaga, North Carolina, Oregon, or South Carolina), will leave the basketball court on April 3 knowing the excitement of winning this year’s tournament. Yet, watching games over the last 13 days it is clear to me that teams have not feared losing, regardless of their opponent.

Play Now, Lose Later

Teams in the NCAA tournament have impressed me with their determination and refusal to give up no matter the score or situation. As a fan watching games on TV, it is easy to sit on the couch and proclaim “game over” when one team takes a seemingly insurmountable lead. Both teams know a loss means their season is over, yet maximum energy is expended from start to finish. They cannot be bothered right now about the prospect of losing. They play the game with maximum effort. If they win, the thrill of winning is experienced. If they lose, a  sense of “let’s cross that bridge when we get there” is the mindset observed among the teams.

Fear: Healthy and Harmful

Robert Kiyosaki’s quote encourages us to not let fear rule in our pursuit of success. A certain amount of fear can be used to your advantage. The teams in the NCAA basketball tournament know that one loss spells the end of the season regardless of how well they play or how successful the season has been up to that point. Fear of losing can create urgency to perform at peak levels and do so now.

Fear can also be debilitating. It can rob us of the joy found in doing everyday activities, negatively impact performance, and even change our outlook toward probability of success. No one sets out to sabotage themselves by letting fear get in the way of accomplishment. Yet, it happens regularly, and we become our own worst enemy.

Find Joy, Respect Fear

I am grateful for Robert Kiyosaki’s thoughts on balancing the joy of winning with the prospect of losing. Going forward, I want to emulate the intensity and focus shown by teams in the NCAA basketball tournament. They all have played to win, not played to avoid losing. All but one team will lose in the end, but their chase for a championship is not overshadowed by fears about losing. Besides, you do not get to the NCAA basketball tournament without having had your fair share of success. Teams have already felt the joy of winning by making it to the Big Dance.

Listen for Complaints instead of Eliminating Them

 

listen
Image credit: Ky-Flikr (Creative Commons license)

Constructive criticism can be a two-edged sword. On one hand, feedback received can make us aware of weaknesses or shortcomings we do not recognize. Taking corrective action enables us to improve, potentially benefiting both ourselves and the people we serve. On the other hand, criticism can sting. We are not always comfortable hearing about our failings or how we are not performing to expectations. We have to remind ourselves that when criticism is directed at us we can use it in a positive way.

Social media gives businesses the greatest listening tool since the shopkeeper’s own ears. Interacting with customers on social media enables a business to get a better read (literally) on what customers are thinking. In turn, social media enables immediate response to them. So, why would a business not want to take advantage of the platform afforded customers through social networking sites?

Stifle Yourself—No

An interesting case of how to deal with customer feedback for a business is reacting to customer reviews. Many people will go online to post a review in extreme cases. They either had a wonderful experience or a dreadful one. Who doesn’t love positive feedback from glowing reviews? It validates the company’s efforts to serve customers. More importantly, the positive word-of-mouth can impact others’ decisions to do business with you.

Negative reviews can have the opposite effect. Depending on the nature of the complaint and emotions of the reviewer, a negative review can be hurtful to the feelings of employees involved and to the business. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could make negative reviews go away? You can’t, so don’t try.

My middle son received a first-hand lesson in how businesses should not approach user reviews. He ended a lease with an apartment complex because he was going to study abroad for a semester. As he neared the end of his stay, he posted reviews about his experience with the apartment complex. He posted candid reviews based on his experiences in 16 months as a resident.

To their credit, a representative from the apartment complex responded, inviting my son to contact the office. The public move to acknowledge the complaint and reach out to the complainer is good social media practice. Apartment complex management seem to practice it consistently based on a cursory look at reviews (positive and negative).

The line a business cannot cross is attempting to stifle customers’ free speech. The practice is not only unethical, but it is now illegal. The Consumer Review Fairness Act passed last December protects consumers making truthful reviews about businesses. “Truthful” is the key word. Businesses are vulnerable to unfounded statements and claims. They, too, need protections from people who act maliciously by posting false negative reviews.

Don’t Do This

Bottom line for businesses is you cannot shut down free speech in the form of unfavorable customer reviews. A statement like the following sent to my son in a lease termination agreement does not work.

“The Resident Parties agree that neither of them will directly or indirectly, in any capacity or manner, make, express, transmit, speak, write, verbalize or otherwise communicate in any way (or cause, further; assist solicit, encourage, support or participate in any of the foregoing), any remark, comment, message, information, declaration, communication or other statement of any kind, whether verbal, in writing, electronically transferred or otherwise, that might reasonably be construed to be derogatory or critical of, or negative toward, the Landlord. To the extent that any such comment has previously been published to any social media site or otherwise communicated, the Resident Parties agree to immediately remove such reference and take all reasonable actions to ensure that such comment has been permanently removed from such social media site or otherwise.”

Nice try to silence customers; unfortunately it is against federal law.

Listen and Learn

Consumers’ rights to make truthful comments and reviews about businesses have been affirmed by the Consumer Review Fairness Act. It is pointless to fight it. So, how should your business respond when negative reviews pop up (notice it is a matter of when, not if)?

An excellent resource to learn more about how to deal with customer feedback on social media is Hug Your Haters by Jay Baer. A major point Baer makes in the book is “answering complaints increases customer advocacy across all customer service channels” (emphasis added). That outcome is dependent on people having the freedom to make complaints, of course. In short, complaints may begin due to a perceived failure in the customer’s mind but can have a happy ending for both the customer and the business.

Listening Rules

The best communicators without exception excel at listening. Great brands ascend to that status because the people served believe the brand cares about them. Valuing customers and others by listening to their opinions, complaints, and yes, even their rants has a payoff. You cannot build a relationship without two-way communication. Listening is at the core of the brand-customer interaction. Commit to listening and even if the thought of silencing negative voices sounds appealing, forget it.