Three Defining Traits of the Dale Earnhart 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.

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.

Become a Master Biscuit Maker

2014 Bojangles Master Biscuit Maker Challenge winner Travis Squire (bojangles.com)

A serving tray liner at a Bojangles restaurant was the last place I expected to get a personal branding lesson. But, I have come to realize that learning is possible in the most unlikely situations. On a recent breakfast visit to Bojangles with my youngest son, my chicken biscuit came with a side of personal branding. More specifically, the tray liner featured winners of the company’s biscuit making competition. At first, I thought the “competition” was a witty means of persuading diners how delicious Bojangles biscuits can be. I quickly realized it was no joke; there are skilled employees practicing the craft of biscuit making at Bojangles.

A Master Biscuit Maker- Really?

The information on the tray liner about the Master Biscuit Maker Challenge intrigued me, so I researched it further. First, the name Master Biscuit Maker is not just something made up for a contest. Bojangles certifies employees as Master Biscuit Makers. The process includes passing a written exam about the company’s 48-step biscuit making process. Second, certified Master Biscuit Makers compete at the store, area, and regional level for a chance to go to company headquarters in Charlotte for the finals. The 2016 competition included 17 finalists representing  a mix of corporate owned and franchise locations. Each finalist received $250 while vying for a grand prize of $2500. Two grand prize winners included one employee one from company stores and one from franchise stores.

Perhaps I am too easily impressed, but the concept of a Master Biscuit Maker kept crossing my mind in the days after my breakfast visit to Bojangles. Could it be envy? After all, my definition of achievement when it comes to biscuit making is successfully popping open a can of biscuits. No, I don’t think it is envy that attracts me to this story. I think it is awesome that Bojangles elevated the process of biscuit making to something akin to a craft. The significance of biscuit making in Bojangles’ brand experience is reinforced by the Master Biscuit Makers certification program.

Working on Skill Set

A takeaway from learning about the Bojangles Master Biscuit Maker Challenge is that skill development is indispensable to personal branding. One of my favorite sayings is “you can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig.” This idea applies to personal branding, too. No amount of tweets, blog posts, or slick web pages can conceal an under-developed skill set. Skills are central to your personal brand Makeup. They are at the heart of your “product” offering.

In the book 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 skill set development. A blend of hard skills (i.e., measurable competencies or knowledge) and soft skills (indirectly measurable abilities like critical thinking and communication) are essential to differentiate your brand. Bojangles Master Biscuit Makers invest in strengthening their hard skills by elevating biscuit making from task to craft.

Do the Work

A Chinese proverb says “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.” When it comes to enhancing the skill set of your personal brand, it could be argued that the best time to develop expertise has passed. The good news is that the next best time is now, followed by tomorrow, and the day after, and so on. Too many people aspire to be the pro or expert. They forget to plan for the 10,000 hour rule that Malcolm Gladwell discusses in his book Outliers. To be among the best in your field requires work… a lot of work. Consistent practice and repetition is where you build your “muscles” in the skill or job you have chosen.

A fierce commitment to skill development can have another positive impact beyond getting better at what you do: It can fan the flames of passion. Despite all of the calls to “follow your passion,” you are more likely to experience a passion awakening by becoming better at what you do. You can be energized by successes, recognition, and especially realization that you are creating value for others.

I am impressed by the commitment and ability shown by Bojangles Master Biscuit Makers. Their story illustrates you do not have to be in a high profile environment to perform at a high level. The kitchen of a quick service restaurant might seem like an unlikely place to find people sharpening skills, but that is exactly what is going on. Bojangles biscuits taste even better knowing the commitment of the company to the skill of biscuit making.

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.

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.

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 Year: 52 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.

Forget Making New Year’s Resolutions

The calendar flips to a new year, and along with this milestone comes a tradition practiced by many people: making New Year’s resolutions. Evidence of New Year’s resolutions can be traced back as far as 1671, with more specific mentions of the practice found as early as 1813. A notable characteristic of New Year’s resolutions then (and still today) is they seemed to excuse or acknowledge undesirable behavior in the run-up to a new year. New year’s resolutions offer a fresh start… at least in theory.

Resolutions Fall Short

If you have made New Year’s resolutions for 2017, you need to know that the odds are against success. A study on New Year’s resolutions found that only eight percent of people who make resolutions are successful in achieving them. Maybe the low success rate explains why only 45 percent of Americans usually make New resolutions.

So what are we trying to accomplish when making New Year’s resolutions? Google search data are revealing about what we long to be, do, or have. According to digital marketing firm iQuanti, the top New Year’s resolutions based on search queries include:

  • Getting healthy
  • Getting organized
  • Living life to the fullest
  • Learning new hobbies
  • Spending less/saving more.

The goals are worthy; that is not the problem. New Year’s resolutions fall short of their intended outcome so often because of the absence of a plan to reach the destination. We would not get in a car and drive from Memphis to Miami without directions. Yet, New Year’s resolutions without an action plan is the equivalent of blindly making that long distance drive.

Set Goals Instead

Replace New Year’s resolutions with personal goals. In the book Me: How to Sell Who You Are, What You Do, & Why You Matter to the World, Colby Jubenville and I discuss how setting goals is essential to managing your personal brand. Setting goals offers two significant payoffs. First, goals align action with purpose. Pursuing goals is a way to to spend your time in ways that are consistent with the big picture you see for yourself. Second, goals give focus to how to spend time and energy. It is easy to fall into a trap of working on projects not aligned with your goals. Setting goals and identifying actions needed to achieve them can minimize getting sucked into other people’s priorities.

Set personal goals with two criteria in mind:

  1. Goals for different life parts
  2. Goals with different time horizons.

Life Parts

Pursuing goals could get you to the destination you want, but will you be happy once you get there? Colby and I caution against putting too much emphasis on a single area. Instead, we advocate setting goals for six different life parts:

  • Career goals
  • Relationship goals
  • Wellness goals
  • Spiritual goals
  • Financial goals
  • “Bucket list” goals.

The idea is setting goals in multiple areas can help create balance in your life. None of us is one dimensional; our goals should reflect the various roles we concurrently take on. For example, it might do little good to reach career goals if the actions taken to get there ruin personal relationships or damage your health. Setting goals for different life parts serves as protection against self-sabotage.

Time Horizon

In addition to setting goals for different life parts, we need to set goals with differing lengths to achievement. Why? Not every accomplishment we pursue requires the same amount of time. Set goals that are:

  • Short range- 12 months or less
  • Mid range- one to three years to achievement
  • Long range- More than three years to achievement.

Also, use short-range and mid-range goals as stepping stones to reaching long-range goals. A long-range goal might be that end destination you envision but requires a lengthy journey to get there. The relationship between short-range, mid-range, and long-range goals is evident in the question “What is the best way to eat an elephant?” The answer is “one bite at a time.” You are more likely to achieve long-range goals set when broken down into smaller “bites.”

Do Something

Despite the preceding discussion on the limitations of New Year’s resolutions, it is OK to set goals or make resolutions. The point is do something that will spur personal growth. If you are among the eight percent that can see resolutions through to achievement, then go for it. Keep in mind that resolutions are essentially short-range goals. Complement them with more ambitious, longer range outcomes. And, set outcomes in multiple life parts; do not zero in on a single aspect of your life and ignore others.

Good luck pursuing your goals (or resolutions) in 2017!