Be Your Own Brand

By Heather Baldwin

Have you ever been so loyal to a brand of product that if the store didn’t have it in stock, you’d rather go home empty-handed than use something different? Think about the power in such a brand – and think about what would happen to your sales if your personal brand were that powerful. Today there are so many sales representatives selling so many look-alike products and services you must have a way to stand out. That’s what a personal brand does for you – it helps you position yourself in the market and rise above the clutter, explains Catherine Kaputa, founder of brand strategy company SelfBrand (www.selfbrand.com) and author of the forthcoming U R A Brand! How Smart People Brand Themselves for Business Success (Davies-Black, 2006). Here, she says, are four strategies you can use to develop a successful personal brand:

  1. Be the leader. Not everyone on your team can be the sales leader, but if you segment your customer base, you may find that different reps lead in different segments – and they can use that position as a foundation for a brand. Kaputa once worked with a client who did exactly that. He wasn’t the sales leader in his company, but when they sliced up the market, they found he was the leader in big, corporate accounts. He put that on his business card–that he specialized in large, corporate accounts–and suddenly his business shot up because prospects saw him as a leader in this area and wanted to do business with him.
  2. Be an anti-leader. Building a successful personal brand is all about leveraging your strengths. If you’re the kind of person who likes to go against the grain, then build your brand around that concept. "You need to build the brand on who you are," says Kaputa. "If you’re a maverick, if you’re a square peg in a round hole, emphasize that." In her days as a corporate client, Kaputa saw "hundreds and hundreds" of sales people who looked alike, sounded alike and took her to the same top restaurants in their bids to win her business. But one rep did it differently. He invited her to dinner at his home to meet his wife, his son and, as it turned out, his son’s hamster. "It really made an impression because no one had ever invited me to their home. It was great personal branding," recalls Kaputa. "I bought from him and I stayed with him because he really stood out. There was an emotional connection. Our conversations were personal; I always wanted to know about that hamster."
  3. Own an attribute. Just as Volvo owns safety and Subaru owns ruggedness, you can build a personal brand by owning an attribute. It’s simply a matter of figuring out what attribute will be most effective and make you stand out. Kaputa knows several sales reps who work at owning the attribute of being knowledgeable. "They position themselves as being the most well-informed about their industries and so I view them that way and they are always top of mind," she says. Another rep recognized that his peers often dropped the ball in getting back to prospects to answer their questions, so he decided to own the attribute of accountability. By making sure everything he did was about being accountable to his customers, and emphasizing his accountability to new prospects, his sales soared.
  4. Be the expert. A narrow focus is very powerful in branding. Kaputa tells the story of a broker who specialized in working with women and wanted to boost her sales. Her solution: to become an expert in divorced and widowed women – women who were suddenly on their own and hadn’t had much experience handling their finances. By specializing in such a niche area, the broker quickly became known as the expert in this area. Customers sought her out and she was invited to speak at numerous events, further solidifying her position as an expert and bringing in numerous additional prospects. Being a jack-of-all-trades is a surefire brand killer because you don’t stand for anything, says Kaputa. When you position yourself as the expert in a niche, you build a powerful brand.