How can we lead if we are looking down? We cannot. Leaders must look up. Leading individuals and organizations who look up and ahead almost always have a strong brand. So, let us focus on the word brand and how it positions us as a leader in the marketplace.
We communicate a message in everything we do, especially when we use the term brand. We often discuss brands, whether we prefer them or not, because brands stand out in an emotional way.
Think about our instant recognition of Nike when we hear “Just Do It” or see the image of Walt Disney World when you hear the phrase “the happiest place on earth.”Perception is reality when it comes to a brand. Thus, the goal is to make such brand experiences personal. For example, are you a Coke or Pepsi person? Mac or PC? Your brand is the one thing about you or your organization that people cannot replicate. They can try to duplicate what you do, but they cannot be you, and they cannot be your brand. Your brand is the unique value that only you bring to the table. Price is the cost of something. In contrast, value = price + goods/services + YOU.
Without the value of you (your brand), you are nothing more than a commodity where low price wins. This is not good.
A brand can be defined as the sum total of key ideas, emotions, and perceptions that are communicated to your audience and associated with you or your organization’s work. When your stakeholders reflect upon their experiences with you or your organization, the brand is the “shorthand” way of summing up those characteristics and feelings. A brand can be thought of as your distinguishing characteristics that could be considered your own unique fingerprint (no two are the same).
To simplify, I developed a newly revised acronym, BRAND, which is the Baseline of our Reputation, Attributes, Name, and Distinctiveness. Baseline is a “starting point” used for comparison. Reputation is all you or your organization stands for; Attributes are the characteristics others use when describing you; your name suggests something (good, bad, or indifferent) when a person hears it; and your Distinctiveness answers the question, “So what? Why you? What makes you different or unique?”
So the question is not whether we have a brand or not, because all individuals and organizations have a brand. Instead, the question is, what do we do with our brand? Our brand is not defined by what we say it is, but is characterized by what others say it is. To that end, successful individuals and organizations work hard to develop their brands through effective communications. Always remember that building a strong, recognizable, and reliable brand takes time, effort, and commitment. It requires a deliberate, purposeful, and intentional leadership strategy.
Such consistency in strategic branding pays off with brand loyalty – one of the most valuable assets any person or organization can have. To review your brand, obtain feedback from those around you as a first step. Be sure to obtain this 360-degree feedback (all directions) from those close to you as well as those who are more removed from you.
Moreover, develop a PACT mindset (P = Passion; A = Authenticity; C = Creativity; T = Trust) as it pertains to your brand. Merriam-Webster defines pact as “a formal agreement between two people or groups.” We want to focus on the word “agreement.”
A person buys from another when he or she feels authentic passion fueled with creativity that is built on trust. Any strong brand is built on mutual trust. Thus, our brand must be built upon some of these key criteria. When a person has tremendous passion, he or she has energy, dedication, and enthusiasm. When a person is authentic, he or she is consistent in behavior no matter the circumstances. And when a person is creative, life is approached in a different and unique manner, operated with an “as if” mindset. This means the person operates “as if” this could be done, or “why can’t this be done?” The person finds a way and never settles for less than the best. This is what the best individual and organizational brands are all about.
Remember leaders look up. This means they are looking forward and ahead. Such leadership ability is essential to growing our brand. It makes all the difference for those individuals and organizations seeking to lead the way now and in the future.
Finally, once you can better define what your own brand is about and what you want it to be about, you can determine the ways you want to purposefully grow, change, re-frame, promote, and/or strengthen your current brand position.
So, does our brand make a difference? Yes. Does it matter? You bet it does. Your brand makes ALL the difference.