U R a Brand!: How Smart People Brand Themselves for Business Success
By Catherine Kaputa
Interviewed by: Patricia Schaefer
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What comes to mind first when you hear the word "brand" or "branding"?
Do you think of customers' perceptions of a company, its products or services; of people wanting to buy from companies they like and trust? Or maybe your mind wanders to images of the hot iron branding of cattle as a rangeland mark of ownership?
Are the images and feelings conjured up by the words "brand" and "branding" negative or positive?
They might be either, or both. You see, for more than 4,000 years -- at some time in all countries and all civilizations -- brands have been used as identification: for companies, products, services, livestock, and ... even humans, to name a few. They have been symbols of disgrace for, say, convicted criminals -- or symbols of pride for; i.e., those associated with a company's branded, recognizable, and valued products and services.
A relatively new concept in the long and conflicted history of branding is the idea of self-branding, a strategy for success that includes and employs the practice of self-awareness and commitment to who you really are, and a way to turn an ordinary career into an extraordinary one.
Catherine Kaputa -- a 20-year veteran of branding and advertising; and the founder of SelfBrand, a brand-strategy firm that works with people, products, and companies -- has taken the most positive, authentic and noble form of personal branding, and written about it in her self-help book U R a Brand!: How Smart People Brand Themselves for Business Success:
"A person represents a skill set. A self-brand represents a Big Idea, a belief system, that other people find special and relevant. Self-branding is more than your name, identity, and image. It is everything you do to differentiate and market yourself, such as your messages, self-presentation, and marketing tactics.
"Your ability to maximize the asset that is you is the single most important ingredient in your success.
"That's why self-branding is so valuable. For people, branding is about achieving greater success, as represented by money, fame, self-esteem, or whatever measure is important to you.
"But I am also talking about becoming who you were meant to be, which means that success includes becoming who you truly are. The trick to effective self-branding is to devise a strategy that works in achieving professional and life goals but also is true to you -- that brings more of you into the equation."
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Kaputa about her new book, and she shared with me some of her thoughts about the authenticity aspect of self-branding; about her belief that authenticity may be the one universal truth in self-branding that might benefit just about anyone, if applied:
"If I was to think of one universal truth [of personal branding], it's this whole idea of building it out of authenticity. And really looking at what is different and unique about you, and highlight that difference. The key thing that branding is really about is differentiating yourself. So, it's looking at authenticity and differentiation. Not being afraid to stand apart and highlight that, and to make that a powerful thing ... and memorable. That will make you successful."
Unlike too many other self-help tomes, every chapter of Kaputa's book is actually chock full of valuable advice and tools that have the potential to truly turn personal branding into an inspired reality. Kaputa acknowledges that this was no accident: "In a lot of books, there's not much there to 'bite into.' You read the book, and then you think, there were just a couple of sentences I can really use. What I wanted to do was give people a lot of things they could think about and utilize."
In Chapter 1, Take Charge of Your Self Brand, Kaputa says "a talented, hardworking person won't do as well as a well-branded, talented, hardworking person." Kaputa explained why she believes this is so:
"I know a lot of smart talented people who aren't that successful. You know what? It isn't the most intelligent person who is the most successful in life. Success is not based objectively on who's better -- the people with the highest IQ's are not the most successful people -- but on perceptions; other people's perceptions about you. Branding is all about perception; building positive perceptions for a product, or building positive perceptions for you."
Kaputa says in the Afterword of her book: "If people think you are at the top of your game, you are. If people think you are a bit player, you will be one until you change their thinking.
"When you are competing for something -- whether to head up the company, the new business pitch, or the PTA -- it doesn't matter who is 'objectively' better for the job. What matters are the impressions in the minds of other people. Those perceptions about you control your destiny."
In U R a Brand, a key component of the success of self-branding is "finding your sweet spot;" in other words, uncovering a person's fresh, unique, and powerful hidden assets that meet a real market need.
Kaputa talked about one of the ways this can be achieved: "Listen to what other people compliment you on; you know, what does your boss say you do really well? What do other people comment about you? The one thing that's so amazing to me that's true is that the hardest person to analyze is ourself. We can look at other people and see what their strengths and weaknesses are, but that can often be a problem if you're looking at yourself.
"That's why I think self-branding can be so important; because it really takes you through that. Listen to what other people say. What kind of messages are you hearing more than one time about yourself? That people think you do really well? That's really different about you? And jot it down."
One of the tools for self-branding mentioned in U R a Brand is the SWOT analysis, studying one's own strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. "The SWOT analysis is an intensive look at your strengths and weaknesses in a real-world framework. It will help you focus on your strengths and deflect your weaknesses. It will help you zero in on opportunities and threats on your professional horizon, even uncover hidden information.
"As a self-brand strategist, you must always be relevant and find new opportunities. We spend too much of our time following so many rules or simply plodding ahead that we don't see the opportunity. Doing a periodic SWOT analysis will keep you on track."
Sprinkled throughout the chapters of U R a Brand are quotes from someone who Kaputa claims is now quoted more frequently than the Bible -- William Shakespeare. In fact, right before the book's Content page is it's first quote from the Bard: "Thence comes it that my name receives a brand."
Kaputa shared with Business Know-How that her love affair with Shakespeare started with her cousin who "is an armchair Shakespeare scholar who's always quoting Shakespeare to me. You know, here is somebody who has written more than some countries have done in their whole literature. Also, he was very famous for coining a lot of words; tons of words that never existed before, and expressions that are timeless and so rich. For me, he's so powerful. Shakespeare himself was such a great brander with the naming he did; with the characters and words he created."
And, finally, what sage advice did Kaputa have for those of us -- I dare say the majority -- who are branded as children by our parents; perhaps as the "baby," the "smart one," or the "pretty one"? It seems no matter how we change or what we achieve in life, families often cling to that "label" or brand" assigned to us when we are young. Is it possible to change our family's brand image of us?
"That's a fabulous question and I know exactly what you're talking about. I'm from a large family; I'm one of five kids. There was 'the smart one,' this one, that one; everyone had a label. It can be a problem and I found that when I went home, I had to resist falling back into the trap of who that brand was that my parents saw me as. And I think that's one of the hardest things to do because that relationship and connection is one where they had the power over you as a kid, and now as an adult, you have to resist. It's easier to rebrand yourself on the job and in the professional world.
"Family rebranding in one of the hardest rebrandings to do. Frankly, most of us don't know how to resist that. But you have to think that, OK, that's an old thing they have from the past. They don't have that power over me anymore and I'm just going to redirect it."
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Copyright 2006, Attard Communications, Inc.