Brand

FEEL THE BURN! How Personal Branding And Corporate Branding Are Not That Different

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A dear friend of mine and the owner of Sweat Concierge, which provides all the fitness hot spot recommendations you would ever need (and the beats to listen to while you are there - check it out), got me into a stimulating conversation about what "branding" is. You readers should know by now that that is probably one of my top topics to nerd out on. After all, I teach a class on it (message me for more info about that).  

When I teach a class on personal branding, I always ask the audience how often they hear the word "branding" these days and it is pretty common to hear that the word is all over the place. I talk about personal branding a lot because that is what I help individuals with and several of my mentors' careers have been devoted to broader brand design and strategy.

When discussing it the other day, my friend was confused that I was talking about so much emotion and psychology in my blog when she always associated "branding" with the larger corporate world. She is not wrong, but branding is talked about so much more in the startup and millennial world as well. In fact, it is everywhere. I told her that the distinction between what I do and the commonly known business branding is not a matter of definition but a matter of magnitude / scale. Let me explain: 

In personal branding, I help individuals align their interests, core values, and personal goals toward personal contentment. In corporate branding, it can be said that the same categories are addressed but for a larger institution instead of a single person all in service of the company's productivity and success. The two kinds of branding are very similar, but different by scale.

Let us explore further:

The origin of the word branding, as many probably know, is the use of a hot iron to mark something - or someone - to show ownership or simply to label it as belonging to something, some place, or some group. The word comes from old German in which it means burning and transitioned into a verb in Middle English as in to leave a permanent mark and subsequently began to imply ownership in the 1600s. Branding was most commonly used on livestock to show which was owned by whom, but unfortunately the practice extended to slaves and criminals. Despite the intended target, branding denotes belonging. 

These days, tattoos denote gang affiliation. In the American Indian world, perhaps hair styles and jewelry were relatively similar but garments of clothing and artwork distinguished tribes from each other around the country. Think about right now. You can often tell who belongs to the class of superwealthy by the clothes they wear or the cars they drive or what google says their net worth is. No matter what, branding is everywhere whether you like it or not. Even if you reject the idea of branding and walk around the world naked all day long, that is still your brand! That is still showing others - graphically - how you enact your place in the world.

Branding is about the story that is expressed to the world. I believe that brand strategy for large businesses and corporate departments is interesting but I more strongly believe that if the individuals within those companies do not understand their own personal brand that they bring to that company and those around them, the company's brand will never be quite complete.

Now here is where it gets hairy: sure, you could argue that a company could hire a brand strategist who designs a campaign that makes the company enormous success without talking with the employees about their ambitions, interests, and core values. Absolutely. Because brands are everywhere and we all have our own, there is no one singular brand to rule the world (cue the audience member who yells out "Amazon!"). There are successful brands and less successful brands, but that is relative to intention and is boiled down to understanding. My clients understand themselves so much better - their emotional patterns, communication styles, goals, interests, and values - and can more confidently express each of those in daily life to improve their communication, interactions, relationships, and work satisfaction. This is only possible because they were open to a new understanding. One of my mentors was once hired by a large company and worked them through his whole process of narrative and brand design only to be met with a lot of "but why though? I don't get it." It was not my mentor's inability to describe new story channels for the company, but the company leader's inflexibility to understand and accept the new brand identity. 

My clients come to me when they are feeling the need for some kind of change either in their work, career, or relationships. They notice something is not working and there is a tension inside of them that burns into restlessness. So many people never respond to the restlessness except with anger. They stay stuck, go home and vent or drink it away, then get up and repeat. Those who want to make that change, though, look outward for guidance and take action. The catch is that, even though they recognize their ambition to make a change, there is a whole lot of fear pulling them back toward their familiar, un-risky daily life.

Being stuck in the middle of fear and ambition creates even more tension within someone and confusion within their mind. People lose sight of their interests, they think that their goals are somehow misguided, and very often resort to judging themselves in the sense of doing things in a right or wrong way. Does this sound familiar to you? It sure rings a bell for me and my evolving personal brand (not my company, but me as a person). A few years ago I learned that there truly is no such thing as right or wrong with regard to your "path." It is simply a matter of what is healthiest for you as an individual. If you are restless, stressed, and angry from unenjoyable work, your body and mind will have a hard time maintaining a healthy condition. If you respond to tension by talking it out with a colleague or partner and strategize how to productively ameliorate the tension, you will feel healthier in your body and your mind will feel clearer. A matter of acting forward instead of covering up. 

I knew as early as high school that I wanted to start my own business at some point, which is why - ESPECIALLY now - I feel in my gut that a lot of jobs in an office of some kind working for someone else would cause tension and restlessness in me. I help people navigate that murky, dark, scary place between fear and ambition, and what can be discovered there is a new understanding of unique story that is powerful whether for an individual or a large company.  

So whether it is you stressed at work in the cubicle farm, crushing a PR at the gym, feeling awkward at a Christmas party, or telling someone you love them, understanding the why of your experience continues to define the brand story you express to the world every day. Like the hot brand that indicates the farm to which a cow belongs, show the world how you are a part of it. 

How My Three Brand Pillars Will Change Your Life

Last week I introduced to you to the three pillars on which my services are based - Awareness, Acceptance, and Accountability - and now I am going to tell you how they can be used to rock your world and change your life.

To start, let us take it back for a second. I am the youngest of three kids. I have been known as the baby, the little prince, the perfect one, the favorite, and some others, but I swear none of those have gone to my head, I swear. 

Did I mention I was the favorite? Anyways...  I got to observe all of my family interactions from day one. All of the questions, the activities, the arguments, and the love. Before I even knew that I was a "person", I was filling up my brain with little notes and observations about personality and motivations. As I grew a consciousness, I began to notice I had biases, interests, and dislikes, and that they began to affect decisions I made. Those interests and decisions led me to set goals and voila! Awareness laid the groundwork for direction. 

My self awareness was built by life events that came with getting a little bit older. Golden example: the terrifying experience of calling the dentist's office that I described a few posts back. When I was little-little and didn't know I had a voice or what a telephone was, someone made the appointment for me. In my example, I had become old enough to know how to use a phone and that that was how appointments got scheduled, but I did not know the right way to schedule one. 

This is the acceptance. The combination of self awareness and more life experiences showed me what I did not know.

I thought that there was a right or wrong way to schedule an appointment with the dentist and plainly did not know how to do it. Even though I panicked before I asked for help, the panic on its own is a form of acceptance - I was panicking that I did not know something!

But then I learned how to do it. I asked for help and called the darn dentist's office. I stuttered my words, but I achieved my goal. And there comes the accountability. As soon I learned how to make a dentist's appointment, I would be expected to do so in the future. Since I now had the new ability to call their office, I bore that privileged responsibility.

Okay, why is he talking about the dentist's office so much? Because it is real life. It is a mundane, every day challenge that someone could face growing up. And it is an example of positive change that my business provides. Sure, I could help you with calling the dentist because I am now an expert, but I also mean applying the three As to not only a business but your personal life as well. 

Lightning round: A RELATIONSHIP YOU ARE IN

  1. Awareness = your emotions for the other person, your capacity for vulnerability, maybe even what you are looking for out of a partner or relationship, and, of course, where you fall short in the connection.
  2. Acceptance = that you are not perfect - SPOILER ALERT - and you do not know everything and that, in your emotional discomfort, you are dating the person with whom you can communicate and ask for help
  3. Accountability = you are dating the person with whom you can communicate and ask for help. Now that you know how to, you can continue to in the future andddddddd boom, the connection gets stronger.

You are welcome. 

Now let's circle back to business. If you are starting a business or have started one and for whatever reason chose to skip over your narrative exploration (shameful), all you have to do is frame your reflection with these three pillars. For example:

  • Awareness = your business idea, your desire to start your own thing, and maybe even the first step to designing your product.
  • Acceptance = that you do not know how to make a business plan, do marketing of any kind, or in what kind of guidance youwant to invest.
  • Accountability = as soon as you do ask for help or receive guidance, you have the responsibility to not only advocate for any help as needed in the future but also follow up on that guidance and do what was advised.

In other words:

  • Awareness = your goal
  • Acceptance = current state / what you need to learn
  • Accountability = learning and taking action

This is why people recruit friends or hire people like me to keep them diligent. Accountability often is most effective when its source is someone or something external to you but, if it is not rooted in a passion that you are aware of, you will not stay motivated or you will veer off in the wrong direction.

One of the defining principles of true narrative is aspiration, and these three As make up the car that drives the aspiration forward. They provide direction. Apply them to your life. Where are you feeling stuck and wanting direction?

These three pillars can be used to provide direction as well as give you a boost of an action plan to pursue a goal in any realm of your life.

Conversations with coworkers, date night, cooking a meal, running a marathon, running a country, starting a business...

Knowledge is power. You cannot get to true Accountability without digging into your self awareness and goals...

...so let's get started.

The 3 Pillars Of My Brand

In both The Tailored Quill and my second company, The Axon Program, apart from my mission statements and value propositions, I assist people with three life-changing elements:

  1. Awareness
  2. Acceptance
  3. Accountability

Boom. There you go. There is a nugget for you. Now go off and thrive with that, if you can. If you want to learn more, keep reading and stay tuned. These will come up a lot. 

See, you cannot have acceptance without awareness, nor accountability without acceptance. There is a logical order to it. Just like the order of the universe, though, the order consists of chaos.

Clients come to me when they are in some inner crisis of ambition. Their external world may seem ordered but inside everything is in total disarray. An unfortunate majority of people in the world wait until the chaos begins to boil over before they reach out beyond themselves for some kind of assistance (see post #2). Even though I wholeheartedly promote the vulnerability it takes to ask for help, I understand that a lot of people do not know how.

No matter what, there is such great awareness and acceptance already there when someone chooses to ask for help. The person is aware that they are stuck, stressed, or helpless and subsequently accepts that they themselves do not have the resource knowledge necessary to ameliorate the tension. 

That is huge! People do not realize how impressive it is that they have that awareness and that they are able to accept that they  do not know something. The reason people do not see how impressive it is is because the sensation of helplessness and the vulnerability needed to ask for help feels TERRIBLE to most people.

I am working with one client now who without fail will give themselves a mini pep talk and then preface a question they are about to ask me, all because the experience of asking for help in any way and showing that open vulnerability has always been severely unfamiliar. It is like the setup routine a professional weightlifter displays before attempting a lift.

Once the stress response subsides and the endorphins sift back in to their blood stream, most people are able to stop and think "Huh, I did that!" and hear me when I tell them how impressive their self awareness in that moment was. 

That is why my work is collaborative. I present the space for you to be safely vulnerable. You take the risk of asking for help. I label how impressive your capacities for awareness and acceptance are. You revel in your new personal glory. We set goals as a team for accountability. Then we repeat. Over and over and over. In every kind of way.

I took a cellular biology course during my sophomore year of college and during one lab session we learned how to run analytical tests of data we had collected. I entered in data, a graph appeared in the report, and I had absolutely no idea what the graph meant. I stared at it for a so long, one eye on the obnoxiously loudly ticking clock on the wall, knowing that I had to understand this one piece if I was going to complete the assignment. As I began to sweat and panic, I felt helpless. 

Then I acknowledged how many times I had stared at the graph in that previous ten minutes and I knew that I did not have the answer. I took in an exasperated breath and asked the TA for help. I recognized her supportive way of guiding me to come up with the answer on my own, and we both relished the epic flood of epiphany that I felt when it all clicked. 

Now translate that to your life at work. What if you have an assignment due at the end of the workday and you are staring at the materials with wide eyes, seeing no where to start? 

What about if you feel stuck in your job and want to change careers but have no idea how to go about it?

What about if you want to start your own company?

We all feel that panic and we are all aware that it is panic. But it is what we do at that moment that determines whether we remain helpless and slip into despair or learn something new and grow. Maybe you have already felt the despair before, so I walk on the wild side: take the same exasperated breath I did and ask someone for help. See what happens. 

You'll never read this, will you?

Blog - one of the goofiest but most recognizable words in the world. Like a lovechild of "blah" and "fog". Both super exciting. The first recorded mention of the word was in 1997 as part of the word "Weblog" before its separation into the phrase "we blog" allowed it to become a verb in addition to a noun. The term "Weblog" makes a whole lot more sense, let's be real. Now blogs are as ubiquitous as thermostats: random instruments that are secretly necessary in daily life. Blogs often take the form of a lack of form, leaving it up to the writer to craft it the way they want and about whatever they want (SPOILER ALERT: we'll cover this a lot more in a later post).  

Whether you're a quintessential millennial (like me) or a well-informed baby boomer, you very well know how blogs are the rebellious middle child between a tweet and a novel. It has stuff to say and it's ready to argue, but it's going to argue it in 600-1200 words and then turn stubborn, holding fast behind the words once it's published. The younger sibling will comment on it, the older sibling will discuss it on their book tour, but the middle sibling will remain stoic. 

Like the events that punctuate a culture's history, blog posts are the stories that compose the blog's overall narrative. The first time I wrote a blog was in the summer of 2011 when my sister and I took an epic road trip around the west coast for two weeks, documenting how many pastries we ate and how many times her iPod Classic (yup, remember those? The iPods that could store a hundred thousand songs or something?) thought it was a good idea to play Christmas songs on shuffle. We published the blog because we knew the trip would be an adventure and our closest friends and family wanted to be included in that adventure (it was amazing. If you happen to find it in the internet-land, please enjoy).

That's what blogs do: they connect people. Even if you don't read this post - let's be honest, you likely won't; it's the first post - I now get to be stubborn about a topic. And you ought to pay attention, because everything I will talk about actually relates to your life. And yours. And yours. And mine. That's important to understand so I'm glad you read all the way to this point (you did read this, right?).