As I write this, I am preparing for a keynote speech for an insurance industry event in Texas. The audience is agency producers and executives, as well as company reps. The focus of my speech is on the relationship between personal and agency brands. One of the big objections to address is the place of personal branding in the workplace. Unfortunately, the terms ‘personal brand’ and ‘brand’ are overused so much they’ve become buzzwords, and are really losing value. To be clear, I still believe wholeheartedly in personal branding, however I am getting tired of the overuse.
So, with that all said, how can I bring insurance professionals along this journey to understand the true value? Well, let’s start with some cold hard facts. During the writing of “Brand Aid” we performed research to get an idea of how c-suite executives behave. In the over 6,000 responses received, there was one glaring takeaway – 78% of the respondents indicated they looked up sales people before meeting with them. That’s powerful information, yet it shouldn’t surprise you. In today’s hyper-connected world it is expected your reputation precedes you. What people find, or don’t find, when they look you up, begins to form their opinion of you long before you meet with them.
The fact that a majority of executives are looking people up may give you a sense of joy or terror, but there is further research really showing the importance of personal branding. There are several studies on this, but the statistic generally states that 4 out of 5 people looking you up find something that changes their mind! This is a huge problem or a massive opportunity.
Often, both individuals and companies alike, see brand trends and set out on a course to attain the unattainable. They attempt to craft a larger-than-life brand, and then aim for flawless deviation from their perfect brand strategy. In humanity and in business, overall perfection does not exist. Sure, individuals and companies display moments of perfection, but it is not attainable indefinitely. For example, MLB pitchers like Felix Hernandez, Randy Johnson and Cy Young are among only 23 players to pitch a perfect game in the history of professional baseball. While they had a perfect performance, they all lost games – plenty of games – after perfection. You too will undoubtedly face slip-ups and rejection.
Individuals and companies looking for perfection in their corporate or personal branding are chasing a myth. I believe that is one of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to ‘branding’ in general. People see branding as an attempt to be flawless or perfect. The reality is we are all human, which means we are flawed. And, businesses are a group of humans, therefore also not perfect.
The real challenge in personal branding or corporate branding is to manage other’s perception of you over the long term. This begins with identifying a set of values and what you really stand for. Next, it is about managing your reputation and message to reinforce those values. There will come a time when actions, words, or decisions go against your desired brand. If you have a positive and powerful brand, then the market will quickly forgive and forget, and a small slip-up will be overshadowed by all the positive deposits you’ve built up.
Instead of chasing the unattainable, strive to have a great brand and have a defensive game plan in place. Damage may occur by something you do directly, or something someone else does trying to tarnish your brand. Either way, your long term strategy determines success or failure.
Personal Brands = Agency Brand
There is no meaningful distinction between a corporate and personal brand. Unless you are sitting in the bowels of a huge corporation, your personal brand is the corporate brand, and vice-versa. There is little focus right now on organizations helping their employees manage their personal brand, however this is quickly becoming a major strategic initiative.
The cost of doing nothing
Deafening silence. If you don’t have potential clients coming to you on a regular basis, then you are doing something wrong. If information or lack of information is keeping referrals and leads from moving through the sales funnel what does that mean to you? What does that equate to in lost revenue? The cost of not proactively managing your brand could be millions of dollars. That is not an exaggeration.
The subtitle of Brand Aid nicely sums this all up – taking control of your reputation before everyone else does. You have the opportunity to establish your brand and write your own story. If you leave it to chance, or worse, allow others to dictate your brand, then you are putting yourself at risk.