When someone meets you for the first time, here’s
the scoop—good or bad:
- In one-quarter of one second, a person makes
up his or her mind about you.
- In the first five seconds, a person’s first impression
of you flips back and forth 11 times.
- Your first impression is more important than
your next five combined.
The message? Your fate could be sealed even before
you utter a single word. The reality is you—the person—are the product, like it or not.
No one has stated it better than Napoleon
Hill: “People buy your personality and ideas long
before they buy your products and services.” Harry
Beckwith echoed the same sentiment in his bestselling
book What Clients Love. Beckwith reports that
even though the statistics overwhelmingly show that
most people buy the person first, company second,
products/services third and price last, the facts reveal
that most of us try to sell exactly the opposite—we
sell price first, products/services second, company
third and ourselves last.
What all this means—for your success and your
clients—is that the Personal Brand and how you
market yourself, or your clients, are far more important
than price, product and, yes, even smarts.
A Personal Brand is not something you can
choose to have or not have. Everybody—and every
company—has a Personal Brand. What you can
choose is whether the Personal Brand is positive,
negative or neutral.
If you’re going to have a Personal Brand, why
not make it a great one?
What is a Personal Brand?
A Personal Brand is the personal identity that
stimulates a meaningful emotional response in
another person or audience about the qualities or
values for which that person or business stands. For
example, when you think of Walter Cronkite, what are the values or qualities that come to mind? Trust?
Honesty? Credibility? How about Tom Hanks? Or
the “go-to” person in the design industry? What are
the emotions he or she evokes? What are the values
and qualities that come to mind when you think of
that person or firm?
The single most important step in building
an effective Personal Brand is accepting that what
you think of yourself or your client is nearly irrelevant:
Branding is all about what others think. Al
Ries and his daughter Laura—the authors of 22
Immutable Laws of Branding—define the process
of branding as “reserving a word or phrase in the
mind of another.” Building the Personal Brand, you
begin by identifying the emotion you want to evoke
in your audience. Then you identify the word or
phrase that reflects that emotion, and which you
want others to associate with you or your client.
Lastly, you must consistently engage in intentional
behavior that promotes and reinforces the word or
phrase you have chosen.
Mercedes is a great example. Mercedes wants its
clients to feel special. The word the company wants
others to associate with its products is prestige. All of
Mercedes’ products—customer service, advertising,
etc.—are targeted toward reserving the word prestige
in the minds of its target audience. The process is the
same for building a Personal Brand. First, emotion.
Second, word or phrase. Third, consistent, intentional
Who needs a great Personal Brand?
Anyone whose success depends upon or requires the
cooperation of another individual or group needs a
great Personal Brand. A lawyer needs to sell his clients
on his capabilities and a judge and jury on the
merits of his case. A minister needs to sell his flock
on the message of the gospels. A corporate executive
must sell himself into a promotion.
Now, more than ever, he who has the best
Personal Brand wins.
Great personal brands are no longer important.
They are indispensable.
Manufacturing no longer drives the American economy.
Service providers do. Products we can touch
and feel are no longer the focus of the majority of
commercial transactions; people and their Personal
Today, the American economy is dominated
by three disciplines: professional service providers,
technology specialists, and sales and marketing
experts. While it is true Dell and Nike are shipping
low-paying manufacturing jobs overseas, there has
been an explosion of new white-collar service sector
jobs in America.
There are three reasons why this shift away from
a product-driven economy to a service-driven one
makes Personal Branding more important than ever:
(1) the customer’s buying strategy, (2) fierce competition
and (3) information overload.
The customer’s buying strategy
If you are not selling a product, you are selling
something that is invisible. You cannot see and
touch litigation results, financial services or insurance
coverage. The challenge for designers developing
projects for professional service providers is
that even though the marketplace has shifted from
product to service, the customer’s purchasing strategy
remains the same. Eighty percent of all buyers
are visual. Buyers still need to see something to
help them validate their purchases. Something must
replace the tangible product. This something is the
Personal Brand. Like it or not, most of the time
success boils down to little more than a popularity
contest. He who has the most likable Personal
Start managing buyers’ perceptions by crystallizing
and intentionally promoting the Personal Brand.
The massive consolidation of law firms across the
country is one case in point. Only 10 years ago,
Los Angeles was populated with hundreds of small
boutique law firms specializing in one specific area.
During the 1990s, most of these small firms were
gobbled up by larger firms intent on dominating
With their massive marketing budgets and ability
to offer clients every service under the sun, these
superfirms transformed the marketplace into a “bareknuckles,
Today’s lawyers must assume that no matter how
good their skills, resources and knowledge are, the
competition’s abilities are just as good.
Information overload is the third reason Personal
Branding is essential. Each of us will be bombarded
with 3300 e-mails this year. The average person will
have watched well over one million commercials
by the time he or she is 18 years old. The amount
of information available on the web doubles every
45 minutes. As the availability of time shrinks, the
importance of Personal Branding increases.
A Personal Brand plays an invaluable role in
simplifying the complexity of the buyer’s choices.
An effective Personal Brand is a safe haven amidst
the world of information chaos. The Personal
Brands that win today are those that filter out what
Beckwith refers to as “the noise.” The best Personal
Brands offer something specific and simple. They
present themselves as the safe choice.
The power of first impressions
People don’t merely form first impressions; they
become attached to them. Social scientists have
given this phenomenon a name: the Fundamental
Attribution Error (FAE). FAE gives credence to the
cliché, “You never get a second chance to make a
first impression.” People are complex, and in order
to simplify this complexity we have a tendency to
pigeonhole one another into specific categories after
only the briefest of interactions. For example, someone
who observes an athlete signing autographs on
one occasion will probably assume the athlete is a
nice person. In reality, there are many other parts to
that athlete’s personality. But to make life simpler,
we would conclude she is a nice person.
This reality has its positives and negatives. On
the positive side, if you really “wow” enough people
with your first impression, you can coast on the
momentum of that powerful first impression for a
long, long time. This is true even for an amateur.
The principle of FAE can also be fatal. Suppose
someone catches you on a bad day. If you are not
careful, you could be finished. How many actors and
athletes have been branded as arrogant because they
preferred not to sign an autograph while eating with
their family? It is an unavoidable reality that we make
snap judgments about others based upon a fraction
of the relevant information. Building a great Personal
Brand ensures you make the principle of FAE work
for you, rather than against you.
The competitive advantage of a great
A Personal Brand provides three distinct advantages
over the competition: (1) focus, (2) a powerful
reserve of goodwill and (3) the potential for superstar
A Personal Brand provides a defined focus and point
of centralization for all business and career development activities—which most of the competition
lacks. The proper focus can be extraordinarily powerful.
A great Personal Brand should influence just
about everything: dress, communicating what you or
your client does, entertaining, networking, etc. If you
are passionate about the Personal Brand, the intensity
of focus and the intentionality of actions will propel
you or your client to levels never imagined.
A great brand also builds up a reserve of goodwill
for those times when mistakes are made. Everyone
makes mistakes, no matter how good you are. A
person’s ability to recover from major mistakes
depends upon how she responds to the crisis and the
amount of goodwill she has to draw upon.
Hugh Grant is a excellent example. A few years
ago he was caught with a prostitute—behavior that
was totally inconsistent with his Personal Brand.
Because he responded proactively, Grant was able
to capitalize on a deep reservoir of goodwill. He has
never looked back.
The true superstar emerges only when extraordinary
talent meets powerful charisma. In terms of superstar
status, it’s not due to fame or money. A real
superstar is someone who can inspire and mobilize a
massive number of people for the purpose of driving
Talent alone will not get the job done. Look
at Ray Lewis, the all-pro, MVP linebacker of the
Baltimore Ravens. He is arguably the greatest linebacker
since Lawrence Taylor. Yet corporate sponsors
won’t touch him because of his negative Personal
Brand. The same was true for tennis great John
McEnroe in the ’80s. Look at Donald Trump. He is
all over television and is worth billions of dollars, but
few would cite him as an example of a great Personal
Brand. Trump’s self-obsession has nearly turned him
into a caricature of himself.
It all comes back to YOU
The best part about Personal Branding is it focuses
on the most important asset you have—you (or your
clients). Personal Branding is about standing for
something. The Personal Brand is the embodiment
of the values and qualities you cherish. Build a great
Personal Brand and you won’t have to follow the
crowd. The crowd will follow you.