The Roar from the Pride!

Feature Article – by Chip Madera


brands1One of the hottest business trends of the new millennium is branding. I don’t know of a company that isn’t exploring ways to re-energize their brand and make it a household name within their industry. Tons of resources are invested to make a company’s service or product synonymous with human need. Revisiting branding and marketing efforts pose manifold opportunities to seize more market share and outmaneuver competition. So, how do companies make their brand the only one the market asks for? How did Kleenex get us to ask for their brand instead of a tissue? And how did Band-Aid get us to scream their name rather than requesting a bandage? Well, I contend that both Kleenex and Band-Aid’s success had more to do with their product than their service. After all, when you have a runny nose or a bleeding wound, you just need a product that works.

The aforementioned branding philosophies worked well during the previous century. But there has been a fundamental shift to a new commodity in this millennium – service, is the new gold. In other words, your level of service excellence defines your brand. Why, because markets have gone global. Market share is about world-class service excellence. It is next to impossible to race ahead of the competition in a global marketplace, where products are duplicated overnight. Both Kleenex and Band-Aid made their debuts in the 1920’s and have been successful because of their long-term residual performance. However, when I use the terms – “world-class” do you think of the Band-Aid brand? Probably not. You are most likely thinking about brands like Southwest Airlines, Disney and the Ritz Carlton. Why? Because customers aren’t overly impressed with products that just meet their needs. The deluge of common products and services doesn’t capture the loyalty and commitment of a fickle public. The customer of this era is looking for experiences. Experiences that are so compelling that they must indulge. The branding of the contemporary marketplace is about delighting customers and making them “feel” special. This two-part series considers two key frameworks for developing a world-class brand. This newsletter is dedicated to the definition of our personal brand.

That’s right, your PERSONAL brand. You see, an organization’s brand is a collective experience of all the personal brands that exist within a company. When we encounter an organization, our first and last impressions of it are determined by each individual we meet during our purchasing process. If there is no interaction with the manufacturers of a product, then the consumer attributes the experience with that product to the seller or distributor. In other words, our company’s image, whether we sell a product or service is in the hands of those who deliver the goods. The company brand is ultimately determined by the experiences the consumer has with the people who sell and distribute the product.

Now let’s be honest here. Sometimes it just doesn’t matter. I mean, have you ever locked a lip on a Krispy Kreme donut? I think they coat those things with cocaine or something. The Krispy Kreme product is so good that consumers will often overlook those who sell or distribute it just to get their addictive fix. The product ITSELF is such an experience that little or nothing will keep loyal customers away. But, since most of us don’t have a product or service that is as sweet in and of itself, we have to make it sweet with the human touch.

I believe it begins with the way each individual thinks, believes, behaves and performs in an organization. If we want the company brand to be stellar then the employees must make the customer’s experience stellar. The solution is easy in concept, but difficult in practice. The process begins by understanding the three critical insights to personal branding – Self-image, Behavior, Performance. The personal re-branding process begins with the way we see ourselves (Self-Image). Notice I didn’t say, how we FEEL about ourselves (Self-Esteem). Failing to comprehend this truth will sideline every attempt to be successful. A great personal brand never begins with how we feel, but rather by how we see ourselves. What is our personal brand image? Because we behave the way we see ourselves. And we teach others what we want, what we need, and what we deserve by what we say . . . how we say it . . . what we do . . . and how we do it. And conversely, by what we don’t say and what we don’t do (behavior). Then most often, the world around us begins to respond to the exact picture we have painted for them of ourselves and delivers to us precisely what we have asked for. (Performance) So, let me share with you three (3) necessary pictures of how to frame a world-class personal brand.


Picture #1: Leader – The personal identity of leadership must become a defining image in our self portrait. When it comes to service, everyone is a leader. Everyone has the power to influence the perception of the customer and their opinion. When you look in the mirror do you see a leader? Do you see a person who cares about their influence and is diligent about using it wisely. If not, you are probably not building a world-class brand. The undergirding power of “leader” gives direction to the course of thinking, behavior and performance of a business owner. Just think what would happen to the sales, service and profits in a company where every employed person saw themselves as the owner of the company. What would happen if every employee was as committed to the success of the company as the owner? Well, it goes without saying what an amazing transformation of the brand. One of the best leadership quotes I’ve ever heard aired during the NBA Playoffs in 2007 on CBS. I heard the quote on an American Express commercial featuring the coach of the Duke University Blue Devils, Mike Krzyzewski. He said, “I don’t see myself as a basketball coach. I see myself as a leader who happens to coach basketball. When a player gets out into the workplace they’re armed with, not just a jump shot or a dribble, but I want them armed for life. I want them to develop as a player. I want them to develop as a student. And I want them to develop as a human being.” WOW! You see it! Now, Coach K has every right to see himself as a basketball coach. He has three championship banners hanging in his gym. But he chooses to see himself as a “leader” first, because he knows that visual framework will help him get the outcomes he is looking for. And there is no doubt that Duke University’s brand in the world of NCAA basketball is first-class. Leaders take charge, get things done, create outstanding results, are protective of the company’s interests and will go out of their way to satisfy a customer. This individual effort of leadership makes the brand look better already.

Picture #2: Problem Solver – The personal identity of a problem solver is foundational to the success of a world-class personal brand. When you think of it, whether your company produces a product or delivers a service, it is solving a problem. If you serve food, your company is solving the problem of hunger. If you deliver healthcare, your organization is helping to solve a health problem. Yet, it seems common that many workers don’t understand that their primary function is to solve problems. Have you ever called a company with your problem (overcharge, error, etc.) and the customer service representative (CSR) acted like they were offended that you had a problem? Happens to me all the time. This is evidence to the truth that most CSR’s do not see themselves as problem solvers. They’re missing the whole point. In fact, may I dare say that problems are good for business. If customers didn’t have any problems there would be no need for most employees in a company. But remember, actions always follow identity. We behave the way we see ourselves.

I fly over 100,000 miles a year. One flight I had depleted my supply of reading material in my brief case so I reached for the in flight magazine. I read a story about a flight attendant named Cathe Wilson with Northwest Airlines. Her plane was flying from Amsterdam to Minneapolis. It was scheduled as a non-stop flight, but the aircraft had some complications and was redirected to New York’s JFK Airport. While on the ground, Cathe got acquainted with a couple and their 7 year old son from Europe. They were flying in desperation to Minneapolis for emergency medical treatment for their child. She learned that the family had not made plans for a place to stay nor had means of transportation. After discovering this need, Cathe Wilson offered her new friends one of her extra cars to drive and a room in her home. The article stated that the European family stayed with Cathe for nine months. WOW! Are you kidding me? I won’t let my in-laws stay with me for nine days. But Cathe Wilson is a problem solver. You want to bet that she didn’t have that agenda listed on her performance evaluation at NWA. She offered hospitality because this family had a problem and she was just the person to help solve it. See yourself as a problem solver and you will make a difference in someone’s life each and every day that you live.

signif1Picture #3: Significant – Seeing oneself as significant is the cornerstone to making memorable experiences happen for others. And after all, great service brands get all giddy about making outstanding moments happen for their customers. Author Jan Carlson writes about these significant moments in his book, The Moment of Truth. He defines these as “any moment that a customer can make a negative or positive judgment about your products or services.” Now, with that definition in mind, think about how many moments of truth occur in your organization daily? Thousands? Tens of Thousands? Hundreds of Thousands? It is hard to get our head around these critical moments that customers are determining what they think of our brand. And a customer’s opinion of our corporate brand begins with the moments that are created by our personal brand. So, the person closest to the customer has the greatest impact on the corporate brand. I would dare say that the CSR/employee that is closest to the customer is as significant, if not more significant than the CEO or Chairperson of the Board.

I’m not referring to importance. You can be important but not significant. But it is impossible to be significant and not important. Many company leaders are important to their organizations but not necessarily significant to their customers. Most customers don’t even know their name or who they are, but they do know the employee standing behind the counter. So who is most significant? I contend it is the one who has the greatest opportunity, at that very moment, to impact the opinion of that customer on the company brand. Therefore, CSR’s must see themselves as significant players in the game. Once they capture the picture of their significance, they have a greater insight to their role as difference makers.

We need to use a little brand-aid because our personal brand is something that others encounter, measure and respond to each and everyday of life. Are we creating positive moments of truth so that others will want to buy what we are selling? Trust me, get the right picture of yourself and your personal brand will rise off the charts.

Final Thought: “Your most important customers are your employees. If you take care of your employees they will take care of your customers. And when your customers are taken care of, they will keep doing business with you. Then your shareholders will be happy.” – Herb Kelleher, Founder and Chairperson – Southwest Airlines

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