Personal branding is the most overused and most misunderstood of all the branding jargon I come across in my job title (Brand Strategist).
Luckily I have never been asked to work on a personal brand in my professional career.
The whole idea of personal branding caused Google to reconfigure the search engine dynamics of my branding category about four years ago.
Too many of the so called brand companies that specialized in personal branding were practicing what the industry calls black hat SEO.
This means they were using less than respectable practices to score higher in Google searches.
Like the snake-oil salesman of years ago, these personal branding charlatans took peoples hard earned cash for little or no return.
However, the idea of personal branding is not completely stupid
I try to help companies understand their brand equities by using VERY personal examples. I have been known to ask CEOs of fortune 100 companies to “pretend for just a moment that your brand was a person and not a corporation. How would you describe that person?”
It is an important realization exercise because I want business executives to understand the emotional fabric of their brands.
When you bring a person to mind, it is not just a list of attributes that define that image in your mind’s eye. It is mostly a rag-tag conglomeration of feelings that color and form that memory.
Go ahead for just a moment and visualize your grandmother. When her image comes to mind do you FEEL more or THINK more? Proves my point.
Brand is an emotional connection that defies dissection in a rational manner. Personal branding, as it turns out, is the foundation of all branding. It is how we feel about everything in our lives.
The picture of personal branding is an intricate oil painting
The painting is created by a renaissance master. You.
So many corporate and product brands fail to see this that my work docket is always full. Sure, we talk to our clients about stealing market share and how their brand is the permission-switch that persuades the target audience that their brand is important (and therefore takes and grows market share).
But, while we all are able to tap our imagination when thinking about personal branding we remain relatively blind when thinking about product and corporate branding.
Corporations are so sold on the rational benefits of their product or service that they can’t get out of their own way. When asked to talk about their own mother Chief Marketing Officers will freely admit that their moms are angels of love.
They describe them as beautiful (even if they were as ugly as a barn door). They attribute to her emotional ideas like caring, loving, considerate, gentle, self-sacrificing and tender. Even if they jokingly speak about her shortcomings they are emotional attributes like angry or formidable.
They NEVER list rational attributes like height, weight, eye color or dress size.
But, contrast that with their business brands and most times all they can list is product attributes and measurable words.
Words like effective, better, new, revolutionary and the new term of the day— disruptive technology is about all they can think of.
So I remind them that the people, music, ideas, books, thoughts, beliefs and even loves in their life are ALL emotional connections. They are NEVER rational.
You might be willing to switch soap powders (read about packaged goods here), even if you are convinced that your first choice cleans better, for another cheaper brand.
But you would NEVER be willing to switch families no matter how dysfunctional yours might be. Emotional bonds are forever.
Emotional brand bonds last forever and can be stretched and contorted beyond belief but they seem never to break. They are self-healing and eternal because we don’t EVER need to think about them. We just KNOW them.
Personal Experiences Recalls Personal Branding
Personal experiences often give us glimpses into personal branding. When I heard that Leonard Cohen had died at age 82 on November 10th 2016 I was sad. Like all of his fans. Was I sad because I knew I would never have the pleasure of hearing his songs again for the first time?
Nope. I was sad for me because someone and something I loved had passed away (you can read my blog on Leonard Cohen’s death here). He was not a songwriter and singer to me. He was a part of me. He was a part of my personal brand. His death was personal to me.
We are the SUN and everything we hold as important revolves around us. It is the gravity of our nuclear furnace that provides the energy to keep the solar system alive and functioning.
But the SUN as metaphor is greater than the description provided to us through physics.
The Sun, according to science is just a mass of gasses imploding and creating immense power and light through nuclear fusion.
It is, when described in this way, nothing more than a nuclear power plant like the one at Three Mile Island or Chernobyl. Very inspiring don’t you agree?
But, when you think about the Sun (yourself in my metaphor) How it works is not as important as what it represents. It is the source of life, warmth, and light. It is the promise of a new day and awakening. It IS life.
Rebranding as science
When branding or rebranding a company or product we distill its essence down to those emotional values that are in fact the only immutable values you can ever own.
They form for us the basis of our attachment to things, ideas and people. They defy rational understanding and never ask us to consider the basis for that affection because it is in so many ways unknowable.
We just feel it to be so. That’s plenty enough by the way.
When rebranding is needed. We will remind you that all branding, at the end of the day, is personal branding.
Personal branding forms unbreakable bonds was last modified: November 11th, 2016 by Tom Dougherty
Malls are empty, traffic is down 5.8% from last year nationwide. Consumers spend their money on experiences (hold that thought), such as dining or travel rather than shopping. And too many retailers count on bountiful holiday sales to save their year.
What the retail industry truly needs is clear: Department store rebranding— a complete rethinking of the model.
It is worse and more desperate for major department stores. They will become extinct. This is especially the case for the legacy department stores. In a nutshell this is the entire argument for department store rebranding. Change now or die.
Amazon in particular and the web in general is the new normal for shoppers, dominating the retail industry. Amazon dominates by being an online portal for items ranging from electronics to toys to apparel. You would be hard pressed to find anyone who has not purchased through the online giant.
Department stores. What’s next?
So what are retailers to do? More specifically, what are department stores to do? There are all sorts of tactics they can employ to stem the plunge of market share. But they will fail.
Department store rebranding from the ground-up is a needed strategic decision and not just a tactical one. Without this complete overhaul of department store rebranding initiatives and the total repositioning this means the vaunted old brands are finished. And finished soon.
We’ve dissected many retailers, including a report written for the Retail Customer Experience which encourages retailers to merge their in-store and online personalities.
We’ve also said “stop trying to be everything to everybody”. But tactical changes won’t save department stores. They need strategic change. They must redefine the value proposition for the target shoppers and convince them that their brands are relevant.
Department store rebranding restores relevancy.
One way you recapture relevancy in a market — and even succeed — is rebranding. Department store rebranding pulls them out of the ditch because, done properly, they are meaningful to target audiences. And the store is more important than simply restating product or category benefits.
Without that preference, no tactic or strategy can ensure the brands future success. If you are a department store, rebranding is the only way you can survive.
Rethinking is more than just rebranding department stores and their messages.
Rebranding department stores is more than just a new name, logo and tag line. It is fundamental change— real changes in operations and structure. Changes implemented to magnify and support the new brand strategy.
Even traditional rebranding does not go far enough. Retailers must rethink everything.
The market, especially those large department stores like Macy’s, Belk’s, JC Penney, Harrods, Bergdorf Goodman, Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdale’s, Sears, Debenhams, Meijer, Von Maur, Boscov’s, The Bon-Ton, and the like, are sliding into irrelevancy and, in many ways, are already irrelevant to the new shopper.
Shoppers vote with their dollars. And the department stores feel like they have passed their own time limit on this earth.
Probably right. Department stores: Be something different than what you are today. That’s how you survive. The ongoing sales promotions and specials that you rely on don’t do the trick. Black Friday won’t save you.
Their stores are overcrowded with product, there are no sight-lines, crowded shelves does not say variety rather it creates a feeling of being hurried. As a result shopping for apparel is boring at best and harried at its worst.
Department store rebranding for experience.
Remember, earlier on when we spoke about consumers spending money on experiences? Shopping in department stores is mundane and it does not get the pulse rising. Part of department store rebranding is to revitalize the experience and make it deeply personal.
It’s especially problematic for women. There is more selection and yet more difficulty in finding clothes that both fit and are appealing.
Men walk into a store, know their inseam, waist, arm and neck sizes and, voila, there is a suit. As a result, men are free to purchase based on the look, style, price and brand. They find what is available in their size and they buy it. Minor alterations are acceptable and easy to accomplish. Many times, off the rack is a real phenomenon.
Women shop on size and department, which varies by store and by brand. Go into a Macy’s, for instance, and find a size 4 that’s a size 2 at another department store. It’s even worse than that. Shoppers shop in that same Macy’s, find a size 2 that fits and another size 2 that doesn’t.
That variation in experience is confusing and…dull. Women look at overcrowded and jammed racks in poorly set up departments. And all this to find a garment that appeals to them aesthetically.
As a result they are forced to search the jammed racks for that design or style in their size – even though they know that label size is no guarantee of proper fitting. This means they try on everything and sort through all sorts of retail disappointment. This is not an experience. It is a nightmare.
That’s not shopping, either. It does not translate into purchases. That’s solving the Pythagorean theorem.
An example of rethinking everything at department stores.
Large department stores must rethink everything, from their brand to their operations to really rebrand effectively. Rethink the in-store experience. Attract more women shoppers. REAL preference is job number one.
Ladies apparel is a $225 billion business; so preference, not just dropping in, is immensely profitable and increases relevancy in a dying industry. It is optimal to make the department store the destination. And not just for Christmas.
Is the solution transitioning to on-line?
That still raises important business facts. Department stores own large amounts of real estate. They have expensive long-term leases. What does it do to profitability if the great department store chains are forced to retreat and rely on web sales only?
Can they survive that sort of apocalypse? There is another answer. There has to be.
If the Amazon model IS the future then bankruptcy and chapter 11 is the interim step to treading water and waiting for the merciful euthanasia. Any numbskull can suggest the move to on-line sales.
The problem is it won’t work with the current structures. Department stores desperately need an answer that lets them protect the brick and mortar investments that revitalizes shoppers today and in the future.
Success leaves clues. Shoe department retailing.
So back to the problem of finding the right fit. That is not a problem when shoppers shop for shoes or handbags. Consumers easily see what’s offered without the clutter, find the style they like in the right size and are off with it.
Shoe sizes are universal. The shopping experience is positive. Shoes are displayed on roomy racks and displays and the shopper scans all the shoes (including style, color and form) and then the shoe salesperson bring the shopper the shoes in their size.
Funny how simple it is. How civilized the experience, despite being in the morass of other crowded and jammed departments of clothing.
Why can’t women’s apparel be like that? Department stores rebranding is possible building on that successful model.
Rebranding requires retailers to rethink their stores operations and how technology is utilized. Sadly, the highest level of technology in retail today is a copy of Amazon’s model. Order online and pick up.
But apparel is a different animal, especially in women’s apparel. The sizing of women’s garments is useless. A standard that unifies sizing everywhere sounds like the big answer. Is it?
Yes, absolutely. The sheer amount of returns because clothing does not fit is an issue for Amazon too. There is no regulatory agency to govern sizing so that changes takes real effort from the industry.
Use digital tailoring software. Make the experience personal.
Instead, we recommend retailers of women’s apparel adopt the sizing structure that works in the shoe department model. That is, just use measurements. Display style samples and have sizes in the back warehouse.
Even that is unmanageable because women, unlike men, don’t share a basic shape.
However, the playing field changes as shoppers provide a profile of their exact measurements. Can high-end apparel stores digitally measure the consumer and privately store those measurements in a private file? Of course they can.
Is it then possible to alter custom fit clothes to their specifications? Yes, but that is not the best model. Executing that on a mass scale so a Macy’s or Dillard’s use it is a challenge.
Department stores can afford to automate it. Do it digitally.
As a customer visits your store for the first time, direct them to a private dressing room and digitally scan their measurements. Their exact measurements are stored in their personal and branded app.
As customers shop in the newly designed departments with newly redefined department titles based upon lifestyle rather than the traditional Juniors, Petite etc., departments. Shoppers can look at every offering, all displayed in a size 4. They now shop by cut, fabric, color, brand and style. Not size because only one size needs to be on display (just like the shoe department model we discussed earlier).
The convenience of their smart phone is utilized, They scan the code of the item of interest and the app stores the choice. The store is no longer jammed with every offering in every size. The result? The branded experience of shopping is civilized.
The racks are not crowded and the styles themselves are highlighted. The retailers use their merchandising skills to highlight offering. Suddenly, there are sight lines in the department store and an opportunity for the retailer to practice their skill at displaying wares and merchandising.
How it benefits you.
Here’s how this complete department store rebranding works. Simplify the offerings on the store floor much like high-end retailers. Customers actually see the garments in lengthy and leisurely glance. Consumers develop a digital profile on their measurements that is part of the retailers database. Because you know them and they now know you, a relationship is established.
When they return to the department store, consumers open the app to say they are in the store and what, in general, they are looking for.
If the garments are bar coded by actual measurements, then a warehouse employee gathers those garments in real time from the back warehouse (remember the shoe model) that actually fit that customer.
When shopping is done, the shopper tells the app and are assigned a dressing room. The promise is that, in 10 minutes, everything they scanned will be in their dressing room and in their size.
Better yet, customers could use the app to say they are coming to the store and to get their personal rack ready and pre-placed in a dressing room.
Think about this. If implemented, it creates a preference for the department store brand (which reflects the change in the retail experience) and a database is established to enable more effective buys from designers and better PERSONALIZED service (read how affinity programs fail here). The customer chooses if they want the clothing in the dressing room or if they require human assistance.
The newly branded department store experience.
The new experience reconfigures the department store experience and decreases the display space and increases the warehousing. It requires an investment in logistics and warehouse systems.
But the new department store is now an adventure in experience and we know that customers covet that. The department store rebranding process combined with new thinking provides new preference.
Think it’s not possible? Amazon can do it, and Amazon is the retailer that terrifies the rest of the industry. The online retail giant, who just announced plans to open brick and mortar stores, is threatening to take over the entire industry while its players stand still and watch.
Amazon transports product anywhere in the world overnight. Is a tight logistics system that creates in-store logistics providing results in 15 minutes impossible? Believe that and you are doomed.
The future in department store rebranding is in personalized automation.
All it takes is an automated, software system that makes it easy to find the right clothes at the right time from your warehouse space. It, therefore, allows the shopper to buy and shop based on taste, style and color, just like they do with shoes and handbags. It means sales improve because shoppers see the entire inventory.
Plus, in the spirit of discovery, the store adds a few surprises— a few alternatives for that shopper based upon the customer profile and design preference. All of this accomplished by an algorithm.
Department stores, don’t get caught up in — “That can’t be done.”
Change or die. That’s the simple truth. This is just one idea. The point is that department store retailers, whether they are in apparel or not— let go of age-old habits. Dead brands are full of leaders who once said, “That can’t be done.”
Department store retailers must do two things. 1) Consider a total rebrand because few retailers position the brands against the competition and as a result are not meaningful enough to target audiences. (Here’s how we rebrand for our clients.)
2) Rethink everything. Ask the right questions in brand research that goes beyond simple usage and attitudes. The current model is a rapidly dying one. And given the current trajectory, there will only be room for one of the major department stores.
There is a third strategy retailers can adopt (and many are). Do nothing and watch Amazon destroy your business. But, as in most things, victory belongs to the first mover.
Read more about the retail market and department stores here:
The outdoor and sporting goods segment has seen its share of shakeups over the past couple of years. Large big box chains like Sports Authority have closed stores or closed shop altogether. Recently, we have seen behemoths Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s consolidating. The trend in the outdoor and sporting goods segment is mirroring the trends in the rest of the retail market.
At least on the surface. Dig a little deeper and there are some major differences.
Big box retail has long suffered through a period of decreasing same store sales, as once loyal customers flock to other alternatives. While some of these alternatives are certainly other brick and mortar stores, many more are simply online retailers. Amazon has picked up the lion’s share of the fleeing customers.
In the outdoor and sporting goods segment, the defection from brick and mortar to online hasn’t occurred yet, at least not to the degree in other parts of retail. The outdoor and sporting goods segment is, at least for the moment, insulated from the migration to online platforms.
Sporting goods are kind of personal
A key reason for this is that, for the core outdoor and sporting goods consumer, purchases are very personal. Bow hunters need to feel how a bow handles. A fisherman needs to feel the flex in a rod and an avid hiker would likely not purchase a boot without knowing how it feels being worn. This has allowed many of the outdoor and sporting goods retailers further insulating themselves from online alternatives.
Bass Pro Shops, Gander Mountain and REI focus more on outdoor activities like fishing, hunting and camping, respectively, while stores like Academy Sports and Modell’s focus more on traditional team and individual sports. Dick’s is much more of a generalist, calling itself the “largest omni-channel full-line sporting goods retailer in the US.” Dick’s also owns Field and Stream, Golf Galaxy and True Runner, which further demonstrate the industry’s move to specialization.
While many outdoor and sporting goods stores have been successful in carving out their niche, it is a niche carved out only by their product focus, not their brand focus. Closer examination reveals that there is little differentiation in this category beyond some of the pseudo-specialization of products that is occurring. While meaningful, the brands themselves do not differentiate one versus the other. That is, the brands do not provide a value to the consumer. Consumers generally go to these stores for a product they want to touch and feel before they make their purchasing decision – not because of the store’s brand.
This is not to say that a consumer might decide to go to a Bass Pro Shops, REI or Dick’s just to look around. But the products are what bring consumers to the store, not the store itself. These retailers recognize this too, with each of them is trying to create a better in-store experience. (You get the full treatment at the Bass Pro Shops in Springfield Missouri.) More and more, stores like Field and Stream and REI are also trying to make their stores more of an experience, putting the focus on the store, not the brand.
At this point, it is difficult to imagine further consolidation in the outdoor and sporting goods category and the major players are surviving this nasty retail environment for the moment. However, they all must make investments in their continued viability. While creating a better shopping environment is critical, it can be easily be copied and improved upon. Investments must be made in brand differentiation that goes beyond outdoors, country, athlete or camper. These terms describe what their customers are but fail to describe who they aspire to be. Aligning with that will differentiate the outdoor and sporting goods stores from the others.
Sporting Goods are not Immune was last modified: October 26th, 2016 by Corbin
The US brand is under siege. Is anyone else worried about the future of the US?
I don’t mean in terms of which candidate you support in the upcoming election. There are sane people on both sides of that debate. I’m talking about the very fabric of what it means to be a citizen of the US brand. An American.
At our root, we claim to be a nation bound by a Constitution that dictates our civil behavior. Since the election of Washington until Lincoln, every election has been followed by a peaceful transition of power. It is what it means to be an American.
The one time that process failed was in 1860 and it resulted in a bloody war that ended in the complete defeat of those that opposed union. The debate for peaceful transition had been decided once and for all with an anything but peaceful five years of blood soaked division. I believe, despite all of the posturing today, that this election will also be a peaceful transition of power from the incumbent to the newly elected leadership.
The US brand has been under siege in the past
I don’t think I am alone in looking back upon the last decade with a bit of distain. Our national genius for compromise has been replaced by vitriol and obstruction. When FDR was first elected, humorist Will Rogers said, “Well, if he gets to the White House and it catches fire and burns to the ground, we will say at least he got something started.” Just like Will, I have become weary of partisan posturing and I want to get SOMETHING done.
My worry is not over the election itself, although the personal attacks are hard to hear. After all, one of these two candidates will be our next President. In many ways, I would love to hear what each candidate will do to help our country if they lose. My sincere hope is that either candidate will try their best when elected. That is the minimum I think we can expect. The rest is just politics.
What REALLY worries me about the US brand? A fear that, as a nation, we might be ungovernable in the future. A large percentage of those that are voting say they do not trust the information published from our government. They do not trust what they read in the news and they do not trust our elective process. I then wonder how they plan on making America Great Again or becoming Stronger Together?
If you don’t read the news, where are you getting your information? If you don’t believe anything the government says or publishes and don’t believe in the right of the majority to rule— well you don’t believe in our Constitution.
I can’t wait to read comments on this post. In the past, my worst fears have been realized in those comments. Aggressive and hateful bloggers post comments that prove my point. They did not read what I had to say.
Until we address the basic problem, which is IGNORANCE, we have a broken system with broken constituents. Just remember that the root of the word ignorant means to IGNORE.
The US brand. What is the United States of America? was last modified: October 25th, 2016 by Tom Dougherty
How we helped American Fidelity find the right brand promise.
American Fidelity is one of the leading providers of supplemental insurance and benefits, specializing in auto dealerships, education, municipalities and health care. Its core customers are employers who offer supplemental insurance to their employees in those segments.
As a business, it operates in divisions based on those specialites. At issue was that American Fidelity had no overarching brand promise that brought the divisions together, increase preference with existing customers and attract new prospects.
Finding meaning for American Fidelity.
To achieve that, the project entailed qualitative and quantitative research with employers, employees and associations – both current customers and those who use a competitor. Also, an analysis of the competition and a brand audit was conducted to see where the current brand stood in the market and what it could claim.
Our competitive analysis found that competitors, which range from regional carriers to giants such as Aflac, focus solely on price, coverage and, in the case of Aflac, quick results.
The research demonstrated that administrators and employees believed all supplemental benefit providers were basically the same.
For the employer, who has complete control in selecting a supplemental benefits provider, the research clearly showed that they viewed their individual organization’s needs as unique. To find the right coverage for their particular needs, they seek something different.
Wanting something different was also part of their belief system, which is the emotional driver of human behavior.
Using an existing strength of the company – its niche focus – the new brand promise of American Fidelity stated that it represents a different opinion from the status quo because it is a specialist that knows there are no pat answers.
As the company says now, “When it comes to making health decisions, many seek a different opinion from a specialist. When choosing supplemental benefits, it’s important to seek a different opinion too.”
To reflect that brand, a new logo was developed that demonstrated American Fidelity being different and more important than the rest of the pack.
From advertising to collateral systems, signage to stationery systems, Stealing Share created a comprehensive brand structure for American Fidelity. Included was a brand standards guide that demonstrated cues for logo uses along with messaging and brand personality guidance. Stealing Share also conducted brand training for its thousands of employees.
American Fidelity. A case study in branding insurance. was last modified: August 26th, 2016 by Tom Dougherty
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