Brand versus reputation. Say what?
I’m starting to notice that the word “brand” is causing some of you a bit of anxiety. I can see why it’s kind of a scary word; brands are associated with businesses and businesses can be associated with big claims and empty promises. You don’t want people to see you that way, so you shy away from the word. But, I think if we clear up some of the misunderstandings around brands and branding, the word will be a lot less scary. And you’ll figure out the right way to use it for your own brand.
Consider this the first post, of many, that I’ll use to make branding a nicer word.
To create understanding, let’s start with a concept I think you’re already comfortable with: reputation.
Your reputation is what people believe about you based on what they’ve seen you do or have heard about you. This is how they determine what to expect from you. If you’ve ever heard someone say “your reputation precedes you”, it means that s/he has already been given something to believe about you before actually experiencing you. That last part is exactly what branding is about.
The word “brand” and the word “reputation” refer to very similar things. Both words are used to describe the ideas one person may have about another person or a company. So why don’t people just say “reputation” instead of “brand” (it would make life easier, wouldn’t it)? Well, there are a few reasons.
1. Because brands have logos and reputations don’t.
We attach other things to the meaning of the word “brand”. Like logos, for example. Those of us who aren’t well-versed in branding may think that a logo or a company name is a brand. You and I know that those are just identifiers of a brand, just as your name is an identifier of your personal reputation. As your personal reputation doesn’t have a logo, or other brand marks, it can be easy to think that a reputation and a brand are different things.
2. A reputation has one face. A brand can have many—or none.
Some brands are made up of the work of multiple people, while your reputation is made up of things that only you have done. It’s easier to attach a face to a reputation because, well, people have faces—not always the case for brands. Sometimes other people have a role in our reputations, yet we still associate a reputation with an individual. Example: your mom regularly dropped you off late for school, but teachers always pointed out that you were late.
3. Your reputation comes from your past, but your brand sells your future.
Your personal reputation is largely made up of things that you have done in the past, but, when we think of a brand, we think of what we can expect from it right now—even if we know very little about its past. Your reputation is what people use to determine what we can expect from you now, while the word “brand” commands a level of authority that helps people give it a “pass” when it comes to looking into a brand’s background.
In the moment we encounter a brand, we’re likely to accept what that brand claims it can do rather than check to see if it has actually done it in the past (think about when a commercial makes a claim for a product you’ve never tried, but now want to try it without any further investigating). When someone tells you to brand yourself, they mean you should present yourself in a way that matches the reputation you want to have; give people fewer reasons to research you by making them feel confident that you’re capable of what you’re promising them right now. Look, speak, and act the way that someone who’s promising what you’re promising should look, speak, and act.
Branding has a lot to do with meeting expectations and, particularly for a personal brand, your reputation is the foundation for those expectations. It’s possible to build a brand without having a strong reputation for what you’re claiming to be good at. This is why a brand comes in handy on a personal level and this is how it differs from a reputation.
When you’re looking to change careers, for example, you might not have 5-10 years of experience in the new field. But, your reputation of being a fast learner and being super organized, matched with you presenting yourself as prepared for a new career field, will help potential employers see you as the right fit for an entirely different position from the one your currently hold.
If you’re creating a brand for your side hustle, the same applies. There might only be 10 people on this earth that know you even have this side hustle (or hobby if you’re not being paid yet) but building a brand for yourself—looking, speaking, and acting the way that someone who’s promising what you’re promising should look, speak, and act—will help new people to associate you with this craft and believe that you’re good at it. As long as you actually are good at it, and are able to deliver, your brand won’t be filled with big claims and empty promises. Your brand will be one of the good guys.
If you’re not sure how to build a brand from scratch, or just dread the idea of starting over, I’ve created a workbook (which you can download here) to help you use what you already have to use your reputation to form a brand. What do I mean by “already have”?
This workbook helps you think critically about:
- Using your products/services to meet your audience’s expectations
- How to use your opinion and voice to stand out
- Ways your website is an extension of your brand
- Maximizing your business card
- Creating an appropriate social media experience
- …and some other stuff
We all have reputations, but not all of us have been able to use them to create a brand that gets us the opportunities we want. Understanding that who you are, and the reputation you have, are the first steps to having a brand will give you a leg up over those who are still relying on just their reputations to get them places.