How is your personal brand holding up in the noisy and competitive marketplace?

Is it still as fresh and distinctive as it was when you launched it? After several years, most brands start to look tired and outdated. The colors and artwork that were stylish when they were introduced eventually take on the appearance of relics from the past.

What about your brand promise? Does it promise clients the benefits that your services deliver today? Or is it a reminder of how you used to help clients?

Few of us deliver our services the same way we did 5 or 10 years ago. As a result of a continuously changing market, clients need and want different kinds of help from us. In response, most of modify our services and how we satisfy clients.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that even though we continue to enhance and upgrade our services to maintain and perhaps increase client satisfaction, these improvements are not always reflected in our personal brands.

As a result, our services can be stronger than our brands. That’s good for existing clients, but not so good for your marketing.

If you haven’t thought about your brand recently, maybe it’s time to evaluate how strong your brand really is. Here are some questions to get you started.

  • What are you and your firm best known for?
  • Relative to the competition,
    • How strong is your personal and professional reputation?
    • How visible are you in your market?

The best and most helpful answers come from the market. Ask the same questions of clients, contacts and others who might have an opinion on your brand.

You might not like all the answers you hear. But if you don’t know there’s a problem, how are you going to fix it?

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Do you dress for success?

Back the day before the Internet and when dressing casually was reserved for after work and weekends, dressing for success typically meant business suits for professionals, both male and female.

The concept of ‘dressing for success’ enhances and helps project the image of professional competence and personal trustworthiness.

Along with change in how and where we do our work came a shift in standards of appropriate business attire. Apart from large professional offices, business suits, shirt and ties are no longer the norm in today’s more casually dressed workplace.

Certainly a casually dressed workplace can make it more comfortable for us to do our work. It does however make it more challenging for us to project an image of professional competence and personal trustworthiness.

In today’s incredibly competitive marketplace, it is more important than ever before not only to present ourselves as competent and trustworthy, but also to to distinguish ourselves from others who also appear competent and trustworthy.

The key to meeting both of these challenges lies in effectively communicating your brand. And this communication includes dressing your brand in person and electronically.

Dressing your brand in person starts with dressing like your clients. From there, use your own judgment in deciding how far you can move away from this standard without creating any client discomfort.

Dressing your brand electronically is less straight forward.

This process starts with ensuring that the look and feel of your website is consistent with the benefits that your services deliver to clients. Ideally visitors to your website will get a sense of what it will be like dealing with you in person.

A busy, noisy and poorly organized website will offer little help in projecting professional competence and personal trustworthiness. Similarly, aggressively self-promotional email and social media marketing hardly demonstrate the ability to focus on client issues.

Whether in person or online, dressing your brand is about reinforcing the story of what makes you different from all other service professionals. It also helps reassure potentially ideal clients that in hiring you they are making the right decision.

For service professionals, dressing our brand is as critical to success as was dressing for success four decades ago. It’s a competitive marketplace out there, so we must use whatever tools we can to stand out from the crowd.

To continue to stand out from others both online and off…continue to dress for success by dressing your brand.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

For as long as I have been involved in marketing professional services, I have believed that the business that educates most, wins the most.

That was certainly true when the standard approaches to adult education were one-way lectures or speeches and sometimes facilitated group discussions. This belief remains true today when innovations in information technology have moved adult education to new levels of popularity and variety of approaches.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that as an element of the information age, educational messages face the same competition for our clients’ attention as do our marketing messages. As if competition from other service professionals is not enough, virtually every individual or organization that has an online presence offers some kind of educational program. And many of these programs are huge. Take for example, the new concept of a MOOC.

What’s A MOOC?

In case this term is new to you, it means a massive open online course aimed at large-scale interactive participation and open access via the Internet.

Being a big fan of MOOCs, I am currently working on my fifth course through Coursera (a truly awesome educational resource…check it out) along with more than 125,000 other students worldwide. Presented by three Penn State professors, this eight-week course helps us learn about creativity, innovation and creativity with such tools and aids as videos, readings and problem sets. And as an added bonus, it helps build a community for the students, professors, teaching assistants and others interested in the topic.

As is always the case, we can learn from our competitors whether they are large organizations that offer one or more MOOCs world wide or the service professional down the street trying to attract the same clients as we are.

From MOOC to  SSOOC

Based on my experience with MOOCs, there is no reason that as service professionals we can’t start and maintain our own small scale versions of MOOCs. Let’s call our versions SSOOCs… Small Scale Open Online Courses.

Three factors that contribute to the success of MOOCs also apply to SSOOCs.

  1. content relevant to individual learners
  2. material presented by experts
  3. engaging tools and techniques

Without question, these factors are as relevant to my client-focused educational services as they are to yours.

Similarly, the same technological innovations that have led to the popularity of growth of MOOCs can be applied, albeit on a smaller scale, to my SSOOC and yours.

Here’s the clincher. The single factor that distinguishes the three Penn State professors presenting my current MOOC from University of Pennsylvania prof who conducted my first MOOC has little, if anything, to do with their respective universities. It’s all about the unique skills and experience of each individual professor that distinguishes him or her from all others.

From a marketing perspective, it is personal branding that one SSOOC from all others.

In other words, your SSOOC offers a new vehicle by which you can communicate to your market what distinguishes you from the competition and how this difference delivers value to clients.

It really is true that the business that educates most, wins the most. To learn more, take a MOOC and apply the same engaging tools and techniques to your SSOOC.

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Last week, right out of the blue, I became the owner of a KOBO electronic reader. An avid, life-long reader, I love the physical attributes of books…how they look, feel and smell, especially when new.

I work hard at working smart instead of keeping busy by filling every minute with some kind of activity. As a result, there was no need for the convenience of e-readers while commuting, waiting in reception areas and all the other short time intervals that busy, busy people must fill

However, once I started to play with my new toy, all of my reservations about its usefulness totally disappeared.

What avid reader could possibly say no to 100 literary classics preloaded on the e-reader? Having read less than a third of these titles, my list of ‘unread books to read’ skyrocketed.

According to the User Guide, my KOBO can hold 1000 books. Including the 65 or so unread titles and given the rate at which I read books, this means that my e-reader can accommodate 19.3 years’ worth of reading. Now that’s impressive! And what’s even more impressive is that it won’t be necessary to make room for any of these books on space-limited bookshelves.

As my KOBO playtime progressed, I learned that it was also possible to upload PDFs to the unit. Bingo! Finally…a useful place to store all of those eBooks that people like us produce as part of our marketing.

If like me you have not organized your eBook collection, getting an e-reader is the good first step. But instead of dumping all the eBooks onto the device, download and install Adobe Digital Editions first. This free software helps you ‘…to view and manage eBooks and other digital publications. Use it to download and purchase digital content, which can be read both online and offline. Transfer copy-protected eBooks from your personal computer to other computers or devices. Organize your eBooks into a custom library and annotate pages.’

The key thing here is to review the eBooks that you have collected. Keep the best and purge the rest.

Then you can ‘organize your eBooks into a custom library and annotate pages.’ What a great resource!

But why stop there? Once you have your e-library set up, why not share your favorite eBooks with others as a thank you gift or high quality and memorable promotional tool?

Make a bulk purchase of e-readers and have some one load your favorite eBooks onto these devices. By delivering these customized e-readers in person, you can dramatically enhance relationships with the people who are important your ongoing success.

One final suggestion. If you haven’t already done so, download a free copy of my latest book How To Market Professional Services. Feel free to upload it to your e-reader and even share it with others who may find it helpful.

If it helps you with your marketing, mission accomplished.

Being the most critical component of your marketing communications, your message is also one of the most challenging tasks in the entire marketing process.

How do you choose the best message to describe who you are and how you help clients like them?

What words will help potential clients understand how they will benefit from hiring you?

Equally important, how do you slide easily into preparing your message instead of getting bogged down figuring our how to start?

These questions were triggered by the following comment recently posted on my blog:

“…I was curious to find out how you center yourself and clear your mind before writing. I’ve

had trouble clearing my thoughts in getting my ideas out there.

“I do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually lost simply just trying to

figure out how to begin.”

Being about a quarter of the way through a large writing project, it seems like a good time to pause and reflect on the challenge of figuring out how to begin writing something new.

Even though it’s been some time since I got stuck at the early stages of some new writing, I do understand and appreciate the frustration.

From my experience, it’s easier to center yourself and clear your mind before starting to write.

Clarify why you are writing: what do you want accomplish? If for example you are writing a marketing piece, what do you want the reader to do after reading your message? …go to your website? …contact you? …something else?

When you have clarified what you want accomplish, turn the issue over to your imagination, allowing it to help you visualize your desired outcome. Perhaps you will visualize the reader going to your website or picking up the phone to call you.

Once comfortable with what you see in your imagination, put on your writer’s hat and go with the flow.

Instead of trying to figure out how to begin, you will be more likely to struggle to keep up with the flow of ideas.

Whenever I have used visualization as an early component of writing, not only has it eliminated so-called writer’s block, it has also generated some great results.

There are probably as many ways figuring out how begin a new piece of writing as there are writers.

Any suggestions you can share?