How to Parlay Your Personal Brand into Your Business Brand

This is the number one brand challenge I hear from small business owners. “But so much of my business is tied up in my own personal reputation and who I am. How do I ensure the company builds its own brand, independent of me, so I can expand?”

Take a tip from Warren Buffett, who announced his heir for Berkshire Hathaway as an unknown 39-year old named Todd Combs. He is quoted in the WSJ as saying, ‘He is a 100% fit for our culture. I can define the culture as long as I am here. but we want a culture that is so embedded that it doesn’t get tested when the founder of it isn’t around.”

A culture that is embedded. Ah, Warren: a financial and branding genius.

Companies do this all the time, so it’s not as hard as you think. The company brand reflects the values and philosophy of the founders, but in a way that applies to the corporate entity. See Disney, Nordstrom, McDonald’s, Facebook, Microsoft, Nike, Wendy’s. Many of these companies end up with very strong brand stories about their founders’ passion and values and serve to further attract customers.

Here are some tips on how to inject your personal brand into the DNA of your business so that it lives on even if you are not at the helm:

1) Depersonalize: The biggest thing about personal brands are the values and attributes that the founder shows as a human being. Take those and make those the values and attributes of the company as a whole and how you do business. If your own reputation and image is based on honesty, integrity and straight talk, then bake those attributes into your company’s standard operation procedures, policies and visual identity and make sure they live somewhere that the entire company can see. Turn what you are known for into what your company is known for. I also call this “operationalizing your brand.” If people come to you because you are the type of gal who always returns calls the same day, then make that a company policy that any call is returned within 24 hours, no matter who received the call.

2) Document: You can’t measure and manage to something that is just inside people’s heads or inherent in only your own personal actions. How is that repeatable? Once you develop your values, mission, and the brand attributes for which you want to be known, write them down. Revisit this brand playbook periodically – it may need to evolve as you grow. This playbook can then start to inform all of your brand communications: visual, verbal and experiential. This is the whole premise by which I consult with my clients and why I wrote my book. Ya gotta WRITE IT DOWN if you want to standardize it.

3) Hire Right: Warren Buffett and others understand that brand informs culture, and culture informs how you hire and who you hire. Do you recruit people intentionally who understand and embrace your brand? (Hint: if it is not documented anywhere per #2 above, that’s your first problem) Or do you just hire the marquee names and checklist of skills on their resume? I recently heard a recruiter talk about how they hire by the Iceberg principle. Meaning, above the waterline, you look for the right skills and resume from a candidate. But it’s the skills below the surface – if the person embodies your brand, culture and values – that matter even more to success and longevity of the company. She said more often than not, the problems occur because of misalignment on these “below the water” soft skills and attitudes. If you have personal values and a reputation that is the number one reason people do business with your company, then you’d better make damn sure you’re hiring people who reflect that same work ethic and brand. See Mr. Buffett’s quote above. Use your brand strategy to guide hiring decisions – not just to decide upon your colors or packaging.

Photo credit: Brooke Lark, Unsplash

How to reply to a PR query- and how not to

Many small biz owners and marketing pros use  HARO – Help A Reporter Out – for free media queries. It’s DIY PR, served up in 3 daily emails.  But listen up, people: as with everything DIY, you must “do it right” to get results. And many folks do not. Having seen the other side of HARO replies as a writer looking for sources, I can tell you the view is pretty darn ugly.

I highly recommend HARO to all of my clients as an easy way to get press. Peter Shankman’s brilliant idea delivers queries right to your inbox from journalists, authors, and even talk show producers on topics ranging from business to lifestyle to health to finance.It takes about 5 seconds to scan the query summaries and see if a topic fits your expertise. There are over 100,000 folks signed up and his email open rates are ridiculous (over 90%) for advertisers (he includes 1 small ad per email).

I took out a HARO ad once to sell my eBook and my shopping cart lit up like Christmas over the following week.

But sometimes people are their own worst enemies, especially with anything DIY. I use HARO for me and my clients to promote our businesses. But as a writer on the side, I also get to use HARO on the other side: as a journalist and author.

I recently posted a query for a new book I’m publishing, due out Spring/Summer 2010 (more on that later) looking for innovative brand examples from small or large businesses. I want to profile, in small sidebars, different Brands at Work, where businesses use unique and innovative ways to express their brands both experientially and visually.

I asked for answers to 7 specific questions in my query.  With the amount of responses you get from HARO, you need some format for screening and for your own sanity. I explained very clearly in the query what I was looking for….assuming people would read it in its entirety before responding.

This proved to be an inaccurate assumption.

So many people sent me page-long emails extolling the virtues of their business’ brand. I had to politely tell them to answer the questions in the query in order to be considered. One person even admitted to not seeing the questions, as she didn’t read the rest of the message truncated from her Blackberry. Another send me 7 photo attachments after I specifically said “no attachments.” Um, hello?

The reason PR pros are so good at their jobs is that they know how to handle the press. They know reporters are on deadline, and often need something in near-complete form before they will use it in an article. They need crisp soundbites. They have no time to spend on reading 8 paragraph emails of the source’s life story. If they get a good taste, they will then follow up if need be.

Here, then, is a list of PR query do’s and don’t for your DIY’ers out there, from my perspective as a writer:

DO read the query in full and only send what is asked. It’s a courtesy to respect the person’s time.

DO keep it short and sweet and provide your name, title, website, and contact information for follow up.

DO include clever soundbites/hooks that could be easily quoted in the story.

DO use bullet points for your main points, as it’s easier to scan.

DO put “HARO” or other such source in the email response subject line for easy sorting

DON’T send 8 paragraphs about you or your business that have little to do with what is asked for in the query. Sending more info is a bad thing, not a good thing. I won’t even spend the time to wade through the response to find a good nugget, as I’ll be so peeved.

DON’T respond to queries that do not apply to you. Period.

DON’T send attachments. EVER.  Unless asked. If the reporter needs something for follow-up, they will ask for it.

DON’T rush it (assuming the article is not due by end of day). If you wait an extra day to reply back with the exact info requested (or wait until you can read the whole query on your computer back at the office) this is much better than sending a response that is not what I wanted. Most reporters won’t be as nice as me and ask you to resubmit, they will just delete your email.

If you are an agency responding on behalf of a source, please follow all the do’s and don’ts above.

Planning for a successful 2010

In the crush of the holiday season, marketing execs and business owners are in the throes of planning for 2010. What can you do to keep your sanity while building your marketing plan? Here are a few tips to stop you from going postal.


  1. Remember your Goals: I know, I know. We all fall down on this one. But think about your realistic goals for the year and your stretch goals. Revenue, number of customers, types of products sold. Your stretch goals can be big and bold. Once you have them, then you can back into what you need to do to make them a reality. And you can see if what you are going to spend on marketing will realistically get your there. Never do a marketing activity without a goal or objective in mind. Is it 2 new customers? Is it being featured in Daily Candy? Is it increasing newsletter signups or Facebook followers? Have a firm goal.
  2. Think Depth, Not Breadth: Part 1: Focus on your main 2-3 customer segments only. If you have the luxury of a huge marketing budget, then you can build a separate marketing plan for each segment. If not, focus on the most profitable one and plan to get in front of them in multiple ways, at different stages of the buying cycle (see #2). Mix awareness ads and social media tactics with email offers and events. Don’t try to do one activity with each segment just for broad coverage. That will get you nowhere. Instead, think about trying to do different activities to that same segment each quarter.  Better to have 3 or 4 solid activities targeted to one segment than 1 ineffective standalone activity for each of them.
  3. Map to the Buying Cycle: You need a mix of activities in your marketing plan to cover the buying cycle phases: Awareness, Consideration, Evaluation and Purchase. A prospect’s info needs when they don’t even know you exist vs. when they are choosing between you and a competitor are very different. You need the constant air cover of awareness (ads, PR, etc.) to make your direct marketing activities (email offers, events) in the other phases more effective. Even just 3 or 4 tactics a quarter among all the phases, combined with ongoing awareness channels like blogs and newsletters can help.
  4. Partner with a Few to Create More Value: Don’t just buy one ad here or do one webcast there. Partner deeply with 2 or 3 media properties or associations where you can have an integrated, multi-touch campaign to a consistent audience throughout the quarter or year. For example, I used to partner with an online tech portal when I worked B2B because my investment got me ad banners, dedicated emails, a few sponsored webcasts and event presence for one packaged price. I went deep with this audience to get in front of the same group multiple times. This helps you leverage your investment, do more effective marketing and get a real presence among the same group of prospects over and over again. Most associations or online entities have multiple platforms and are open to negotiate a unique package to fit your needs and budget, so talk to the ad sales rep and get creative.
  5. Never Pay the Rate Card: Feeding off #2, never pay the listed price for ad/sponsorship space. You can always negotiate. If you can’t get the price down, then ask what else they can throw in. A dedicated email to their list? A regular column or contributed article? An extra lunch you can sponsor at the conference? Bag stuffers? Being able to introduce all the speakers at a luncheon? Your postcard/CD on attendee seats? Sponsor a weekly email with your logo and a special offer?
  6. Maintain Constancy: Spending all your cash on one bang-up event or campaign can be fun, but the hangover can last the rest of the year. If you have the money to do a big splash each quarter, great, but don’t forget smaller outreach through the rest of the year. Social media can be a great friend to you here to stay constantly top of mind.
  7. Customers vs. Prospects: Mine your existing customers more effectively. Plan different activities to upsell/resell existing customers than you do for new prospects. They have different needs and one group is more familiar with you and what you have to offer than another. Some activities may be able to do double-duty, but remember to offer some special programs/incentives for existing customers.
  8. Create an Editorial Calendar: Speaking of social media, try to plan your themes and content for at least 6 months out so you are not scrambling for what to say or what to promote. You can always do other topics as they come up. But this will keep you sane and also enable you to farm out some of the work if you can, i.e. hiring an intern to write/research blog posts, etc.
  9. Be Flexible: Be willing to try new things and measure them. If they don’t work, tweak them or move on. The dirty little secret about marketing is that oftentimes some tactics just don’t work. But you learn from it, and you move on.  As long as you have a good strategic basis for doing something, your efforts will never be wasted.

Top 10 Tips for Effective Branding and Messaging

A helpful primer with some top branding tips I’ve culled over the years. Have some others? Would love to see them in the comments!

1. Know yourself, know your business

A good brand stems from authenticity. This means being consistent in messaging, visuals, and experience and not just giving lip service. If you claim customer service is your most important differentiator, then return calls and emails in a reasonable amount of time and don’t leave people in an automated telephone maze to get the help they need. If you claim quality, you had better make sure your goods are up to snuff. No one likes to be lied to and no one likes when their experiences fall short of expectations. Apple’s hip brand works because of their quality, design, and cutting-edge products that set trends and push the boundaries. They deliver on their brand promise.

2. Make your customer real

Determine your ideal customer and market to that person. Don’t aim for some amorphous blob of people out there – make it about one customer (or a persona for all the different customers you serve) and pretend you are talking to that person. Know their likes, dislikes, where they live, where they work, what magazines they like to read. The more detail you can put around this picture, this persona, even if you have a few different customer groups, the more relevant and on-target your marketing and communications will be. When you try to reach everyone, you become relevant to no one because you are too generic and vanilla.

3. Invest your marketing dollars wisely

Only invest in marketing programs that make sense. Duh – this seems obvious, but don’t buy that booth at the show unless you know your potential customers will be there. Even if it costs just $200, it’s a wasted $200 if the 5000 people in attendance will never buy your product. Do the research, ask the questions. Go where your customers are, don’t expect them to come to you just because you think it would be “cool” to be at that event or produce that radio spot. If your ideal customers don’t have time to watch TV, don’t invest in producing that ad.

4. Give meaning to your “look”

Work with a brand strategist or gifted designer who understands how placement, typography, and color all work together consciously and subconsciously to communicate a message. Ensure you really map out the message you wish to convey before you create the materials or graphic elements to convey it.

5. Give brand marketing a chance to work

People need to experience things multiple times before they stick. Be clear but be consistent – they need to see your message about 7 times before they remember it. The Nike swoosh did not create meaning overnight but Nike spent years and lots of money making that mark mean something to people. Don’t expect one ad to get you to your sales targets, or a website to get you all your customers. Branding is not the same as direct response marketing – it takes time and it should be integrated across all your customer touch points. Of course, if you need to course correct if it’s not working, you can do that, but don’t change it up every month – you may be sick of your own messaging after 2 months, but others will not have had a chance to absorb it. Do the work upfront to make sure your message is on target and stick with it.

6. Be realistic

If you can’t afford to produce luxury goods or services, don’t market them as such. People still need cheap, efficient, no-frills products and services on certain occasions. Just find your audience niche and market to them only what you can provide realistically to them specifically.

7. Create a style guide

When you design a website or a logo, ensure the designers leave you with a Style Guide that has all your colors used (in PMS, HEX, CMYK), font types and sizes, any copy guidelines (ie, we never use contractions, we use a very playful, snarky tone), layout guidelines, graphic guidelines (do we use photos or illustrations?) etc. This will help you maintain consistency when you either need to do things yourself or have others step in and make changes, do other projects, etc. This should be part of your operational guidelines and shared with any employees or partners who do visual/written work with you.

8. Understand trademark and copyright

Anything you put in a fixed form is automatically copyrighted by you, whether you file for the copyright or not, as long as you can prove when they were first used. This means copy, presentations or articles. But names or logos might need to be trademarked. If you come up with any branded product or service names, at least do an online trademark search at – this includes company name and taglines. Doesn’t mean you have to necessarily file for a trademark, but at least you will know what is already in use to avoid getting sued or being asked to cease and desist. And always consult a trademark lawyer on whether you should or should not trademark certain things. Better to spend some time and money to check up front on usage before investing lots of money on naming or design, only to be told to cease and desist by someone already using those things.

9. Keep the end in mind

When getting a logo designed, keep in mind how you will use it. This can save you money in the long run. Will it always be shown in digital format, or do you plan to print it out or place it on promotional items? This will help you determine if you need a 4-color logo or 2-color logo. It is often more expensive to print 4-color than 2-color or even black and white. Also, ensure you are using mostly standard PMS or CMYK colors so as to avoid needing to pay extra for custom print colors. And think about how your logo will show up at both big and small sizes. A very minutely detailed logo may not reproduce well on websites or in event programs at a very small size.

10. Use known analogies

If you are introducing something new or unfamiliar to your target audience, try to use analogies to help them make the connections more quickly. Take what it known and convey that meaning for quick comprehension. Here’s an excerpt from the fabulous book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath:

“When the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) was trying to convey that movie popcorn was unhealthy, all their statistics and facts caused most people’s eyes to glaze over. So the CSPI called a press conference on September 27, 1992. Here’s the message it presented: “A medium-sized ‘butter’ popcorn at a typical neighborhood movie theater contains more artery-clogging fat than a bacon-and-eggs breakfast, a Big Mac and fries for lunch, and a steak dinner with all the trimmings — combined!”

The folks at CSPI didn’t neglect the visuals — they laid out the full buffet of greasy food for the television cameras. An entire day’s worth of unhealthy eating, displayed on a table. All that saturated fat stuffed into a single bag of popcorn.

The story was an immediate sensation.”