Founder – Are You a Brand?
You are fortunate if you have a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ as an answer. But if you do put down a ‘don’t know’ then you and your company are in real trouble. So is your team.
For me branding is what people think of your brand/idea and you when you are not there in the room. It is fundamentally the basket of associations that are triggered – they could be unaided or aided ones.
A quick and branding-oriented explanation here – when you open the Uber app on your phone, two or three things could possibly happen – you look at the design interface and feel good (easy to navigate, stylish, easy on the eye etc. are the takeouts or opinions), you also subconsciously recall the last Uber ride, your mind may even wander to the last read public opinion on the company and its leadership in the media. Or that morning you may have seen an advertisement of Uber in the media and you may have formed an opinion. To me – all of these occasions and events are windows for triggering associations. When smart Founders are aware of the associations and work consciously to create the right and relevant ones, perceptions about the brand are built and grown in a well-groomed manner.
Are the associations brand-furthering?
This is the cardinal question.
In fact, you need to ask yourself what are those associations you can trigger when someone sees, hears or reads about you; or for that matter experiences you in some way or the other. Are the associations brand- furthering? Do they create the right and relevant associations and perceptions for the brand? Glance through these Visionary/Founder/CEO brands and the related journey/product/service brands – Michael Dell to Dell; Zuckerberg to Facebook; Richard Branson to Virgin; Gandhi to India; Quentin Tarantino to Hollywood; Bansals to Flipkart; Vijay Shekhar Sharma to Paytm. The examples can be a long list.
But what are pertinent are the learnings for you and your branding team with regards to creating the right branding associations. Associations could also be those memory recalls the stakeholders have of you as the person brand. All of it – the good bad and ugly… You need to be aware that associations and the person brand creation journey have many elements adding to it time after time. For example, the last news and feature piece publics would have read about you. Or the last occasion they interacted with the brands you and your company has created. Even something as routine as a news round up or a ringside comment made by you could add up to that association set.
As an aside, here is an unusual in my opinion, yet purposive approach to creating a unique perception. Film-making Quentin Tarantino style?
If you are a movie buff you know his style of narrative – raw, in the face and seeking a reaction from the viewer. Whether it is Kill Bill or Django Unchained. You never would have had an indifferent feeling towards the film or the director. In my thought process, person/director (Quentin Tarantino) got identified with a certain type, genre of film making and I would like to call it loosely as the signature touch to the films he created.
As a Founder you need to have a signature. One, which is unique, identifiable and purposively differentiates you from others in similar spaces. That, simply put is person branding.
Before we look further on how one could go about creating that person brand, here is what Erik Deckers and Kyle Lacy say in their book ‘Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself’,
“A brand is an emotional response to the image or name of a particular company, product or person.”
(The right kind of emotional response if I were to add as a qualifier)
This is where it all begins.
Branding yourself – some questions for you
- Who are you? More in the context of the product/idea and how your background is relevant to the emerging brand
- What do you stand for as a person? For example, founders and their companies are strongly identified with each other – the engineering capability of a Michael Dell to create a customized computer; the resourceful insight on the emerging sharing economy from the Founders of Airbnb. I quote from a blog (http://blog.atairbnb.com/who-we-are/) written by Brian Chesky October 3, 2013 – “This is not a new idea. When I told my late grandfather about this, he said, “Of course! That’s how I traveled when I was a kid.” Airbnb is the new, old way to travel. Decades ago, travelers stayed in boarding homes, neighbors shared what they had, and ordinary people powered the economy. These activities are re-emerging through a new movement called the sharing economy, where everyone can participate.”
In my opinion, the Airbnb founders signified the advent of the sharing economy and possibly they were the pioneers who saw it coming much before anyone else did as a platform – not merely as a product or a service. Like Brian Chesky’s grandfather says, Airbnb is an old idea but with a new avatar and scale that has taken the accommodation and sharing world to a new orbit. (Quick reminder here: Do not forget the common denominator across most successful entities and founders – passion. Check your passion reservoir!)
- What are your values? The traits that endear you to your publics, the way you do business, the manner in which you behave with your colleagues, ecosystems and the world. That quintessential motto you will stand up for, come what may. Ask yourself what that is…
A few words of caution though
- Do not be a pulp fiction writer while answering the above questions
- Be real and believable
- Do not try to be what you are not
- Mystify your story a bit, but just enough to make it readable, endearing and memorable
- Too many anecdotal narratives take the focus away from your business idea and yourself. Believable stories and spin? The line is thin and you need to strike a fine balance.
- Be seen as a doer, not merely an armchair thinker
Once you have the answers attempt writing out a 500 -1000 word piece on yourself. Then smartly pick up the salient points and start communicating them in media. Digital, non-digital, conventional press and TV. Remember media are only pathways. The story is you. And every story – small or big has the potential to brand you.
I sign off by citing Philosopher Peter Koestenbaum who in his book – Leadership: The Inner Side Of Greatness: A Philosophy For Leaders mentions four dimensions of a leader – vision, reality, ethics and courage that in turn determines the long-term success.
I quote him,
“Bland brands that do not possess courage or vision will only attract people by default. Distinctive and courageous brands such as Virgin, Patagonia and Nike attract people who share their values. To see how this works, relate the idea back to individuals. We admire people such as Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela because they operate in these four dimensions. If Mandela lacked a sense of reality, we’d say he was a dreamer. If Gandhi had no real vision, people would not have followed him.”
So get started. Startups need aware /Visionaries/Founders/ CEOs. And they in turn need branding.