When I was growing up, the word “brand” usually brought to mind the wide range of choices we had for consumer or durable goods. Quaker Oats, Coca-Cola, and Frosted Flakes come to mind, but you can’t leave out Western Auto, Oldsmobile or General Electric. All of these were brands of a titanic proportion in the market, and even most younger folks can connect the dots and identify which ones related to phrases like, “the pause that refreshes,” “they’re Great!” and “nothing is better for thee than me.”
Corporate branding became much more iconic over the years, where graphics without words can instantly impress you with the corporate identity: think Nike. And even short musical slogans establish a lasting impression on you, such as this familiar one, “the best part of waking up, is Folgers in your cup.”
So what in the heck does that have to do with being a small business lender?
Today the idea of branding has been extended to include personal traits that you may have or can invent for yourself that help people identity you. It’s a subtle difference with which one might distinguish themselves in order to be more easily recognizable, and therefore easier to promote and be remembered.
Is it required? No. Does it work? It can work. Is it effective? I have to say from personal experience, yes, it can be very effective.
In the late 1990s, before the idea of personal branding was a conceived notion, I became impatient at the rising price of neckties. In those days, wearing a golf shirt to the bank was acceptable only on your day off, and then only if you didn’t hang around long. All the men wore ties, with some making a better effort at selecting ties than others. Yes, you could find ties at K-Mart and Sears, but some of us couldn’t fathom the idea of actually wearing those.
Meaning, I spent a disproportionate amount of my clothing budget on neckties, and was constantly having to replace them due to my sloppy handling of a bowl of chili or by adding too much ketchup to my burger. And then one day, I discovered bow ties and I’ve never ruined another tie from a mealtime accident.
As bow ties gradually made their way into my wardrobe, so did the number of awkward looks, stares and ribbing from peers and supervisors alike. It was as if I were in training to be a Maitre ‘d at the club or something. But meanwhile, unintentionally I did stand out in the eyes of many prospective clients and others I might meet at networking events or on a sales call. I recognized over time that people began remembering me–Charles Green–as the guy who wore a bow tie. Inadvertently I had established a personal brand.
Did that help me sell more financing? Not directly, but it kept my name familiar and my face recognized by a lot of people who otherwise would have lost their impression of me among the other 2,000 bankers in a white shirt and blue tie, or golf shirt and khakis.
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And having a memorable familiarity to prospective clients, referral sources or other business leaders that might be able to help you some day did shine a lot of opportunity my way, of which I took full advantage.
So how can you brand yourself? That’s a tough question. I don’t recommend you start wearing bow ties unless you really like them, but rather think about your brand more in terms as to who you earnestly already are. The brand you already have will get a lot more attention if you’ll stop masking it with whatever uniform, style, or habits that you engage in now because you think you’re suppose to act, dress or ‘be’ that way. Just be you.
What do I mean? Imagine a business lender with a passion to wear a purple Mohawk haircut. I believe that if they had a demonstrative competence in the lending business, were personally approachable, and followed through on their business commitments as well as any competing lender, a small business owner wouldn’t care that their mane was definitely a unique brand from all the others.
Think about it–it’s not the purple hair that the client would be concerned with, it’s the color of money. And that lender would definitively be remembered.
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