Case Study: Rajesh Setty and the “ZEROth” Impression

rajesh setty upbeatRajesh Setty is the kind of guy you’re happy to know.  He is a positive, energetic, upbeat person – hence the title of his book Upbeat.  It isn’t that he is unaccustomed to rejection -he just handles it differently than many people. Rajesh, wrote his first book at the age 13 and it was published after 160 rejections.  He had published 6 books by the time he was 16.  Since then he has earned several degrees, founded several companies, married and had a family.  His personal brand is based on contribution, capacity expansion and (long term) comittment. I sat down with Rajesh and asked him his thoughts on personal branding:

Laura: How do you think about personal branding?

Rajesh: A personal brand for me is a promise that one makes to the world. Since everyone always makes some or the other promise, they can’t NOT have a personal brand. Everyone has one. This is evident in the way people “box” you just the way you will “box” other people. We are always in some sort of a two-way “boxing” game.  A simple way to work on your personal brand is to make it easy for people to “box” you the right way. That is, when asked “What do you do?”, your answer needs to fit into a box that the person is familiar with.  If you don’t tell them which box you belong in, they will put you in a box they design.  You design your own box and then build a bigger box. A point to note here is that what you say has to match with who you really are. Wanting to put in the “right box” does not end with words, it has to be followed by you growing up to those words.

Laura: What do you believe is the first step in building a personal brand?

Rajesh: For me, it is the idea of making the right “ZEROth” impression. Let me explain. Everything you do before you meet someone influences the FIRST impression.  It is how you behave online, your profiles, your comments, your email, voicemail, phone calls…it all matters.  Most people you meet will have heard of you, seen you or been referred to you prior to you establishing a connection with them. Everything up to that point is the “ZEROth” impression and cannot be overlooked.

Laura: How do you continue to build your personal brand?

Rajesh: It comes down to three simple things.  First, I always think of how to increase the capacity of the other person.  What kind of contribution can I make to them. Second, I always find a second reason to do something for them.  Maybe tweet about them, speak to their organization, make an introduction.  and Finally, I am always very careful about the promises I make to myrself.  If I can’t make the commitment then don’t make the promise.  Honor your commitments to yourself like you would to a client.

You can learn more about Rajesh Setty at

Case Study: Rob Frankel – Personal branding or career suicide?

RobHeaderRob Frankel has been called “the best branding expert on the planet”.   He’s the author of “The Revenge of Brand X: How to Build a Big Time Brand on the Web or Anywhere Else” and founder of  Rob and I have similar “big business” backgrounds.  We have similar perspectives on the art of branding and the role it plays in building a business – be it a big one or a small one.  Here’s what Rob had to say when we talked about “personal branding” as it relates to building your business.

Laura: What is your definition of a brand?

Rob: A brand is how you get your prospects to perceive your solution as the only solution to their problem.

Laura: What do you think of personal branding and the role it plays when building a business.

Rob: The idea of personal branding is a corruption and co-opting of a legitimate process – branding.  In terms of small businesses, on entrepreneurs, people have a tendency to think that because they are the business, they are the brand.  Nothing is further from the truth.  No matter how small your business is, customers are buying the business, product or service…not you.  Customers don’t hire me because I’m a nice guy, good dad, and soccer coach.  They hire me because they have a branding issue and I can solve it.

Laura: How do you differentiate your personal characteristics from a business brand?

Rob: Your brand is your business…not your person.  Its about business…not about being a good dad.  There are core brand attributes that make brands successful.  For example, credibility, authenticity, and honesty.   Just because you have these personal attributes doesn’t mean you have to embark on a personal branding crusade.  Use the attributes to build an image and meaning for the company brand.

Laura: What are the implications of “personal branding” on employees and companies?

Rob: The purveyors of “personal branding” get into some serious ethical issues.  If you’re working for a company, then why promote the company brand when should be promoting yours?  There are legal issues as well as the company hires you to further their interest, not your own.  Younger, entry level people are really buying into the idea of building a personal brand.  I predict that we’re going to see examples of career suicide resulting in the conflict of interest between personal and business brands.

Create your online persona

Regardless of the social media platform you’re using, you are going to have some kind of a profile.  It is the core to almost all social guy with blank signnetworks and communities.  Your profile is your introduction to the world, the network or community.  It needs to reflect your personality AND how you are important to your customers AND the style and tone of the community where it is posted. You are starting with a clean slate – so be creative and tell your story.  Once you have the content of your profile figured out, use itconsistently so that when someone “meets” you on FaceBook and then invites you to connect on LinkedIn, they are seeing the same person.

This can get quite tricky when you are a solopreneur, or an independent professional, where you are your business.  The notion of personal branding comes up and I get asked all the time, do I brand myself or my company?  With social media, people are building a relationship with you, and you represent your company.  So the answer is that it depends.  On what….. your business objectives

If you are a consultant and most of your business is by referral, then you probably want to focus more on yourself – as people are referring you, not your business.  On the other hand, if you run an online boutique specializing in vintage women’s clothing, or an auto repair shop, or a hair salon – people are going to know the company, not necessarily you.

Let’s dissect your online profile and make sure you have the right elements in place across all platforms.   Key elements of a profile usually include:  Picture, Bio and Links.

Make sure your picture is current
– nothing is more unsettling that to meet someone online only to eventually meet them in person, at a conference, event or a meeting or something, and they look nothing like their picture.  It is like they lied to you.  Plus, the bigger advantage is that people will begin to recognize you online by your picture and they will subconsciously develop a stronger relationship with you.

You bio needs to have two versions
– a short one and a longer one.  You can think of the short one as your tagline, either yours personally, or your companies.  It needs to be memorable and quickly paint a picture for people.  The longer bio provides the details and is only used when people really want to learn more about you.  Give them the details that you’re comfortable sharing publically…education, work history, associations and interests.  More importantly, make it interesting.  As a quick example….“Laura Lowell – President, Impact Marketing Group” doesn’t tell me anything.  But “Laura Lowell – 20 years building brands and businesses”  tells me a lot more, and is more interesting and will get you noticed.

Include some links to other sites.  Make sure that the links are live, up-to-date and active.  If you link to your blog, but you have posted anything in the last 6 months – what message are you sending people?  Nothing good, I can assure you.

Remember that the profiles on each type of platform will vary slightly, but these elements are common to 99% of them.

Build your brand based on passion

It’s a lot easier to do things you like, than things you don’t like. You might be thinking…”duh”. But how many of you spend your time doing what you are passionate about? How many companies focus on the things they can do, as opposed to the things they should do?

I’m talking about what in most MBA programs would be called “core competencies”. These are the fundamental things your customers value, and that your company does better than any of your competitors. Let’s use HP as an example. HP is a company with many lines of business, many products and even more things they could be doing. One of the things that has made HP successful it its ability to “stick to it’s knitting”, as my Grandma used to say. When they have veered off course, they have acknowledged it and pulled back – sometimes not as fast as they would have liked in hindsight, but they eventually realized it and corrected their course so that they play to their strength of innovation. Their core competencies are the things that HP people are passionate about – innovation is what they are about. R&D is a vital part of every successful division. HP Labs holds more patents than any other working technology lab. The net result is that HP continues to lead in the businesses where it innovates. Why? Because it is doing what it loves to do.

When it comes to smaller scale businesses, the idea is even more important. Brandon Mendelson (@BJMendelson on Twitter) started his company in response to, well, having nothing else to do (his words not mine.) The company, Earth’s Temporary Solution, is the production company behind Brandon’s campaign “A Million High Fives (#AMHF on Twitter). Brandon is a guy who does good things, because he wants to. He is sarcastic and a bit wacky, but he is nothing if not following his passion. “Our goal is to empower others to help those in need. In the not-for-profit world there’s a lot of mistrust and people looking to make a quick buck on willing, happy people, so as a for-profit, we want people to trust us and know we are providing them with the right tools to do the greatest good,” says Brandon. By following his passion, and sticking to his core competencies, Brandon has amassed a huge following on Twitter, FaceBook and other networks. Currently, Brandon is one of the most followed non-brand, non-celebrity, non-media outlets on Twitter. He is following his passion, and consequently, people are following him.

Now you ask, how can you identify your passion, your core competencies? Ask yourself these questions about your business and your brand:

  • Why do my customers choose our brand over another?
  • What do we do that our competitors don’t?
  • What is the one thing that we would protect over anything else?

Your answers will lead you towards clarifying your competencies. Take them, build on them and make them to focus of your branding (and business) efforts. When your brand is built on passion, it is authentic. There is an honesty that comes from doing what you like to do. You can’t make that up and you certainly can’t fake it.

Important elements of personal branding – the results are in

In a recent survey conducted by Impact Marketing Group, we asked entrepreneurs, business owners and independent professionals about their perceptions of personal brands.  Here’s what they said:

– The most important elements of a brand are Authenticity, Honesty and Expertise.

– Visibility online via events, books, blogs and articles is more important than traditional media coverage.

– Your website isn’t as important as it once was – the focus has shifted to personal presence (both online and offline).

What does this mean for you?  First, it means we all need to evaluate who we are and what we stand for in business.  As a whole people are tired of promises made and broken.  We see it in politics and big business, and it is clear that our customers expect more from us, the entrepreneurs and business owners.  We need to be true to our customers and keep our promises.  Remember that we all sell something – whether it is a political message, bookkeeping or graphic design – that helps our customers improve the ways they do things.  They want to hear from us and it is our responsibility to tell them who we are and what we do to help them.

Second, it’s time to start talking to your customers, not the media.  It’s time to start taking part in conversations that are relevenat to your customers.  Hear what they are saying and find out what’s important to them.  Chime in and share your thoughts, expertise and experiences.  Don’t sell them during these conversations – just talk, and get to know them.The time to sell will come once you have gained their trust and become a known entity.

Finally, it isn’t just about your website anymore.  The focus has shifted to a more dynamic type of communications where your personal presence is more important than your webpage.  By personal presence, I mean, your message and presemnce on and off line.  If someone Googles your name, what will they find?  FaceBook, Twitter, LinkedIn accounts all sharing different parts of an integrtated story? Or, more likely, wil they see some stuff here and there that doesn’t help them to get to know you.  Websites are about credibility, but they aren’t what people need to make a decision to do business with you.  People need to know that you’re the real deal, that you’re a real person with experiences to share and ideas that might help them.  Blogs, articles, videos, speaking appearances can all work to help you build your personal presence.

Here are the details for anyone who’s interested in seeing more:

Brand Perceptions