Founder and CEO of strategic branding and inbound marketing firm, AdaptiveIMS, Patrick Sitkins is the co-author of Brand Aid: Taking Control of your Reputation – Before Everyone Else Does.
1. Tell us a little about the book:
Your personal brand, as we define it, is what people think about you. Each one of us has a personal brand, which is shaped by what we do, say, write, and otherwise present to others. We can’t fully control how others see us, but a huge failure is not even trying. That is, we don’t take a moment to think about how we WANT to be perceived, and then take a few simple steps to align that with a purposeful message to others.
This isn’t a book about becoming a celebrity, being slick, braggadocios or even fake. It IS about using your words and actions mindfully, whether they take place in a conference room, PTA meeting, dinner party, Facebook comment thread, or anywhere else.
We use personal examples, stories from our years helping people manage their brands, and pull from current events to provide illustrations of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Although we wrote this as a guide to provide solid theory and tactics to create, manage and protect a brand, it is also meant to entertain.
2. What inspired you and Larry Lynne to write Brand Aid?
Larry and I began working together when I was 24 years old. We were both in a unique position of leadership in a legacy company notoriously seen as ‘a one man band’. Larry established himself very quickly as a separate voice future of that company, by managing our clients’ and the markets’ perception of him. About a year later, I joined the firm with two distinct challenges ahead of me. 1) Becoming an advisor to mature and complex insurance firms as a very ‘green’ individual 2) Being the son of the owner – the ‘one man band’ I described earlier.
We worked extremely hard to manage my brand, differentiate me, and establish a perception of value. Our success in all of this spurred us to write this book.
3. Why in your opinion is personal branding and brand reputation so important?
Especially with Millennials, but the market overall, they don’t trust big corporations. As Michael Fertik detailed in the foreword, unless you are buried in the bowels of a Fortune 500, you are the company’s brand, and vice-versa. For most small-to-mid sized firms, the personal brand and reputation of the owners and client facing employees are what the market perceives as the brand of the company. This can be extremely positive or it can be a deathblow.
The other item of importance is our digital world. The speed, amount, and amplification of our actions and words make this so critical. We have such an incredible opportunity to tell a compelling story, and have the market truly understand us. We also have the danger of allowing others to dictate that message.
4. What are your top three tips to improve personal branding?
First, you need to determine your brand. What do you want people to think about you? Next, you need to understand what makes you unique and valuable to people. I’m not saying that you need to increase people’s bank accounts in every relationship, but rather what makes the relationship work? How can you enhance others’ lives? In order to be proactive with your branding, you must first define it.
This goes for both online and offline. An extreme example is if your brand headline (both in what you tell people, and online with social media profiles) is one of values, family and clean living, but you are consistently making poor choices, connecting with the wrong people & groups, or have pictures and videos of you exercising your vices, then there is a disconnect. The same goes for your professional life. You can’t hope to be seen as an influential business executive, but all you talk about and post on is your favorite sports team. You need to be consistent in what you say you are and what you are leading people to believe.
Drop the ego
Your brand should not be inward facing. When we work with c-suite clients, the beginning of the engagement is usually tough for them. They find branding to be very difficult, because they ‘have a hard time looking internally’. We help them shift their focus outward to the relationships they have at all levels (co-workers, clients, family, friends, etc.). Once the focus is on how they enhance others, the exercise in defining their brand becomes much easier, and a lot more fun!
Again, branding is not a self-serving strategy where you are trying to create a bigger than life (i.e. celebrity) persona. The goal should be to control what others think about you, and portray an accurate and powerful message that sticks with people.
5. Where do you think are the main areas that companies are going wrong in protecting their brand’s reputation?
A lot of companies jump into social without a) defining what they want people to think about them b) having a plan. Just ‘being on social’ doesn’t cut it anymore. Companies are getting lazy with their brands and confusing activity with results.
Another issue is in hiding their people. People want to do business with people. We still hear companies say things along the lines of “I don’t want my competitors to steal our best people!”. My response – it’s these things called Google and LinkedIn. You don’t need to hire a Private Investigator to find people these days. If your competitors want to find your employees, they can find them. It’s not hard. Instead of hiding their team, companies should invest heavily in shinning a spotlight on the talent they have. Isn’t that the reason they were hired in the first place? Companies need to understand it is much more about personal connectivity than big brand messages and huge ad budgets.
6. In your opinion, what are the main threats to our personal brands from the use of social media?
As mentioned above, consistency is key in personal branding & reputation management. With social media, you can’t have multiple personalities online. Your message, imagery, commentary, information and connections should all be in alignment with your brand. No ‘work profile’ v ‘personal profile’.
A lot of executives confuse activity with results on social. They believe that they’ve done what they need to simply by setting up a profile. In my opinion, an incomplete profile with no activity is more damaging than not having a profile at all. You need to understand the nuances of each social network and commit to being active there if you decide to join.
We are not all power influencers or big name celebrities. Personal branding needs to be authentic. Yes, you can look to others for inspiration, but you can not try to emulate the tactics of others if it does not align with who you really are.
7. We really liked that you offered a section of personal branding for every age and stage, why do you think it’s important that you know how to brand yourself at each stage? And what are the benefits?
We really wanted to write “Brand Aid” in a way that spoke to everyone. That is obviously hard to do. As we got deeper into the process, we realized there are some very different complexities at each life stage when it comes to a brand strategy. Early on, you are still trying to find yourself and establish a voice; whereas later in your career, you are not necessarily trying to feverishly expand your reach, but rather looking to deepen relationships and hyper-focus. We felt strongly about including this guide to help people understand what they needed to do in their current situation.
Personal branding and reputation management is not reserved for sales people. It really is a universal issue.
- Do you want to get into the university of your choice? Mange your brand. They are researching you!
- Want to marry your girlfriend? You better check your search results, because her dad is going to Google you!
- How about a promotion? It may depend on how you manage your brand with co-workers and superiors.
- The list goes on…
8. Finally, could you recommend one business book that you’ve really enjoyed recently?
I have to give it up to my friend Erik Qualman. He is someone who absolutely practices what he preaches; and his latest book “What Happens in Vegas Stays on YouTube” is the perfect complement to Brand Aid. The name pretty much sums it up. Every business owner, parent or coach should provide these to their team/family. It would have a huge impact.
To contact Patrick Sitkins