May 19, 2006

U R a Brand!

Catherine KaputaThere's an interview with Catherine Kaputa on Tom Peter's website. Kaputa is the author of a recent book, "U R a Brand! How Smart People Brand Themselves for Business Success." While a lot of the interview is interesting, I've excerpted Kaputa's ten "self-branding strategies" below, which I think are very good ideas as to how we can improve our own personal "brand." I've also included the digressions (in red) the interviewer ("Q") and Kaputa ("CK") had as they discussed her strategies; I felt they helped to expand on some of the points Kaputa made.

Self Branding Strategies:
1. Be the First
2. Be the Leader
3. Take the Anti-leader Position
4. Own an Attribute
5. Use a Magic Ingredient or Invent a New Process
6. Be the Expert
7. Be Preferred
8. Set a High Price
9. Use Your Special Heritage
10. Own a Cause

Strategy #1: Be the First
This is the most powerful strategy because the first brand is generally the market leader. In the product world this means creating a new product, or breaking new ground.

You can see it in the business world too. Michael Dell, for example, created a new market, a new category, as the leading direct marketer of computers. And he has a strong self brand as an innovator. Being the first seems formidable, but is something that anybody could do if you slice up the market narrowly enough. It's really about dissecting the market in a way that creates a new area where you can be first. It's certainly easier if you're an entrepreneur to execute that strategy, although I've seen it happen within companies, where somebody created a new kind of product or a new target market.

Strategy #2: Be the Leader
Positioning yourself as the leader has a halo effect. Most people feel that if you're the leading brand in a category, you must be the best brand. That's the association in people's minds. You garner a lot of business because of the perception, the connection people make between something being the leader and being the best. I talk in the book about leaders like Jack Welch and how it's important to lead with ideas and lead by example.

Strategy #3: Take the Anti-leader Position
For every Microsoft, there's an Apple. For every General Motors, there's a VW; a competitor that takes the opposite attitude of the leader. The leader is big, you're small and nimble, they're out of touch, you're cutting edge, they're bureaucratic, and you're entrepreneurial.

Americans have an emotional connection with underdogs. It's a powerful position. Look at Richard Branson. His quirky, anti-leader approach is "We do it differently than the leader does it in this category."

Q: That brings to mind a commercial from my childhood. Was it Hertz?

CK: It was Avis, a classic anti-leader. "We try harder. We're number two." To be honest with you, I usually travel with Avis because that appeals to me. Whether they try harder or not, it really strikes a chord in people, to root for somebody that's trying to be number one.

Strategy #4: Own an Attribute
This is the most common positioning strategy for brands. When you look at the car category, Mercedes-Benz owns the attribute of prestige, BMW is driving performance, Subaru is ruggedness, and Volvo is safety. Look at your industry or category—what are the important attributes? Who owns what? As a person, look at—who are your key competitors? Who owns what in terms of attributes? Is there an attribute that you can own?

I give some examples in the book of clients that wanted to own an attribute. A client named Benjamin wanted to own the attribute of accountability. He was in a very large, creative company in the entertainment industry. He was a creative business person as were many of his colleagues. He wanted to be known for accountability and follow through, a trait that helped him differentiate himself because not many of his colleagues had that trait.

Strategy #5: Use a Magic Ingredient or Invent a New Process
Many early packaged goods or patent medicines were built on this idea of a "magic ingredient." Today, people can use this magic ingredient or new process strategy. Obviously, people that are consultants, doctors, researchers, or scientists who use processes can develop new processes. Look at diet doctors like Dr. Arthur Agatston, creator of the South Beach Diet, what they do is create a "new process."

Of course, once this new process is out there, everybody copies it. But you have an advantage because you are the one associated with the new process.

Q: You can't take process seriously after the David Mamet movie, The Spanish Prisoner.

CK: Cooks are all about that. In the book, I talk about how chefs used to be work-a-day people until the celebrity chef came along. I marvel at them all now. They're great self-branders. It's all based on a process for cooking, or putting things together in a different way, this new process or magic ingredient kind of idea. They look at what other people do, add a little bit of their own style—preferred ingredients and cooking process—and create success. Their personality is part of it as well.

Strategy #6: Be the Expert
A big point of branding is that it's not smart to be a jack-of-all-trades. You need to be known for something. Be very focused; focus is powerful. This is the strategy that I've adopted, which is to be the expert. It's not just self-branding; it's really the branding space. The thing that's different about the way I approach it is that I'm a brand consultant that works with a company's products and people. Most people just do the people part or they just do a company's brand strategy.

I was amazed when I read in Barbara Corcoran's book (Initially published as "Use What You've Got, and Other Business Lessons I Learned from My Mom" with a title change in the paperback edition to "If You Don't Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons on Your Pigtails: And Other Lessons I Learned from My Mom") that she had only sold about 12 properties when she put out The Corcoran Report on real estate in Manhattan. It made the front page of the New York Times business section on Sunday. In New York, the real estate market has always been very secretive. They don't have an MLS [Multiple Listing Service]. She published, and continues to publish what the average price of an apartment is on the East Side, West Side, Downtown, or Midtown. Suddenly she was the real estate expert in New York, and she'd only sold a dozen properties. Obviously, she's a self-branding genius to have accomplished what she did, as well as a savvy businessperson.

Q: I recently interviewed the author of Future Shop, a book about the auction culture. He has an interesting section about the secondary market for cars; the used car industry. He mentioned Kelley, who started the Blue Book as a way to help his used car sales. But in time, the Blue Book overtook his used car business. It's one of those instances of the information surrounding the product and the sales becoming much more valuable than the sales. So I could see a future for Barbara Corcoran where it's about selling the information and not selling the properties any longer.

CK: Corcoran is doing just that. She sold her real estate company, and she's starting a production company. The media has a craving for experts on all kinds of topics. PR and media exposure can be a very important angle to the expert strategy. Writing reports, or publishing a book about your area of expertise are both good ways to gain visibility.

Strategy #7: Be Preferred
This is really user positioning. You want to be preferred by a certain target audience and define yourself that way. For example, you become the Wall Street broker or financial consultant who specializes in women, or specializes in advertising people. You then begin to understand your audience very well and develop advice and services tailored to the needs of that specific group. That becomes your value added and your target group will refer you a lot, so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Strategy #8: Set a High Price
There are all kinds of stories of the $100 handbag that no one bought, but when it had a $500 price tag on it, it flew out the door. There's always that perception, that if you're a $500 an hour consultant, you're better than a $100 an hour consultant, or why would you charge so much?

A big part of this strategy is that you don't discount. We all have a desire for luxury goods. People recognize that if they're paying top price, they're getting the best. It has a certain cachet.

Q: It's a built-in self-validation; if I can afford to pay this, I must be fabulous.

CK: Yeah. It's a powerful strategy to have, particularly if you're a consultant or in the professions. Pricing yourself at the upper end of the market can be very successful, because a lot of people are attracted to people that charge a lot. Certain executives price themselves in a certain category. If you don't have that mindset you're never going to make that kind of salary.

Q: So you've really got to stay on your toes with that strategy.

CK: Yeah. Well, look at the salaries of CEOs in this country; they're enormous. Not everybody feels they're worth it. That has to be a big part of it, feeling that you're worth it.

Strategy #9: Use Your Special Heritage
You see this in the product world, emphasizing the heritage of the product. Stolichnaya is an example. With cars, you see the emphasis on where they're made, such as German heritage. For people, if you have a name like Bush, Kennedy, Rockefeller, or Hilton, you have one up on the rest of us. It can really boost a career. I've been in many jobs where I've seen nepotism. Look at all the celebrity magazines in this country. People are very attracted to famous family heritages or celebrity status.

There are all kinds of heritage. Certainly, if you have experience working at Procter & Gamble that heritage is a big boost to your personal brand if you continue to work in packaged goods or move to other areas. People will be impressed with the marketing training you had at P&G. If you're an investment banker, and you worked at Goldman Sachs, people assume you're the best.

Q: So don't burn your bridges, because wherever you have been in the past might have some advantage for your future, right?

CK: Exactly. It's important to think of that when you're getting a first or second job. If you're offered a job at one of these top places, it's very helpful for whatever you do later on to have that as part of your credentials. It will differentiate you and people will make a lot of assumptions. The assumptions may be true or they may not be true.

I went to graduate school at Harvard, because I knew getting a Ph.D. from the University of Washington where I received an M.A. would not help me get many jobs. Being a Japanese art historian in the United States is a very tough career. I knew that I'd have a much better shot at getting a job if I had the Harvard brand. I'm the same person, whether I got the Ph.D. here or there, but the whole outcome of my career and life is day and night.

Plus if you're in a place like Harvard, you get all these opportunities to work on exhibitions and book projects that lead to connections and experience. Obviously, a big thing I talk about in the book is networks and this advantage of knowing people. In advertising, you develop a media plan; with Brand You, your media plan is the people that you know and come in contact with.

Strategy #10: Own a Cause
I think that a lot of us are driven to do something meaningful and significant. It's not all about money. Look at Bono, he's very involved in a cause. I think it's really helped his brand a lot. He's a very successful rock musician, but it's because of his work with his cause that he meets with CEOs and presidents at Davos. It has also made him a much more complicated and interesting person, and more powerful, by owning a cause.

Q: That's similar to Lance Armstrong and his cancer. There are stories about him not being the nicest person. I think as people we're more forgiving of someone with less attractive characteristics if we know they're devoting some real energy to a larger cause.

CK: I think so. Even somebody like Jimmy Carter. He has rehabilitated the way people view him since he was president by his work with Habitat for Humanity and other causes. He got the Nobel Peace Prize. He really had a very poor image when his presidency ended with the whole Iran hostage crisis.

Q: That's the very classic American dream, the concept of reinvention. Tom [Peters] writes about it a lot; he blogged about it when he saw the movie, Ray, about Ray Charles. There's a guy who kept reinventing himself. It's very American, that idea of, "We can be whatever we want."


The above excerpt is only about half of the interview. Be sure to check out the remainder.

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