Guard Your Personal Brand

I saw a Dilbert cartoon in the Sunday paper a while back.  In a meeting the boss says, “We’ve decided to charge customers for features they currently get for free.”  Dilbert responds, “Have you considered how our customers might react?”  The boss says, “Customers love us and they will put up with anything we dish out.”  Wally says, “So, it’s sort of an abusive relationship?”  The boss replies, “No yet, but we’re trying to move in that direction.”

This issad, and like most Dilbert cartoons, kind of funny – and probably based on the recent Netflix price increase debacle.  However, I lived through the consequences of another similar decision.  In the mid 1970’s I was working for Olin Corporation.  I got a promotion to become the Training and Development Director of its Winchester Division – you know, “the gun that won the west.”

Winchester was in hard times in those days.  They were still struggling with a marketing decision that had been made in 1964.  In essence, the guys running the company made a decision that went something like this: “Our brand name is very strong.  It’s probably the best known brand in the world outside of Coca-Cola. Our manufacturing costs are getting out of control.  We can reduce the quality of our products and consumers will still buy them because of the strength of our brand.”

Guess what?  This was a really, really, really bad idea.  Winchester sales plummeted.  The company became known for producing poor quality products.  Conventional wisdom became, “If you’re going to buy a Winchester, buy one made before 1964.”

The company had corrected the quality problems by the time I joined the division.  But it was too late, Winchester was doomed.  Olin sold the brand a few years later. It has been sold at least one more time since then. Winchester is still in business.  They are run by a company in Utah now.  I don’t know how they’re doing, but I do know that in the early 60’s Winchester execs made a terrible decision based on the strength of their brand.

Netflix was known as a reliable supplier of home video products at a reasonable cost.  Winchester was known for their reliable sporting arms.  Just like Dilbert’s fictional company, both of these companies almost killed their brands.

People, just like companies, are brands too.  Tweet 61 in my career success book Success Tweets says, “Create and nurture your unique personal brand.  Stand, and be known for, something.  Make sure that everything you do is on brand.”  And that’s the important career advice here.  Once you build your personal brand, you have to nurture it.  You have to guard it carefully.  You have to always be doing things that will reinforce your brand.

I’ll use myself as an example.  I have been building my personal brand, The Common Sense Guy, for close to 20 years.  Yet, I never miss an opportunity to reinforce it.  My business card says, “Bud Bilanich, The Common Sense Guy.”  As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I tend to end most of my blog posts by saying something like, “The common sense point here is simple…”  When I speak, I always make sure that my audiences know the career advice I am dispensing is based in common sense.  When I complete on line forms, I always enter “The Common Sense Guy” for both my company and my title.

I even brand myself by my attire.  When I pack for business trips, I pull out two or three pairs of dark charcoal gray slacks, a black or blue blazer, several white shirts and striped ties.  I always wear white shirts and striped ties when I visit my clients.  Often, they tell me that I don’t need to dress up as they are a business casual office.  I always reply by saying, “I put on my tie today because I knew I would be seeing an important person – you.”  This comment always gets a smile – and from what I can tell, people are flattered by it.  It helps me create positive personal impact.

My white shirt and striped tie look has become so well-known among people whom I see regularly, that they are surprised when I deviate from it.  A couple of months ago, I was getting dressed and noticed a favorite foulard patterned tie on my tie rack.  I decided to be a little wild and crazy and wear it.  Sure enough, one of my clients asked if I were changing my look – from striped to patterned ties.  This little story illustrates the power of consistency.  I had never discussed my preference for striped ties with this woman.  However, at some level, she noticed my white shirt and striped tie presentation.  It must have registered, or she would not have mentioned it when I deviated from my normal tie selection.

What is your personal brand?  What do you do every day to reinforce it?  What else can you do?  If you want to learn more about personal branding, Dan Schawbel and William Arruda are the two best sources I know.  Check out Dan’s personal branding blog, and William’s site.  Once you build your brand, protect it.  Promote is consistently and constantly.

The career success coach point here is simple common sense.  Follow the common sense career advice in Tweet 61 in Success Tweets.  “Create and nurture your unique personal brand.  Stand, and be known for, something.  Make sure that everything you do is on brand.”  Once you build your personal brand do whatever it takes to make sure that people think of you in the way you want them to.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking “I have a strong personal brand, I can slack off a bit.”  That doesn’t work, just ask the executives at Netflix and the guys who were running Winchester in the early 60’s.  Your brand is important to your career success.  Polish it regularly.  Keep it bright and shiny.

That’s my career advice on maintaining the brand you’ve worked so hard to build.  What do you think?  Please take a minute to share your thoughts with us in a comment.  As always, thanks for taking the time to read my daily musings on life and career success.  I value you and I appreciate you.


PS: If you haven’t already done so, please download a free copy of my popular career advice book Success Tweets and its companion piece Success Tweets Explained.  The first gives you 140 bits of career success advice tweet style — in 140 characters or less.  The second is a whopping 390 + pages of career advice explaining each of the common sense tweets in Success Tweets in detail.  Go to to claim your free copy.  You’ll also start receiving my daily life and career success quotes.

PPS: I opened a membership site last September.  It’s called My Corporate Climb and is devoted to helping people create career success inside large corporations.  You can find out about the membership site by going to http://www.mycorporateclimb.



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