My first business was in the vendor industry, a blue-collar business that I personally ran every day. I never touched a computer or worried about “building a brand.” But my second (and current) business is different: It involves writing, speaking all over the world and consulting with companies.
If I didn’t build my brand, I wouldn’t have a business.
Initially, though, I had a lot to learn. Starting out, I read a lot of articles on how to create a brand. I even paid for courses and hired a coach -- a coach "famous" in my niche. Unfortunately, I got some bad advice that hurt my efforts to build my dream business. And what was particularly scary was that the advice my coach taught was being passed around like it was the smartest brand-building advice out there.
Sadly, I look at different coaches and courses today and still see this terrible branding advice being taught and implemented. In contrast, authenticity and connection are the strategies I use, and -- I now realize -- are the best way to build a brand. From my experience, here are four branding strategies that sound good but don’t help ultimately work.
1. [Don't] set up email auto-responders for all your email accounts.
You’ve probably emailed someone and gotten an auto-responder back saying something like, “I’m very busy and will try to respond when I can.” That's annoying because, unless you're a president or CEO, an auto-responder is usually overkill.
Too much popular branding advice trains you to put up such filters. You’re told that "the more unavailable" you are, the more you can charge. I disagree. Your first goal in building a brand is connecting with your leads and customers. Unless you’re taking time off, for most entrepreneurs, an email auto-responder is probably unnecessary for all of your email accounts.
2. [Don't] pretend to be your "assistant" when answering emails.
If someone tells you to try this strategy, run away as fast as you can. This advice builds upon the “be unavailable advice,” but doesn’t work. It’s silly to pretend if you don’t have an assistant. If anyone finds out -- and chances are they can -- you will lose trust with your audience. People will be more surprised if they get a personal response from you. That will help you stand out because other people are building filters, too.
3. [Don't] write in the third person.
To establish your authority, you’re often advised to write in the third person. This way, you can list all of your accomplishments without sounding like you’re bragging. The problem is that 99 percent people of people who visit the "about" page on your website or other places will know it was you who wrote it. You will come off looking pretentious and a little silly.
4. [Don't] show people you are an “expert.”
The word “expert” is almost a cliché in entrepreneurship. Everywhere you look, someone is giving himself or herself that designation. But with so many experts, the word and concept have lost their effectiveness. An expert in name only gets ignored. If you aren’t practicing what you preach, people will see through your title. If you haven’t been able to duplicate what you teach in your students/followers/customers, you too will be an "expert" in name only.
Instead of these supposed smart strategies, the best way to build a brand is through authenticity and connection. People can tell if someone is putting on a front -- they can sense fakeness. But when they see someone who’s genuine, they tell everyone they know, because that quality is rather rare. Be different by connecting whenever you can.
You can’t be available 24/7. You can’t always answer every email promptly, but you can try. That effort will be noticed and help you stand out.
People buy from someone they know, like and trust. Management consultant Peter Drucker said, “People buy with their hearts, not their minds.” Legendary ad executive David Ogilvy said, “The consumer is not an idiot; she’s your wife.” You can try to build your brand in a way that makes you unavailable and on a pedestal, but you’ll never make a connection with your audience. If there’s no connection, there will be no engagement. If there’s no engagement, you won’t get many organic leads.
The best way to know if any strategy works is to test it. Just because a strategy worked for an industry leader doesn’t mean it will work for you. The model that author Tom Ferriss talked about in The 4-Hour Work Week sounds great but would hurt most entrepreneurs’ businesses if they tried to implement it.
So, be honest. Be authentic. Be available when you can be. Gary Vaynerchuk (of YouTube's The #AskGaryVee Show) is a great example of building an engaged and connected brand. If Gary can still respond to his fans, so can the rest of us.