“Branding demands commitment; commitment to continual reinvention; striking chords with people to stir their emotions; and commitment to imagination.”
Sir Richard Branson
“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”
George Bernard Shaw
“Now that I’m over sixty, I’m veering toward respectability.”
You can have anything you want in life if you position yourself properly.
The problem is that most individuals let other people set the course for their life and then follow it with blinders on. They build momentum but they never evaluate its direction. In fact, the average person chooses to keep his blinders on because he’s too afraid to veer off course. Even though it’s someone else’s course.
In Graduate school, my roommate, Ben Harms used to help take care of his girlfriend’s dog, Leo. One weekend, I came home and the dog had a huge cone wrapped around his head to keep him from turning his neck. The cone is called an Elizabethan collar and is worn by cats and dogs as a protective medical device to prevent the animals from biting or scratching their bodies while injuries heal. I don’t remember why Leo had to wear the collar but I do remember what Ben called it: the cone of shame.
When you stay on someone else’s course and refuse to take a different path, even when you know you should, you’re wearing the cone of shame. You’re restricting your movement and blinding yourself to other options, or other positions, often as a result of past wounds.
If you ever find yourself wearing the cone of shame, chew it off. Be your own master.
The key to enjoying life and gaining influence is to constantly evaluate your position in life, relative to your biggest goals, and to reposition yourself when necessary. If you’ve generated a lot of momentum towards a particular objective and one day realize that the objective will no longer fulfill you, or it belonged to someone else all along, change directions immediately. Sometimes sharp turns are necessary in life.
Willingness to dramatically reinvent yourself, or reposition yourself, is the cornerstone of continual growth. Always be willing to veer off course and change your position, otherwise you may find yourself feeling empty and confused once you reach your final destination. Strive to maintain your mobility, it’s what allows you to change, grow, and develop. Understand: no great thing has ever been achieved without mobility. Paralysis plays no part in success. Those that stay stuck in a rut are quickly surpassed by those that change lanes to realign themselves with their goals. Adapt or die.
The idea of positioning and repositioning yourself in order to have the life that you want is related to a concept in business called branding. Under this context, a brand is a word, phrase, design, or symbol that differentiates one company’s product from other companies selling similar products. For example, the brand Coca Cola differentiates the products of the Coca-Cola Company from the products of PepsiCo.
The concept of branding is broadening to encompass not only words and symbols but individuals and lifestyles. Branding, or positioning yourself in a particular niche market, has become critical to the success of anyone trying to sell their products or services online.
But what about personal branding? Not “personal branding” in the sense of positioning yourself as a product to be seen by others (your market) in a certain way. But real personal branding – positioning yourself for yourself only.
How can a person brand herself in a way that will align her current view of herself with her ideal view of herself?
To answer this question I turned to Kelly Peacock, a friend of mine who received her MBA in marketing from the Henry B. Tippie School Of Management. Kelly was the President of the Graduate Marketing Association at the University of Iowa when I was working on my doctorate and has gone on to do everything from social media strategy consulting to product development planning for Vanity Shops, Hormel Foods, Pearson Education, Transamerica Corporation, and Lowe’s Companies, Incorporated.
“I am a marketer. Branding is at the core of my business and positioning my clients’ brands is a full-time job. I constantly measure how consumers perceive each brand to ensure that the messages my client’s and I want to communicate are coming across clearly.
To visually represent consumers’ perceptions, marketers often use a tool called perceptual mapping. A perceptual map is a market research tool used to determine opportunities for new products. This tool is used to compare products or product ideas against the main perceptions of your customers.
First, the primary requirements of your customers are determined. Next these requirements are plotted on an X- and Y-axis. For example, there are a number of different attributes along which consumer perceptions about automobiles can fall. These perceptions are important in driving a marketer’s decisions about what to do with the brand in terms of development and communications.
Besides being a marketer who makes decisions about products, I am a product.
I am my own product, just like you are your own product. So, as your own product, how do your customers (your family, your peers, your friends, your significant other, your bosses, etc.) perceive you? Are their perceptions accurate? Are their perceptions important? Where does the perception you have of yourself fit in?
You can never be everything to everyone all at once, but you can be everything to yourself.
When positioning your personal brand, you have to be able to ignore the perceptions that others have of you. Notice that this is exactly the opposite of what marketers such as myself do when managing professional brands.
Pause for a moment and think about how you perceive yourself.
Where would you position yourself on our own perceptual map? Is the position you would plot yourself in today where you want to be, or do you need to reposition your personal brand?
Be completely honest with yourself and determine what is important to you in terms of your values and aspirations. Draw out and label your own X- and Y-axes, making as many different perceptional maps as you need. Next, determine the position you currently hold on each map, as well as the ideal position you would like to one day hold. The final step is to create a plan of action that will move you towards each ideal point.
It is important to note that the labels on your axes do not have to oppose one another. Also, the purpose of the exercise is not to merely pin your ideal points on the center of each map. The purpose is to become aware of where you currently perceive yourself in relation to your goals and to understand how your current positions differ from your ideal positions.
If you ignore everyone and sincerely position yourself to be the best person that you know how to be, the perceptions others have of you will mirror the perception you have of yourself.
The world has a funny way of seeing you in the same light that you see yourself.”
Drawing perceptional maps will help you clearly visualize where you are versus where you are going, who you are versus whom you want to be. This exercise will also help tease out which of your goals and values are the most important to you. The more you understand yourself, the more you will enjoy life.
Perceptional mapping is a simple, yet concrete way to inspire explosive changes. You can literally reinvent yourself and redirect the path of your life overnight. All it takes is a point to focus on and decision to move towards it. Here are a couple perceptual maps that I drew for myself based on Kelly’s instructions:
While drawing your own perceptual maps, pay attention to how each goal or value pulls you in a different direction. What made you choose your current and ideal points? Did you feel your hand being pulled towards the end of one axis over another, or did you feel it being pushed towards the center of the map? Why?
Other people’s expectations can act like magnets on your desires, pushing and pulling them in different directions. Their perceptions can warp your perception. Ignoring everyone will help you be honest with yourself about which course you should really be on. In turn, this will give you the mental space and clarity you need to radically reposition your personal brand if you’re on the wrong course.
Position brand you as accurately as possible by ignoring the expectations and accomplishments of others. Veer when necessary.