3 – Building your practice on YOUR PERSONAL BRAND
Article by Dr. Riaan du Preez
One of the biggest problems professional service providers experience is the commoditization of their services. This has lead to fierce price-cutting of professional fees as a means of competition. In a South African study I have found for e.g. that 51,2% of veterinarians are charging well below the suggested guideline fees of the South African Veterinary Council(Du Preez, 2003). Only 9% were charging up to 10% above the suggested fees while only 1,3% were charging more than 10% above the suggested fees. Most of the respondents in these last two groups indicated that they have differentiated the scope and standard of their services and therefore were charging a premium. From the above it was clear that professionals were for some or other reason more inclined to follow a cost leadership strategy rather than a differentiation strategy. This is most surprising, especially as 95% of the respondents who were charging below the suggested fees were unhappy with their incomes and lifestyle.
There are probably many reasons why professionals tend to instinctively choose a cost-leadership pricing strategy when faced with stiff competition; however I believe the biggest reason is the absence of personal branding. I believe most professionals do not have the confidence and personal brand equity to step out and say: “I am unique because of… and if you trust me and buy into me the benefits to you will be…” This is called personal branding. Al and Linda Ries comment that the power of a brand lies in its ability to influence purchasing behavior; therefore a brand name on a package is not the same thing as a brand name in the mind of a prospective client! It is important to note that a brand is NOT just a creative logo, or a product or even a company. In a customer’s mind there is no difference between a company or a product or a logo or a person or a brand name. A brand therefore is nothing more than a word in the mind – a word that encompasses and communicates the whole brand promise to the mind of the client. The question thus is which word comes up in the minds of your clients when they think of YOU? Maybe the first question should be: “Is it at least YOUR face and name that comes up in their minds when they suddenly need the services of a professional in your particular field!?” You are a brand – and if you want to be truly successful in life, you should consider yourself a brand and act accordingly.
Julie Newton, CEO of the marketing company “Avocado Vision” says that people don’t sell cars, houses, pasta, services or even the company they work for, but that THEY ARE SELLING THEMSELVES! In the same manner every professional should be selling him or herself. It is after all – and I’ll keep on referring to this throughout this series of articles – YOUR name on the bronze plate at the door. Is that name just there for information sake, or is there a brand experience attached to that name?
This is in fact the best type of insurance that you as a professional business person can have, viz. to have positioned yourself in the minds of your clients so that you stand out and are remembered longer, especially when business is not booming and tough times are looming (Montoya, 2005). Are you as a thoughtful entrepreneur packaging yourself as a sought-after commodity through creative and aggressive but still professional marketing? Montoya explains that independent professionals have up to now mostly ignored this kind of marketing due to various reasons:
- In most professional industries the incumbents were only taught to do their jobs.
- Many professionals are afraid they’ll “turn off” prospects by using creative marketing tools.
- Most professionals believe that “the facts” are all a prospect wants.
- Professionals aren’t confident enough in the direction of their businesses to make drastic decisions on which their target market is.
Although the words “aggressive” and “creative” are used here in relation to marketing, it is important to take note that I’m not suggesting typical, media-based hype and marketing. Our very own personal brands are out there every day, representing us in various ways in our practices as well as in our interactions with the communities we live in. Just like Tiger Woods, Richard Branson Charlize Theron or any other famous person, your personal brand is either working for or against you. So, just like these famous people, we as professionals, need to realize that we are actually also “in the public eye” and need to manage our personal brands just as well.
How does a person take more control of his/her personal branding? Sarah Berry (2005) gives a few key pointers:
What is your reputation within your industry? What do colleagues think of you? Is your technical expertise respected and seen as adding value? What do people think of your personal style and grace?
Who knows about you and your services? How many people are enthusiastically talking about you and how many people have heard positive things about you? How good is your networking?
What is your purpose… in life; as a professional; as a family person; in your community? What do you personally add to your job and to the people you interact with?
Do you have presence when you enter a room? Do you make other people feel special and important in your presence? Do people remember you? What impact do you have on the people you work with?
Do you feel motivated and excited about what you are doing every day? Are you proud of what you do? Do you talk passionately about your career, especially to possible new entrants? Does your energy inspire other people?
What are you focusing on within your career? What have you achieved in that area? How do you deliver within your job and role?
Do you have staying power? Do you make a consistent and concerted effort within your job?
It is maybe pertinent to take note right now that branding or brand equity (the goodwill or owner’s equity generated due to brand recognition) is not a tactic but a result! One cannot go about branding an organization or a product or a service or a person… the organization, product, person or service is what creates the brand (Bill Schley, 2005).
Unless you as a professional take control of your personal brand, it will take control of you. If you manage your personal brand successfully, other people won’t decide for you anymore – YOU decide, and that is a very favorable position to be in!
- Berry, S. (2005) Building Your Brand. Internet Article. Available from: http://careers.iafrica.com/asktheexpert/450405.htm [Accesed 15 December 2005]
2. Du Preez, J.A. (2004). The Professional Dilemma - The state of Professionalism within the Veterinary Profession in South Africa, in the Context of Entrepreneurship. Congress Proceedings. SA Veterinary & Para veterinary Congress, 2004. Cape Town.
3. Montoya, P. (2005) Surviving, Succeeding and Standing Apart by Branding Yourself. Internet Article. Available from: http://www.petermontoya.com/mt_freeinfo/freeinfo-article.asp?state=article=001
[Accesed 15 December 2005]
- Newton, J. (2005). Branding News – YOU the Brand. Internet Article. Available from: http://www.biz-community.com/Article/196/82/8278.html [Accesed 15 December 2005]
5. Ries, A; Ries, L. (2000). The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding. Harper Collins Publishers. Glasgow.
- Schley, B. (2005) Why Johnny can’t Brand – Discovering the Lost Art of the Big Idea. Penguin Group. Canada.