by Katherine Kotaw
Are you a box of Cheerios or a bag of toasted o’s? A bright yellow box of expertly branded goodness that commands that coveted eye-level spot on grocery store counters or an undistinguished container of brown cereal that no one would want if it weren’t 30 percent cheaper?
When ambitious CEOs build their brands, on their own or with the help of a personal branding coach, they have Cheerios-level aspirations. They want the perceived and actual value that comes with name-brand recognition. Less ambitious or more timid entrepreneurs aim no higher than mid-shelf level. They don’t want to take the risk of standing out in unmistakable and sometimes unforgiving ways. And, as they aptly point out, there are plenty of customers who don’t care about packaging — they just want an OK cereal — or widget or whatever — at an OK price.
Avoid the Double Bind with Dual Branding
So, what’s the smarter, more profitable personal branding choice? To be the Cheerios, Coke or Campbell’s of your profession? Or to be just another cereal, soft drink or soup?
My answer? Double-brand yourself as both world-class and generic. Create two distinct — and entirely separate — personal brands.
It takes a long time and an extraordinary amount of effort to achieve name-brand recognition, to become the coveted, respected, go-to person in your field or profession. And, unless you’re supernaturally talented, incredibly lucky or a trust fund baby, you’ll probably find money standing in the way of your rise to the top of the shelf.
It’s one thing to put a $200-an-hour price on your personal brand. It’s quite another to get people to pay you that much before next month’s rent and car payment come due. There’s almost certainly going to come a point when someone is going to ask you to work for $10 or $20 an hour or to sell your product for less than it cost to produce it.
Don’t Let Finances Kill Your Brand
Say no to the cheapskates’ demands and you’ll preserve your brand integrity. But what good does the high-price image do you if you end up sleeping on an old boyfriend’s couch or riding a bike to the office?
This is the point at which most personal branding efforts die. Realty forces you to work or sell cheap. And, the minute you do, you harm your brand. Somehow, some way, people find out that you’re a penny-a-word writer or a cash-strapped store owner and they — and their friends and their friends’ friends — expect you to offer steep discounts all the time. And, after a while, they stop thinking of your price as a discount and start thinking of it as the going rate. And they’ll ask you to drop your price even more.
To protect your brand, create more than one professional identity. When you want to build your personal brand, offer your services as Elizabeth Star, bestselling author and founder of Star Bright Consulting, an international financial services firm. Call yourself Liz Star, freelance financial consultant, when you want to pay your utility bills.
Let Elizabeth Star take meetings with Fortune 500 company executives and let Liz Star sell her services on Elance or her self-published books on Goodreads.
There’s nothing deceptive or dishonest about this. A lot of people own more than one business. You can own more than one personal brand. You promote one heavily and mostly ignore the other. As a practical matter, double branding is no different than a doctor offering a sliding fee scale for indigent clients or a retailer holding a half-off sale.
Be Fab, Not Drab
As a personal branding strategy, the dual identity approach is brilliant. Because cereal in a primary-colored box really is worth more than cereal in a plain plastic bag. If you believe you’re worth more than your generic peers, keep the discounted version of you an off-label secret and put all the snap, crackle and pop you can into your top-shelf persona.
Katherine Kotaw — Branding Strategist and Storyteller, KOTAW Content Marketing, Los Angeles, CA
Meet Katherine, a song lyric mangling, dog loving, iced tea guzzling CEO and entrepreneur who’s inspired by the words of Dr. Seuss, the spunkiness of Mary Tyler Moore, and the wardrobe of That Girl’s Ann Marie.
Katherine is the founder, spirit and Chief Storyteller of KOTAW Content Marketing, a Los Angeles-headquartered international boutique digital marketing company specializing in branding through storytelling.
KOTAW is Katherine’s passion project, the culmination of over 20 years’ experience in journalism, marketing, and business.
KOTAW was built from the treasured memories, lessons, experiences and stories collected by Katherine throughout her professional career, which has included an apprenticeship with advertising legend Steve Frankfurt, covering the Olympics as a reporter, writing two New York Times acclaimed books — one, a best-selling business parable, the other a memoir recently adapted for the silver screen and greenlit for Fall 2014 production.
Fueled by dark chocolate almond clusters (by the fist-full) and an unwavering lifelong passion for words, Katherine spends her days and nights creating marketing and branding magic for individuals and companies through the power of storytelling.
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