Ask the owner of any successful business what their most valuable asset is and the smartest among them will give you a one-word answer: brand.
Brand is not a one single thing; it’s a collection of attributes – some physical, some material, some emotional – that together create the relationship that exists between a business and its customers and clients.
Any business that understands its market will invest in developing and defining its brand – and it will (or should) go to extraordinary lengths to protect it.
The reason is quite simple: a business’s brand represents the personality of that business, and personality is about values, ethos, ambition and loyalty.
If I asked you what brands you admire, there’s a good chance some familiar names would make the list.
The reason why the same names tend to make lots of lists – shout outs to the likes of John Lewis, Versace, Stella McCartney, IKEA and Lidl among a great many others here (there’s no rule to say a successful brand always has to be upmarket or a household name) – is because they’ve got a reputation for living their values.
And the reason a business protects its brand at all costs is because bad things happen when they don’t either live their own values or they allow others to undermine them.
Anyone who had even a passing interest in current affairs in 1991 will have seen precisely what happens when you don’t pay attention to your brand health.
Seven years after inheriting his father’s jewellery retail business, Ratners, Gerald Ratner had turned the company into a multi-million pound powerhouse on the UK’s High Street. Then, on April 23rd 1991, he was a guest speaker at the Institute of Directors.
“How is it possible,” someone asked from the floor, “that can you sell a sherry decanter for the extraordinary price of £4.95?”
Ratner, for reasons known only to himself, decided to utter four words that would undo everything he had achieved: “Because it’s total crap.”
If his shareholders believed they might have been able to sweep the remark away with a bit of well-spun PR, Ratner put paid to that hope by going on to boast that his company had sold a pair of earrings for £1, which was “cheaper than a Marks & Spencer’s shrimp sandwich, but probably wouldn’t last as long.”
Trust in the Ratner brand evaporated faster than a light rain shower in 100-degree heat. Within days, £500 million had been wiped from the share value of the company, Ratner as a brand disappeared from the High Street almost overnight and the man himself now does after-dinner speaking gigs where he talks about how to deal with adversity.
A strong and well-protected brand, then, is critical.
So, what does this mini business history lesson have to do with you?
The simple fact is that as individuals, we’re all our own brands and how we live our own values has a distinct bearing on how others perceive you and how you perceive yourself. It’s great to talk the talk but, as Gerald Ratner discovered to his cost, you also need to walk the walk.
More than that, how you perform as a human brand also has a massive impact on how you perceive yourself. Understanding how your human and emotional values fit with your behaviour will have an exponential impact on how you value yourself. In other words, your own self-worth and self-esteem is defined in large part by values you have committed to live by.
That isn’t about always taking the moral high ground or being whiter than white or never making mistakes. It’s about having honesty and integrity and the ability to acknowledge that you’re not perfect but to try to be better every day than you were the day before.
In the end, that comes down to personality and to resilience and to the ability to be able to recognise when there’s something in your life which is having a negative impact on your brand identity.
Just as John Lewis doesn’t stop being never knowingly undersold when its doors close for the night, so your personal brand isn’t a mask or a uniform you put on at 9am and take off again at 5pm.
You don’t pretend to be the things you want to be in order to give the right impression, you try to live your values in order to always strive to be the person you want to be. To be happy. To be proud of who you are and what you represent. To be authentically you.
And when you fall short? You know what – that’s okay. It’s okay if mistakes are made honestly. It’s okay if your mistakes are part what you do every day to try to be the person you were always meant to be.
All of those values and all of that personality make up our own personal brand, and we work every day to improve it, to protect it and to share it with others. People are human and they understand that to err is human.
What they can’t tolerate – and what we tolerate least in ourselves – is when we fail to place enough value on ourselves and who we are.
It’s when we live a lie by behaving in a way that damages who we are striving to be. That develops issues like poor self-esteem, anxiety, depression, addictive behaviour and the other myriad emotional problems that I see and deal with every day.
Understanding that there are things which might get in the way of our personal brand journey – such as unresolved issues which create ceilings on success and impair behaviour, for example – and asking for help in resolving them is all part of caring for Brand You and ensuring you’re able to continue living the values you aspire to.
So when you feel as though there’s something stopping you from living your values, or you’re behaving in a way that doesn’t chime with the path you’ve set your heart on, we can help you to make sure you don’t ‘do a Ratner’ on yourself, and destroy your own brand through a mistake that could – and should- be avoided.