Personal Branding Is A Leadership Requirement -- Not a Self-Promotion Campaign

IStock_000017098518SmallDeveloping your personal brand is essential for the advancement of your career and development as a leader.  Unfortunately, personal branding has become a “commoditized” term that has lost its intention as people have irresponsibly used social media as a platform to build their personal brand and increase their relevancy. They believe social media can immediately increase their market value for their personal brand rather than recognizing that the process of developing their personal brand is a much bigger responsibility; a never-ending journey that extends well beyond social media.     

This is why I always advise those who want to have a social media presence to think carefully about their intentions and objectives before opening an account.  Why?  Because the moment you start – you must not allow yourself to stop.   Challenge yourself to think about what your intentions are and what you are capable of delivering to the communities you are serving – both in and outside of the workplace.

Personal branding, much like social media, is about making a full-time commitment to the journey of defining yourself as a leader and how this will shape the manner in which you will serve others.    

Your personal brand should represent the value you are able to consistently deliver to those whom you are serving.  This doesn’t mean self-promotion – that you should be creating awareness for your brand by showcasing your achievements and success stories.  Managing your personal brand requires you to be a great role model, mentor, and / or a voice that others can depend upon.  For example, when I write a blog or an article – I am extremely mindful that my community of readers expects a specific “experience of thought” from me. 

More than that, I aim to attract new readers by offering something of value that will hopefully engage them enough to continue reading my work.  Sounds like a lot of pressure and a tremendous responsibility to your audience, doesn’t it?  Well – it is at first – but over time the responsibility becomes a natural and instinctual part of who you are.   This is the mindset you must develop and the level of accountability you must assume when deciding to define, live and manage your personal brand.   Every day you know you must deliver to a standard of expectation that you have set-forth for both yourself and those whom you serve. 

View your personal brand as a trademark; an asset that you must protect while continuously molding and shaping it.  Your personal brand is an asset that must be managed with the intention of helping others benefit from having a relationship with you and / or by being associated with your work and the industry you serve.

Have you defined your personal brand?   Are you consistently living your personal brand every day?   

If you’re like most, your answer to both is “no”.   Based on a survey conducted by my organization, less than 15% of people have truly defined their personal brand and less than 5% are living it consistently at work – each and every day.  Why?  It can be extremely challenging and it requires a tremendous amount of self-awareness, action and accountability.

What I didn’t tell you is that 70% of professionals believe they have defined their personal brand and 50% believe they are living it.   But when you “peel-back-the-onion,” you realize that their focus was centered on self-promotion rather than a commitment to advance themselves by serving others.  

So what is a personal brand?  A personal brand is the total experience of someone having a relationship with who you are and what you represent as an individual; as a leader.    Think about what that means to you. Let it simmer.     Ask yourself and then ask a close friend – what is the total experience of having a relationship with you like?    Write down the top 5 things you would expect others to experience and have your close friend do the same.   Are the answers the same or similar in meaning?  If they are, good for you!  If not, you have some work to do.

Every time you are in a meeting, at a conference, networking reception or other event, you should be mindful of what others are experiencing about you and what you want others to experience about you.    Each of these engagements is similar to a job interview – expect in these cases you are being evaluated by your peers.  Those who know how to live and manage their personal brand will earn their respect in any situation.  

At first, this is a bit of a challenge.  However, when you start to see yourself living through the “lens of a brand,” your perspective will change and you will become more mindful about how you approach the personal brand you are trying to define and aiming to live.  

Don’t confuse this with “acting a part.”   To the contrary, you should focus on being more of who you naturally are and want to be so that you can perform and serve at your optimal levels. Keep in mind that we have been conditioned to want to be more like others.  As such, we   are more likely to be accountable to others and what they want us to be rather than being true to ourselves. 

If your teammates and/or colleagues don’t know what your personal brand is, the fault is yours and not theirs. Having a personal brand is a leadership requirement.  It enables you to be a better leader, a more authentic leader that can create greater overall impact.  In fact, those who have defined and live their personal brand will more naturally demonstrate executive presence and as such may find themselves advancing more quickly at work.    

Personal branding is no longer an option; it’s a powerful leadership enabler.



Don’t Sell to Me! Hispanics Buy Brands that Empower Their Cultural Relevancy

Hispanic-cultureThere is a growing necessity for brand marketers to provide culturally relevant content and messaging that specifically targets US Hispanics.  In fact, Nielsen’s recent study, The Hispanic Market Imperative – clearly states that Hispanics are the largest immigrant group to exhibit significant sustainability of their culture and are not disappearing into the American melting pot. Now that we have confirmed that cultural sustainability matters to US Hispanics, companies must become more educated about the Latino community not just as consumers – but more importantly, as people and the identity we represent as a diverse community.They must recognize that Hispanics buy brands that empower their cultural relevancy.

“Studies show that embracing American culture does not strip Hispanics of their heritage or render them susceptible only to mainstream marketing influences,” says Armando Azarloza, president of The Axis Agency, a leading national multicultural marketing agency that focuses on the importance of tapping cultural movements. Hispanics in America are growing tired of being the target of new marketing campaigns by brands that are not creating cultural connectivity.  In fact, Latinos are more likely to turn away from brands that are only interested in selling to them, rather than empowering their cultural relevancy.   Hispanics are more inclined to build trustworthy relationships with people and companies that take the time to understand who we are and what we represent morally, ethically and culturally.    The Hispanic market can no longer be viewed as a short-term expense, but rather should be approached as a strategic long-term investment. 

The business case for organizations/brands to invest in the Hispanic consumer should no longer be a mystery.   The recent announcement by ABC News that it plans to join forces with Univision News to create a multiplatform news, lifestyle and information programming aimed at U.S. Hispanics – says it all.  If that doesn’t tell you where culturally relevant content is headed – the Nielsen study revealed that if US Hispanics were a standalone country, their market buying power would be one of the top twenty economies in the world.   The bottom line is that brands continue to misunderstand the Hispanic market opportunity. They are taking a traditional/mainstream approach that focuses on selling features/benefits to gender-specific audiences whose purchasing habits have been known for decades.   “The business case is simple, targeting Hispanic audiences with dedicated campaigns around cultural expression multiplies the entry points and opportunities for brands to establish meaningful connections that ultimately translate into sales,” continued Azarloza.   Hispanics represent a new type of consumer who is connected to their own cultural nuances that support the needs of their family, their heritage and customs.   The Hispanic consumer is looking to build loyalty with brands that properly represents their voices and authentic identity; and that empowers their heritage by effectively embedding their cultural characteristics in how a brand speaks to them.    Cultural relevancy is a two-way conversation.  This means marketers must allow the Hispanic consumer to influence how they brand their brands.   “Marketers must sustain a dialogue rather than continue the stale monologues of the past.  When you invite Hispanics to engage they will adopt the brand with their own characteristics and personal value,” commented Azarloza.  

“Brands need to find new ways to engage with Hispanics,” says Monica Gil, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs and Government Relations at Nielsen.  “It’s time for companies to understand the behaviors that drive Latinos to connect emotionally with their brands.  Until they do, they are leaving revenue and market growth opportunities on the table.”      Brands must empower the value of Hispanic Heritage in their messaging and communication strategies all year round – not just once a year when it is formally celebrated, September 15th – October 15th.    Brand engagement with Hispanic consumers is about being able to show that your organization believes that their purchasing power and voice matter.  This means that brands must measure ROI with a longer-term objective focused on helping the Hispanic community strengthen its voice across generations.    Hispanics want you to earn the right to become a member of the family.  This is how you build ultimate trust with Hispanic consumers. “To open this door, brands must identify and hone in on those unique and powerful cultural insights and triggers.  These ultimately will form the foundation of a compelling campaign that will foster consumer desire, loyalty and relevancy and set it apart from its competitors,” says Azarloza.  

With a median age of 28 years old, the timing is ripe for organizations/brands to make a firm commitment to the Hispanic consumer.  It’s time to strengthen a consumer segment whose identity in America has been weakened by brands that attempt to force Hispanic loyalty using traditional mainstream marketing tactics rather than earning it by empowering cultural relevancy.    “Corporations need to start feeling comfortable about being uncomfortable,” continued Gil.  “Brands need to start putting the Hispanic demographic shift conversation into action by making a commitment to understand what it all means to their brand(s).  Hispanics have a hunger for consumption, but prefer brands that speak their language and embrace their cultural heritage. Brands need to take more risks by sprinkling “Latinoness” into their mainstream ads (as Volkswagen did here), concludes Gil.





Culture is Like an IceBerg

Organizational psychologists often describe culture as an iceberg.  There are a few cultural traits that we can see or feel from the surface, such as language, skin tone, body type, accent, surname, and personal mannerisms.  Yet the more substantive aspects of culture are hidden in the water at various depths just like the iceberg that sank the Titanic, and not knowing about them can harm us.  Finding ways to understand those hidden aspects of culture can save your business deal or idea, relationship, communication gone array, and most importantly it can teach you things about yourself and those you interact with. When combined with the “immigrant perspective” it can turn on a sixth sense that most people are unaware of thus inspiring creativity. 

At one point or another in our ancestry we were all immigrants, yet we are often not of the same fresh mindset of a person who recently immigrated to the United States or somewhere else.  If you cannot think of a close first-generation relative who immigrated than you need to be reminded of the “immigrant perspective”.  According to Center for Hispanic Leadership Founder, Glenn Llopis the “immigrant perspective” helps us to creatively see opportunities everywhere.  Imagine a person who immigrated to the U.S. with only a few dollars in their pocket, developing English skills, and no friends or family; this person has a healthy curiosity, zeal to learn, and optimism about his or her new culture which can be a catalyst for business innovation and cross cultural collaboration.  

No one owns culture, yours or anyone’s.  Culture is adaptive, experiential, you can learn it, and it is ok if others seem to know your own culture better than you because the real question is do you know and learn from other peoples cultures?  When you embrace the “immigrant perspective” you are forced to answer yes to this question.  You are your culture no matter what, but your culture should evolve over time with many diverse socio-economic factors that are specific to you and no amount of words can accurately describe what you are - culturally and beyond.  Yet this evolution is a type of change and change is hard for most people.  The mere fact that you are or once were an immigrant means that you are or were open to new cultures and interpersonal risk, and that is ok and healthy in-conjunction with but not mutually exclusive to the world becoming more connected via social media, 24 hour news, smart phones and tablets, and high speed fiber optic cable.  This allows more business outsourcing and global entrepreneurship, and according to a recent Forbes article, “40% Of the Largest U.S. Companies Founded by Immigrants or Their Children.”

Yet for all the technological and economic advancements provided by globalization -- many organizations and people still do not go deep enough into the waters surrounding the iceberg of culture.  Like the captain of the Titanic, they float along on the surface and hope for the best not knowing what they don’t know.  To melt the iceberg of culture you must look beneath the surface to discover the deeper meaning.  After going deeper you will find clues about collectivism vs. individualism, gender, saving face vs. being correct, laissez-faire time orientation vs. punctual time orientation, eye contact, family structure, high context or low context communication, forms of acceptable social risks, dining etiquette, when to shake hands vs. hug or kiss, and much more.  Even when observing these clues, when you are invited to a religious, community, medical, or matrimonial event you must act within and learn from the confines of the culture where you are not necessarily convert for life. 

Lastly, always embrace “your” immigrant perspective with authentic emotion as the emotion will help you feel the story behind your cultural evolution and it will give you a sense of unique pride with the vision to know you will never need to assimilate.  This world is no more anyone else’s than it is yours and there is no true beauty or innovation without true diversity.

By Jeremy Swenson

Jeremy Swenson, MBA, is an experienced marketer, marketing manager, writer, sales person, and business analyst. He has extensive product marketing experience with financial products and retail electronics products (State Farm, U.S. Bank, and Intel at Best Buy).  He additionally has experience enhancing software, and has also served on the social media committee of the MN AMA (Minnesota American Marketing Association) and is the current Marketing Chair of the Minneapolis St. Paul chapter of NSHMBA (National Society of Hispanic MBAs).

Connect with Jeremy at:
Twitter: @jer_swenson



Why It’s Time for Hispanic-Owned Businesses To Become More Strategic

The 2012 U.S. Census revealed that Hispanic-owned small businesses are growing at nearly twice the rate of the national average with annual revenues at $350B (though many industry insiders believe this is a conservative estimate with the true figure being well-north of $600B).  The U.S. Minority Business Development Agency reports that between 2002 and 2007, Hispanic owned businesses grew faster than the national average of 44 percent in 28 states.  Clearly, the impact of the Hispanic population and the entrepreneurial spirit we bring with us is influencing the emergence of Hispanic-owned small businesses.   – and with this rapid growth the need for Hispanic specific resources and support to help enable revenue generation and profitability is at an all-time high.

In a recent Fox Latino interview, Hector Barreto, the former Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration under George W. Bush, said that there are many intangible factors inhibiting Hispanic small business growth.  According to Mr. Barreto, Latino business owners are filled with uncertainty and lack confidence in the U.S. government.

I respect Mr. Barreto’s candor in identifying the challenges that both Hispanic (and non-Hispanic) small business owners are faced with in our current economic environment.  However, for Hispanics in particular, the obstacles run much deeper and this is where the Presidential candidates and politicians across America are all missing the mark.   Hispanics, perhaps more than any other community, are rich in diversity and self-identify with their culture.  As such, they require tools, resources, government and educational programs that are culturally-relevant so that they can grow their business in ways they can identify with most naturally. This factor alone explains why Hispanic consumers (let alone Hispanic small business owners) represent the largest unbanked community in America

Can you imagine the incremental impact of Hispanic-owned business revenue generation to the U.S. economy? 

Many Hispanic-owned business owners are faced with the inability to consistently create and sustain relationships with Fortune 500 corporations.  Revenue generating and job creation opportunities are not being seized fast enough.  Hispanic business leaders are not at the forefront of supplier diversity programs at a time when corporations are looking to expand their business partnership outreach with the community.    

To overcome this challenge, Hispanic-owned businesses must lead and operate with a strategic versus a tactical approach.  There are many opportunities here, but for the purposes of this article,  I can recommend two fundamental areas:  leadership and operational excellence.  Learning how to apply both of these factors within a small business is the difference between success and failure and both can be attained through one variable:  executive education.   Business owners must invest to educate themselves on how to be better leaders and, at the same time, better business operators.   As a small business owner, you can’t do one without the other; this has been an unwritten rule amongst those who lead supplier diversity programs  (which are quickly becoming the standard).

According to Luis Cuneo, Hispanic Segment and Channel Market Development Executive at IBM, “One of the most common questions I am asked by Chamber Executives is: ‘How can we help small businesses grow?’ ”

His reply: “Teach small business owners to run their company as an executive and the company will start to thrive. For the past seven years, I have been engaging with hundreds of small businesses across the U.S., and I have noticed the following leadership barriers that inhibit these companies from growing: 

  1. The leadership style is Transactional. 
  2. Unable to delegate and empower their team.
  3. Haven’t identified their successor. 
  4. Haven’t created an exit strategy for both the owner and the company.” 

In August 2012, a survey of Texas Hispanic-owned Businesses with Paid Employees was sponsored by The University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business, and the Kauffman Foundation.  Results from the survey suggest that Hispanic-owned businesses with paid employees need strategies that help them in two primary areas:

• increase business training in management and communication skills

• improve access to public- and private-sector customers

According to the survey, the following two critical findings revealed why Hispanic-owned businesses are performing behind mainstream businesses:

• Hispanics’ lower levels of assets and education, lower percentage of parents with business experience, and smaller networks than Caucasian business owners.

• Ineffective oral and written communication with customers, employees, and suppliers as well as limited access to procurement opportunities.

Think of the opportunities for job creation, economic growth and innovation if the majority of Hispanic-owned businesses increased their business training in management and communication skills – while improving their access to public- and private-sector customers? 

Finally, Hispanic-owned small businesses must forge greater levels of relations with the banking and financial management community. One of the Small Business Administration’s top priorities is to provide access and opportunity to small business owners in traditionally underserved communities. 

However, small business owners must minimize the risk profile for a potential SBA lender by showing them that their business is being managed and led with leadership and operational protocols that can be trusted.   In today’s risk adverse climate, small businesses must operate with the same strategic due diligence and leadership principals as a mid-size / larger corporation.  

Hispanic-owned small businesses can no longer be led through a tactical lens where the owners operate like an old-fashioned “mom and pop” shop.  Leaders must become executives, and learn to trust their employees to assume the responsibilities that the owners used to be accountable for when the business was new.   If small businesses are to steadily grow and mature, owners must begin leading and focus on developing the talent around them.   When this happens productivity multiples, a workplace culture begins to take shape and a “real business” begins to blossom with operational guidelines, organizational structure and leadership that is being strategic versus tactical in its thinking, planning and execution.

In the end, Hispanic-owned businesses must focus on building infrastructure and systems to support growth and business scalability. This requires strategic thinking enabled by leadership and operational excellence that continuously matures to foster best practices and relationships so that you can see and seize the opportunities that matter most.

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