College – a lesson in personal rebranding

Why does any entity need rebranding? In my case, it was a changing market.

I have worked for more than five years in communication. In those five-plus years, each consecutive job has brought something new to the table. Long story short, I’m pretty damn proud of my career. Still, going back to college full-time was not a decision I had to think twice about.

But it did bring up my most difficult challenge yet – rebranding myself. I was sure of who I was – but was my target audience?

Rebranding to fit in with a younger crowd isn’t a new strategy. After all, even the Old Spice man (side note: hubba hubba!) did it. So in a market filled with a better, faster and stronger crowd of younger people, what makes your personal brand any less susceptible to being outdated? And are there any benefits to being like the “new” Old Spice?

If I have to validate that with a ‘yes’ then you haven’t been listening. Rebranding isn’t an option, it’s a necessity. Now I’m not saying you need to hire out those 15-second TV spots, and pay for all the hoardings on the roadside to get your rebranding message out loud and clear. No, the goal of this exercise is to simply make your target market understand that you can give them what they need – and this needs to be in sync with their changing desires.

So what has going back to college taught me about personal rebranding?

1. Think of tomorrow’s customers: While it is a given that you need to target existing customers (which in my case would translate to IT companies looking for freelancers), you can’t ignore tomorrow’s customers. Anticipate their growth curve and understand what it is they will be looking for, even as technology changes and communication strategies take on new perspectives. After all, today’s classmates will be tomorrow’s business partners. Make sure these potential customers understand from the start that you are capable of handling their business.

2. Keep things simple, but don’t dumb them down: Simplify your communication so that your message gets across loud and clear. But, and this is important, make sure you do not dumb down what you bring to the table. You don’t want your customers getting the wrong idea and thinking that what you do is really really simple. Take your customer ninety percent of the way with your great communication. Make them work for that ten percent, when it comes to understanding what you do or considering a potential partnership. Ensure that you look like the expert you are without seeming overbearing or under-qualified.

 3. Make sure you can stick it out in the long run: This is for all the big talkers out there. Claiming something is easy. Being able to deliver is not. And in the long run, it shows. Since rebranding is by definition an exercise where you are trying to improve on an existing brand image, go the whole hog and only promise what you can deliver over a larger time period, something that will work out by increasing your personal brand integrity.

4. Be pushy: Bullying your customers is a big no-no. But there’s something to be said for being pushy, in a good way. Understand what your audience wants, find how you can contribute to their goal, and push them to do it. Not only will you be selling yourself, but your customers will feel like your push gave them that ‘little bit extra’ they needed to achieve their personal goals.

5. Bonus – Deliver with integrity: Be a decent competitor and you needn’t don’t worry about getting ahead – a little something I learned from a older and highly successful friend of mine. I originally thought he was naive for having ethics, but the truth is he won every last competition there was and achieved every medal with honor. It is easy to undercut your customers to get to where you want. The downside is that you may not last there for very long. Edelman’s trust barometer® survey shows that nearly three-quarters of customers will actively avoid doing business with a company they don’t trust, while 85 percent will go out of their way to buy from a company they trust. That applies to personal brand image too.

Have there been instances in your life when you have needed to rebrand? What steps have you taken? Has it helped you professionally as well as personally? I’d love to know.