Just weeks ago, in Midtown Manhattan, about a dozen bright colored exotic cars emblazed with “It’s So Miami” were lined up at a makeshift taxi stand. As New Yorkers and tourists snaked for miles in line for a free ride in a red Maserati or yellow Lamborghini, they were given Cuban coffee and coconut juice to sip on. The event, a media hit, was organized by Turkel Brands in a strategic move to brand Miami as a hip town with unique cultural contrasts that New York doesn’t offer.
It was simply the latest effort by the Miami agency that has spent the last two decades solidifying the brand Miami as a culturally interesting and exciting town.
But along with branding Miami, Turkel has created buzz for himself as a branding genius, publishing a blog, speaking at events and writing books about how to create a brand identity or make an existing one more valuable. “In the last few weeks, I have had offers to sit on boards. They said they want to have my brand associated with their organization. I’ve never heard that before. That says to me, in the real world, things are changing.”
Today, whether you are an individual or business, an employee or an owner, developing a strong brand is imperative. The marketplace of products, services and content is like a crowded New York City street and your prospective buyer is deflecting thousands of messages competing for a person’s attention.
Destinations like Miami know this. Businessmen like Bruce Turkel know this. They have pushed through the crowd to gain awareness for what makes them special. They are branded, much like the cross-trainer you wear with the distinctive swoosh on the side. And now, you and the business you work for must be branded, too.
Here’s why: Half of employers say they are more likely to hire candidates that invested time in developing a strong online brand, according to Personnel Today. A strong corporate brand image can increase a company’s stock price by an average of 7 percent, according to a Yankelovich study. And, 85 percent of buyers go online to research purchases. At some point, you and your business category will be Googled and your digital brand will sell your unique strengths and distinguish you from the pack.
But branding yourself or your business can be trickier than you might think. Experts say you need to define your audience, find a niche without making it too narrow, and come across as authentic. “Your brand has to be about your audience and what is relevant to them,” Turkel says.
Party City has done this with the help of South Florida branding guru Jordan Zimmerman. Initial research showed the party supply chain’s target customer, mothers, considered the retail party stores expensive and limited. Zimmerman rebranded the chain as the discount supplier of party goods, a one-stop shop for harried moms. Zimmerman says his creative team helped Party City come up with a clever slogan — No one has more party for less.
“Brand building is about positioning in the marketplace,” Zimmerman said. “It’s about positioning your brand as meaningful to the consumer.” In branding Party City, Zimmerman’s goal was to position it as a place to go for selection and value and drive that message home through its social media accounts to the target audience of moms, the majority of party supply shoppers. It worked, he says. “In the last three years, sales are up 20 percent.”
The same is true of Papa John’s pizza chain. Zimmerman says when he discovered pizza purchasers were moms who are concerned about nutrition, he branded around that. The company’s slogan now is… “Better ingredients. Better pizza.” positioning its pizza as a good dinner option for busy moms.
Today, because of social media and the Web, all kinds of products and services and even people have the opportunity target an audience, create distinction and build a visibility campaign for their brand. On Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, you can build a network of friends, colleagues, clients and customers who help broadcast information about your character, abilities and performance. “It’s not about who you know, it’s about who knows you,” Turkel says.
Getting people to know you as a brand can help in a job hunt, land you a promotion, score you a speaking engagement or bring in a giant new customer account. By publishing a branding blog that now reaches 17,000 readers a week, Turkel says he stays top of mind at no cost. “Almost every new inquiry comes in as a reply to my blog.”
In many cases, corporate and personal branding intersect. As it is with Turkel Brands, the founder of a small business is the business — at least at first. Even when the company expands and employs others, the founder’s and the business’s brands remain intertwined.
“Smart corporate brands are featuring the human being behind the company because more than ever people want to do business with people,” says Jessica Kizorek, co-founder of Miami-based Make Them BEG, a branding educational curriculum aimed at women business owners.
Of course, this needs to be done with caution. Tie a personal brand too closely with a business one and a personal mess up could tarnish both. Paula Deen is the latest example. After she admitted in a deposition to using a racial epithet, just about every day last month brought a different business partner dropping her product line like a hot potato. PR pros say it’s not impossible for the Deen brand to stage a comeback, but it will take a lot of time and a new outreach strategy.
Do the intersection right, though, and you can create loyal customers. Romero Britto is often called a branding genius. He is a local example of an artist who has built an international brand and business around his colorful art and his likeable personality. In the marketplace, he has positioned himself as a charitable, fun-loving artist and businessman who creates vibrant works that make people happy. He now has sold more than $50 million worth of licensed merchandise with 45 partners around the world.
Like Britto, Guy Harvey has shown that an individual’s brand appeal can benefit a company. Harvey is widely recognized as a marine wildlife artist, a marine biologist, diver and photographer. While his original paintings have sold for tens of thousands of dollars, he is known best for his dynamic gamefish T-shirt designs. Through licensing deals, the designs made their way onto a variety of products. Now the company is extending its brand to include Guy Harvey Outpost Resorts, environmentally friendly hotels. In the last few years, he and his company have embraced social media to reach an even broader audience.
“We’ve deliberately promoted what he’s about as a person and the lifestyle he lives,” said Steve Stock, president of Guy Harvey Inc. “That’s been a big part of our success.” Two fulltime social media directors continuously post updates and photos from Harvey’s fishing trips, boating and diving activities. “The photos represent the lifestyle he lives, the one most people, especially Floridians, aspire to live.”
Stock says the company has built its brand intentionally around Harvey. “People can relate to a person better than an object or product. They enjoy reading and hearing about him and what he represents — a combination of science and art.”
Corporations, like individuals, have begun to understand that branding themselves as having a positive impact on the environment and the lives of others pays off.
A big component in Guy Harvey’s branding has been the emphasis on charitable giving — its donations to marine conservation, scientific research and education. “Consumers respond strongly when they know Guy Harvey cares about the ocean and they love the ocean,” Stock says. “I think it leads people to buy more products.”
Young supporters, and more natural social media users, are increasingly interested in affiliating with a brand that is making positive contributions. Stock says embracing social media — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram — has drawn a new group of consumers to the brand — young females 25 and under. “That’s where our growth is, in that demographic.” To keep the brand relevant, particularly to this new demographic, Stock says he continues to tweak the company website.
Indeed, for the most part, company websites are the heart of branding. “That’s where you communicate to your target audience in the manner that speaks to them,” says Emmelie De La Cruz, founder of The Branding Muse and personal branding consultant in New York. “If you want to reach people on Wall Street, you don’t want pink polka dots on your website.” De La Cruz says in online branding, your website should be your hub, and your social media efforts should connect back to that site where you have branded yourself or your company. It should include a professional bio, headshot, contact information and original content that positions you as a thought leader or expert and reveals something about your personality. For your brand to bring you creditability, it must be consistent across platforms and communicate your strengths.
The more unique and distinctive your brand is, the better chance of catching attention from your target audience, Kizorek says. “Everyone is on social media and the excitement of it is waning. What’s exciting now is to figure out how you are going to leverage it to make money. That’s what personal branding is all about.”
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