Poulomi Basu is a Personal Brand expert. She is the talent behind a business called Ignite, and I was pleased to catch up with her over coffee for an interview, where she shared her thoughts on personal branding. She has attained her Master Degree in Business Administration at HEC Paris and has had well over a decade of experience working in multinational corporations in the specialised fields of branding, marketing, and business.
RL: So tell me more about personal branding. Is it about differentiating yourself?
PB: Yes, but it’s more than that. Differentiation is about comparing yourself with others, but the personal branding that I’m talking about is what makes you top of mind for your audience. The key is uniqueness.
RL: Aha! So that’s the major difference! People don’t just choose you amongst the competition they go to you because you are the go-to person. Can you give me an example?
PB: Sure. Let’s talk about companies first before we talk about Personal Branding. If you’re looking for a search engine, you generally go straight to Google and engines like Bing are much less popular. Because Google is the only search engine that stands way above the rest. So much so that the word ‘google’ has become a verb, to search for information.
Another example of good branding is AirAsia. They’ve established themselves as the biggest name in low cost flights around S.E. Asia (Now Everyone Can Fly), with a decent service standard, and a CEO in Tony Fernandes who is quite socially visible and upholds the human aspect. So they stand for something very special. The moment they change these values, example, charge high rates, become unreliable in flight times and arrivals, they would severely lose on their branding.
RL: I see, so for top branding to work, the moment you think of a need, a good brand should be your top of mind company to go to?
PB: Yes, indeed. Or at least be in top 3 considerations. It should be a clear association in people’s minds, developed through an experience with the brand. For example, when you think of fast, cheap, American food and ambience that is always about the same, what name comes up for you?
RL: The company with the golden arches – McDonalds, right?
PB: Yes, absolutely! Cheap, fast food, family, fun. Instantly recognized the world over, especially popular among students and people on a budget. Of course, it is not really considered healthy food, the company is trying hard to control that perception by introducing lean foods, salads, and calorie counts on their menu. So you also need to be very careful to try to give people positive impressions about your brand, product, and service.
PB: It also comes down to credibility. People judge you on why they should believe you’re good at what you say you do. For example, I’ve had 15 years of experience being a Brand Expert. How about you? You’re a Coach for Women and Men in Leadership for the last 2 decades. So that’s an area where you have credibility.
RL: I see. So how do you make that connection?
PB: Right, so let’s now focus on Personal Branding for the individual. Let’s say you’re a professional trying to acquire clients and expand your business. When you first connect with someone, you begin to exchange information about each other. Ask the other person what they do and what/where are their major challenges. You must listen attentively and ask open questions in order to understand where the other person is looking for help. The other person could also questions to see what you have to offer, whether you understand their needs, if you speak their language. And they will also estimate how they feel by interacting with you. The brand experience is very important.
Now they will probably go away and Google you, check your profile on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and see where they can substantiate the information that you’ve been giving them. They can also ask your mutual connections about their interactions with you. They need to see if they can trust you to give them the benefit they’re seeking.
Even if you’re an executive in an organization aspiring to get more visibility and responsibility, or managing a team and want to better show up as a leader, every person from your manager, colleague, and employee, should be clear on what you offer, how you can help them, and what their feeling is of interacting with you.
RL: That sounds solid. They’re trying to see if you are reliable enough, have the credibility so they can use your professional services, and if they feel like interacting with you further.
PB: Yes, when you build your brand and your unique positioning, you are engaging in ‘pull’ marketing. Once they see who you are and have the required credentials of experience and/or qualifications, you may well become a preferred supplier or leader.
RL: I see. Knowing that is very good for business, you don’t always see for example, many restaurants being differentiated.
PB: Exactly! That’s why many restaurants, especially in a crowded market like Singapore, find it hard to stand out.. Some exceptions are evident, for example, Ya Kun Coffee House. Certain people identify with that coffee house because of its simple small meal offer of local coffee blends, soft boiled eggs and special toasts. It stands for a specific simple promise, and attracts the targeted audience without investing in significant marketing investment. That’s why you often see long queues at Ya Kun Coffee House. But also bear in mind that they have been working on their brand for quite some time.
RL: Bread Talk is another chain of local coffee houses in Singapore, but it stands for a whole range of small cakes and coffee. Not quite the same branding as Ya Kun. But I see what you mean. Ya Kun is the brand that comes to mind when it comes to coffee and toast.
PB: So let’s come now to the topic of Personal Brand. As Jeff Bozes, CEO of Amazon says, “Your personal brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room”
RL: Tell me more.
PB: Personal Branding is about those few words that people use to describe you. It’s what you stand for. It’s exclusively about you, what value you offer to people, how people feel about you. For example, Steve Jobs had a personal brand. Apple is the company brand. They are two separate entities, connected at some point. Another example is Oprah Winfrey. People don’t watch it as a TV show, people watch Oprah for who she is, what she talks about, what she represents. The corporate brand is OWN – Oprah Winfrey Network.
RL: So it’s questions like what’s my core genius, what’s my credibility, what are my key assets that support me in my specialism that is easily proven and traceable.
PB: Yes. You need first find out what are your strengths, your skills, and your unique expertise. Also, what are your personal interests, values? People want to connect with you, with your values that they can identify with.
RL: Okay, so I can see that these values will guide you in your interactions with customers. So those customers or managers who like your values at work and your personal interests begin to form a picture of your personal branding, your uniqueness. So they begin to know, like and to trust you. Trust is extremely important for investment.
PB: Let’s talk about some of these people that you may know. What are the first few words that come into mind when you think of Lady Gaga? How about Princess Diana? Gandhi?
RL: Ah, let me think. Lady Gaga would be original, controversial, ever-changing. Princess Diana would be kind, compassionate, sad. Ghandi would be the inspiring peaceful leader who led India to Independence on a non-violent movement. I can see now how powerful a personal brand can be.
PB: Yes. Many artists sing pop songs, many princesses exist in the world, and there were many freedom fighters the world knew. Only a few like the above stand out, because they are clear and confident about themselves and their value offer. So for example, when I think that I am an International strategist on Personal Branding, that I’m holistic, have structured thinking, am goal driven, positive, solution-focused, building a clear brand and action plan for my clients, this would appeal to the niche that I focus on. So if I know what I stand for, it’s so much easier to talk to people about it.
RL: I can see how this fits in with your approach to clients. Because you have thought about what you stand for, you begin to manifest this in your behaviours and clients see this, and can identify with you.
I also see now that there are many business people and entrepreneurs who have not thought about their personal brands and their numbers to reach for. I can see why they so easily lose their directions and run aground.
PB: It is very important to have a goal, an objective. Also to know what is the whole purpose and mission of your brand. What do you aspire to do, and for whom, at a high level? Because many small businesses and entrepreneurs are not aware of personal branding and setting proper objectives, they miss out on being their best. On another level, many image consultants or social media experts label themselves as personal branding experts. Personal branding actually goes far beyond as I’ve explained. It’s focusing on your strengths, your traits, what you can do for people, and image consulting, crafting your style, or building a social media profile is just the representation part of it. And once you have an unique brand, you need a clear plan on how you will develop and showcase that, armed with a step-by-step action plan and a roadmap.
In today’s world, it is also about thought leadership. How you can drive a conversation forward, what are you special, unique inputs in your chosen field of work, and how that builds your credibility.
RL: I can see now how doing your personal branding makes you stand out from the rest. A complete explanation of who I am and what I stand for.
PB: Absolutely. And who your target audience is. It is critical to match your offer to your specific audience, meet their needs in a specific way. You can’t sell Gucci to those looking for a cheap bargain, and McDonald’s would not interest regular buyers of organic food. Instead of being an entrepreneur, you could also be an employee aiming to rise higher. In either case, you have to know who your target is.
So how I help clients is to first help them to know their unique positioning and expertise, and carve out their Personal Brand and promise to help them in their business or even growth in their careers. So what is a Brand Promise? The promise is that you will give to your customers what they want, when they want it and at a service process that gives them a WOW.
RL: So that enables the client to stand above the rest of their competition. I can see why this is so valuable.
PB: Now, let’s expand a little more on why personal branding is so important. For example, Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga, Ellen De Generes all know what their brand is. So in line with their branding, they produce entertainment that is synonymous with their brand. It’s their brand promise which is delivered to their followers.
RL: That makes a lot of sense. And those people that you’ve just mentioned are at the top of their niche. They stand above the rest in their field of entertainment.
PB: Even for example, many women in leadership are powerful in their own selves, but struggle to break through the barriers in a corporate world which is still highly male dominated. Personal branding could help them immensely to find themselves, position themselves uniquely, and to focus their powers to break through to new heights in organisations.
My brand purpose is to make people’s professional lives easier. I guide them, help them to find their true selves, to help them focus, and build their growth plan. But they must do their own work to bring out the best in themselves and succeed.
RL: How would you do that?
PB: In 3 steps. 1st, I would take them through some deep questions on who they are, what are they best at, what are their core strengths, who they need to serve, how they do it, and finding out why they are an expert at doing this. We also look at development opportunities.
Secondly, I help them to identify their objectives and build a clear short and long term strategy to get there with a short term strategy, a long term strategy, and a detailed action plan. In this step we also narrow down the target audience, competition, and true differentiation for the client.
And in the last step, I help them to develop the right marketing plan to present their true selves to the target. Includes online profiles, offline presence (how to do best do presentations, networking, which events to attend, what trainings to invest in, how to establish my client as an expert in something, as a thought leader. Image consulting is also a part of this.
So they have a specific result – if they are clear and confident about their unique offer, everyone else will be too. So now, when they present themselves to their clients or managers, the audience has a Reason To Believe their brand, because it is now self-evident. So Personal Branding is not just about packaging and presentation, it is about truly representing your authentic self in the most relevant way. I would really stress on authenticity. It is very crucial to represent what you truly stand for, not just say what your clients want to hear. People can subliminally feel if someone is being fake or overpromising, and that is never good for your brand.
RL: I can see how you spend so much time in helping your clients develop this internal work. Now they have clarity.
PB: Yes, and it is very important to be consistent. Their presence everywhere, LinkedIn, company meetings, client presentations, photos, style, need to have a uniform appeal and look about them. They need to be their true selves consistently right throughout. A Personal Branding exercise gives you the confidence to be yourself always.
RL: Yes, I’m really beginning to see how your branding is so holistic, so complete.
PB: And not to forget about your behaviour and attendance at networking events. How good are you at networking? Do you attend regular networking events? How do you meet people? Do you know how to best present yourself and your positioning statement, what to say, the best behaviour to interact? All of these skills add up to a great personal brand.
In the end, it is to discover yourself to bring out the best and to stand out amongst the rest of the field.
This is Personal Branding and what it does for you.
RL: Wow! Thanks for sharing so much detailed information on Personal Branding, Poulomi. You’ve certainly educated me on this and made me realise the value of doing this. Why be among the crowd and be average when you can truly soar in your Personal Branding?
Thanks so much for sharing!
PB: You are welcome! Thanks for the interview! If your readers want to know more about Personal Branding, please feel free to visit my website www.weignitegrowth.com, or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.