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Personal Branding: Sometimes Less Is More

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Less is more for great brands, whether you’re talking about Apple or Abe Lincoln. (Yep, Abe was a brand — think “Honest Abe.”)

Yet, this truism is shattered consistently by the misguided notion that more is better.

One of our high-potential agents has a great attitude, work ethic and willingness to learn. He has everything going for him except one thing: He’s all over the board. One minute, he’s chasing a final expense opportunity and the next, a corporate benefit plan. He’s a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.

Then there’s my favorite auto repair shop. A big sign at the entrance says “We fix everything.” And, to their credit, these guys are pretty good. But nobody fixes everything! It is simply not believable.

Great brands — individual or corporate — pound home a singular promise, over and over and over.  

Round up 100 independent agents and ask them what they do. I’ll bet 95 of them would answer with some product as the central theme: “I sell (life or health or all) insurance.”  

Ask employees of Apple what their company does and 100 percent would reply, “Innovation.” There would be no mention of iAnything. Innovation was Steve Jobs’ gift to Apple. I am drawn to Apple products because they will help me do things I never imagined I could do. If I were a customer of one of those 95 insurance agents mentioned earlier, I simply would be buying a product. That’s not a promise.

This information is for those looking to break out of the sameness that shows itself throughout much of the insurance business. It is about building a personal brand that is more than just a shallow slogan abusing the words “service” and “trust.” It requires answering four seemingly simple questions. Let’s dig into each now.

Who are you?
When Chrysler found itself with three wheels in the financial ditch in 1982, its CEO, Lee Iacocca, took perhaps the biggest gamble in corporate history by going on national TV and telling us, “If you can find a better car, buy it.”

Not only was Iacocca risking Chrysler’s brand with such boldness, he was risking all the personal brand equity he had accumulated over an illustrious career. During his years at Chrysler and at Ford Motor Co., Iacocca had gained the trust of American car buyers through a career of building creative, reliable cars Americans wanted, most notably the Ford Mustang. Iacocca’s gamble with this Chrysler TV ad paid off.

Defining who you are starts with a personal assessment of your beliefs, passions, skills, attitudes and other qualities that determine how you deliver your personal brand. What best describes your strengths? How do you believe others describe you? What are your weaknesses?  

The heart of a great brand is a rock-solid positioning — an aspirational statement that captures who you are, whom you serve and their unique needs. If you haven’t defined your positioning in a conscious way, then those around you already have done it for you. They know your strengths and weaknesses, and they have a perception of you, whether you know it or not.  
Analyze yourself and take your brand for a test ride with your current clients to determine whether the qualities that you’ve identified are important as well as distinctive. I warn you: Be prepared to go back to the drawing board.

What business are you in?
Summit Coffee is a small coffee shop in the college town of Davidson, N.C. The coffee shop’s owners applied for a small business grant that required them to describe their business.  Here is a synopsis:

“We are a coffee shop. We are a bar. A music venue. A day care. An office.”
“We are Davidson. We are Main Street. “
“We’re old and rustic. Modern and creative.”
“We are Tim and Beth. Becky and Dave. Alex and Jesse.”
“We are a neighbor. An escape. A welcoming.  A friend. A Thank God It’s Friday at 5 p.m.”
“We are Summit. We are lucky.”

Old and rustic? Modern and creative?  As good as these all sound, which are they?  

To define who you are, first answer these questions from the client’s perspective:
» Why am I buying insurance? (Possible answers: protection for my family, security, my peace of mind, my family’s peace of mind.)
» Why does it matter whom I buy it from? (Possible answers: they’re local, friendly, trustworthy, smart, timely, encouraging, creative, thoughtful.)

Second, answer these questions from your perspective:
» What is insurance? (Possible answers: safety, smart, financially wise, you never have enough, something I love.)
» What is your function? (Possible answers: salesperson, creator, collaborator, organizer, friend, information provider.)
» What one thing would I like my clients to say about me? (Possible answers: He did what they said he would do. I was surprised at all the options she showed me. He made me feel comfortable. For the first time, I actually understand what I’m buying when it comes to insurance.)

What are your target clients’ particular needs?
I love this concept: “People don’t want to buy quarter-inch drills; they want quarter-inch holes.”

Steve Jobs told us 30-odd years ago that customers have no idea what they want. Not so my grandmother. Last year, she decided it was time to move back to the town where she spent her childhood. We peppered her with questions. Did she want a house or a condo? What about a yard? How many bedrooms?

Unfortunately, she wanted a hole and all we had were drills. “I want to be near Wal-Mart and a hospital,” was her ultimate reply.

Talk to your clients and prospects. What keeps them awake at night? What are their goals? What are their hopes? After you get the answers to these questions, you can come back to demographics such as age and income. Now you’re at a significant advantage over your competitors who are guessing at client needs and product marketing features.
 
What unique benefit do your clients receive from you?
Our industry is filled with empty differentiation: personal service, low rates, etc. Do you really think these are the things that our clients want? I think these are only the ante to the game.  
It’s like clean floors in a grocery store. Imagine what we would think seeing this headline in a grocery store ad: “We have the cleanest floors in town.” Well, what do clients think when they see “We give personal service” in an insurance ad?

Real differentiation occurs at a higher level of customer need. Let’s look at some of the superstars of differentiation:
» Starbucks. It delivers a community-type customer experience. It is a place to be seen. A place to work. A place to relax.  
» Harley-Davidson. It sells a promise of freedom and camaraderie. If Harley only sold motorcycles then Sturgis would be just another small town.
» Whole Foods. It encourages customers to achieve a healthier lifestyle by being more informed about and engaged with what they eat. It is a trusted authority in its space.  

A strong brand requires trust at some level, whether you’re selling coffee, motorcycles or annuities. Here’s the great news: The vast majority of agents spend no time thinking about anything other than how to sell what’s in their bag.  

Don’t Be Those People
I know you’re dying to know how it worked out for my grandma: She’s eight minutes from Wal-Mart and nine minutes from the hospital.  

Grade your listening performance daily. Hold yourself accountable. If you are stuck on a bad behavior, seek out a good friend or colleague and ask them to help you uncover why you are having difficulty changing. When you strive to improve your listening skills, you’ll become a better advisor.

 

Drew Gurley is co-founder of Redbird Advisors. Drew may be contacted at [email protected] .


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