Build your brand and eat like a king forever. Ignore your brand and starve like a mendicant waiting for scraps.
A brand cannot be developed over night. It must be carefully nurtured. Along the way, your brand may suffer or change with the environment. You must always keep working on it.
This post will talk about how you can build a stronger brand for your business, your blog or your career. But first, let’s talk about various reasons why having a strong brand is so important.
Why Build A Strong Brand?
A strong brand makes everything easier. Here are some specific benefits:
- Your clients will respond to your e-mails and return your phone calls.
- Your managers will promote and pay you better.
- You will gain more respect from friends, family, colleagues and clients.
- You’ll receive many more phone calls from headhunters and competitors.
- Your conversion rate will improve.
- You can leverage your brand to sell multiple different products.
- Your clients will sing your praises, developing a strong referral network.
- You’ll be able to raise your prices and improve your margins.
- You’ll have a much more defensive product during a downturn.
- You’ll be invited to more parties, events, and conferences.
- You’ll be comped free meals, lodging and travel expenses.
- Other brands will give you their products to try for free.
- You’ll be contacted with more paid promotional activities.
- You’ll develop a stronger recurring revenue stream.
- You’ll be more proud of the work you do every day.
I’ve still got a long way to go with Financial Samurai, but I’ll share with you my thoughts on branding after spending time working with creative agencies, consulting for a couple marketing departments, and slowly building my own brand over the past seven years.
How To Build A Stronger Brand
Step 1: Earn Your Reputation
When you first start out, you have zero credibility. Nobody will care what you have to say. As a result, you must earn your reputation by doing the following:
- Work harder than your peers
- Never whine or complain
- Give, give, give
If you do these three things for at least a year you will earn a solid reputation for being dependable. If you start expecting to be the best without giving the best effort, however, your reputation will break down. Once entitlement enters the equation it’s game over.
To build my reputation online, I read and commented on hundreds of other sites in the personal finance space for a good two years. I participated in discussions, provided feedback and wrote guest posts every month on a new site. Eventually, other bloggers and readers began to take notice. When you’re at the bottom, you must give freely.
Step 2: Stay Committed
Brands have history. The longer the history, the stronger a brand tends to become if it remains committed to its client base.
Financial Samurai was born in 2009, during the depths of the financial crisis. The goal of the site was to help make sense of the chaos by connecting other like-minded investors. Now Financial Samurai’s main objective is for everyone to achieve financial independence to maximize happiness. Readers have stuck around because they know I am committed to a consistent publishing schedule. Nobody would bother sticking around if I was an erratic publisher.
At work, no manager will invest extra time and effort into you if they feel you will leave for a better opportunity a year later. The more committed you are, the more other people will be committed to you. Over time, your brand will naturally build until the point where other people have to take you seriously.
Before a client can commit to you, they must know you are committed to them.
Step 3: Create A Value Proposition
What makes you unique? Why do people want to follow you? Why must someone buy your product instead of someone else’s product? Why must someone pay more to hire you? If you did not exist, who would take your place? How do you want people to remember you? Your value proposition should answer all these questions.
Here’s the Financial Samurai value proposition:
- An author with a finance background. Working in the finance industry for 13 years, getting an MBA from Berkeley, and writing 1,200 articles over the past seven years helps give comfort to readers there’s a high level of credibility.
- Financially independent before starting FS. When you are already financially independent, there is less of a desire to sell your soul to the highest bidder. This means not writing incessantly about bad credit card offers just because the referral payout is so high. The products highlighted on FS must be free or must save someone a significant amount of money over time.
- First-hand experience. Money is too important a subject matter to be left up to pontification. If I don’t have experience about a particular subject, I will tell you so, or I will invite someone who does have experience to share their wisdom.
- Writing quality. Every article takes 5 – 10 hours to write on average. After they are published, I will often spend another 1 – 3 hours making improvements based off feedback from the community. Each article is built from the ground up with a thesis. This way, you are assured that you are reading something original, not regurgitated.
- Entertainment. I have a rule that I only want to write articles I want to read. In other words, articles need to inform, teach, or be entertaining. When money is not the main driving force behind my writing, I can afford to publish articles that provide little monetary value e.g. How To Get Your Parents To Pay For Everything As An Adult.
- The financially savviest readership online. The best articles have the best comments. I firmly believe you, the Financial Samurai community, have the most financial insights to share on the internet. Your own financial statistics are top notch. No wonder why there’s so much value in the comments section.
Take the time to create your own value proposition.
Step 4: Decide On Your Best Image
Image is important. Not everybody can be beautiful, but everybody can take steps to put forth their best image.
- Get in better shape. A 2007 NYU study found that women who were obese earned, on average, 18% less than those who weren’t. Those who were overweight also had 25% less family income. In a June 2012 issue of the Journal of Labor Research, researchers have found that employees who regularly exercise earn 9% more than those who don’t. If you don’t want to get in better shape for your brand, then at least get in better shape for your health and family who depend on you.
- Dress appropriately. There is a time and a place for everything. Dress the part and own your presence. Invest some of your money in select pieces of clothing that fit your body and make you feel like a million bucks. The better in shape you are, the better you will feel. The better you feel, the more confidence you will have.
- Improve your vocabulary. You can either incorporate new words into your speech, or you can thoroughly grasp new concepts that will inevitably make you sound smarter. Practice writing and speaking every day. You will improve.
- Develop a signature look. Choose something you are comfortable rocking, and consistently rock that something. For example, you might want to be known for having bright red glasses like Sally Jesse Raphael. Or perhaps you’ll adopt a custom blue blazer with a pink handkerchief to all your meetings. Be memorable.
- Do not be delusional. One of the biggest mistakes people make is thinking they are more attractive than they really are. As a result, they’ll plaster their face all over their website or choose truly awkward pictures of themselves on LinkedIn. Get feedback from strangers and acquaintances about how you look when branding yourself.
Financial Samurai is an interesting case study because I don’t market myself. Instead, I market a samurai mask. The mask symbolizes all of us in our quest to achieve financial independence sooner, rather than later. The mask is fierce because the road to financial independence is not easy. We will constantly battle temptation, our egos, competition, regulation, misinformation, and unfortunate circumstances that threaten to kill our way of life.
Consider hiring a professional designer to create the best image you’re looking for. My mask and logo were professionally created by Colleen KS. It’s worth spending up for quality design. Website owners should choose a color scheme, a descriptive tagline, and a layout that is easy to navigate.
Finally, it’s extremely important to host your own domain in a *.com manner. Having *.wordpress.com or *.tumblr.com gives brand equity away to another company, just like having email@example.com gives brand equity to Google. Instead, you should have an e-mail address that says firstname.lastname@example.org.
Step 5: Do What You Say
If you promise to have the best customer service, then you better respond to every e-mail and phone call in a cordial manner like USAA. If you promise to give a full refund no questions asked like LL Bean, don’t ask the customer why they are dissatisfied. If you promise to publish 3X a week for a year like Financial Samurai, don’t say your family got in the way after you haven’t published for a month.
Financial Samurai used to receive a lot of hate mail from readers who thought my goals were unreasonable e.g. shoot for $200,000 a year in passive income. Seven years later, despite the site being 10X larger, there is 90% less hate mail because readers have seen that I’ve consistently done what I’ve promised e.g. 2017 Financial Samurai Passive Income Update. Have a look at the Most Commented Post on the right hand side to see for yourself.
The point of doing what you say is to develop trust.
Step 6: Be Consistent Across All Marketing Platforms
Everybody should have a succinct one-page resume that tells the reader in under 10 seconds why you rock. Beyond the resume, there’s your LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and other social media profiles that will probably do you more harm than good. It’s important your brand is consistently reflected across all of them. If not, make the inconsistent profiles with your party pictures private.
Of course, everybody should have their own website where they have full control over their brand. Your own website can be used for:
- Humanizing your brand by telling prospective clients or employers who you are, what you like, and what you enjoy doing.
- Legitimizing your company online. Today, you do not have a business if you do not have a website.
- Selling your own product and services.
- Selling someone else’s product and services.
- Finding new consulting clients.
- Finding a new job, even though it’s not explicitly said.
- Creating a community of like-minded folks.
Not every website has to be a blog like Financial Samurai. Your website can simply be your proud flag in the interwebs to allow people to understand who you are.
Be consistent with your images, colors, and message on every platform.
Step 7: Leverage Multi-Media
Be seen. Be heard. Be read. The more media platforms you can leverage, the better your reach and the potentially stronger your brand. In the beginning, focus on the media platform you are best at. Spread yourself too thin and you may burn out. Once you’ve built a good portfolio of content on your favorite platform, then you can practice on others.
Although each post on Financial Samurai takes hours to write and edit, writing comes easiest to me. I gave podcasting a go, and gave up after five episodes because it took way too much time to record and edit. Now I happily go on other people’s podcasts to reach a new audience instead.
I’m rarely ever seen, which is my largest branding hole. Perhaps this will change once my final severance check is paid in 1Q2017.
Step 8: Create An Emotional Connection
A brand should make you feel something. Typing on a Macbook Pro makes me feel a little more creative thanks to Jony Ive’s fantastic design and British accent. Showering with Molton Brown body wash makes me feel a little cleaner. Playing tennis in Nike flywire shoes makes me feel a little faster. Driving a Honda Fit makes me feel like a sexy man given I can park in 25% more spaces in SF. Sleeping at a Holiday Inn Express unfortunately doesn’t do anything for my brain yet.
I want every Financial Samurai reader to come away feeling smarter, more understanding, or more motivated than before they arrived. Some of the writing strategies I use include telling a story, discussing a failure, or playing both sides of the field to utterly confuse the reader into what I’m truly trying to say. Without emotion, a brand loses its luster.
The reason why I spend so much time responding to comments is because I want to make as many connections with as many readers as possible. I like to show readers there is a real person with feelings behind each post. I promised myself long ago that if I ever got big I would never ignore the readership. There is immense joy in learning from other people, even those who do not agree with my views. By creating an emotional connection with my readers, perhaps some may be more inclined to share my work or lend a helping hand in the future.
A BRAND IS FOREVER
They say that it can take a lifetime to build a reputation, and a second to throw it all away. Continuously work on building your brand. Test, test, test, until you feel like you’ve got it right. The stronger your brand, the easier life gets.
There is no business without a website today. No consumer will take you seriously if you don’t have an online presence. If you’re looking to build your personal brand for career growth or new consulting opportunities, then you must also have your own website. You’ll stand out far above your competition if you do versus just having a LinkedIn or social media profile. Own your presence online! Learn how to start your own website with my step by step tutorial.