What’s your brand?

What’s your brand?

What’s your brand?

You depend on branding more than you probably think. Whether consciously when you go out to buy a car or subconsciously when you choose where to have a meal, the brand you are going to spend your money on matters. I did a fascinating bit of research in 1952 into why ladies wore stockings with visible seams down the back. It was the time when the old “flat-knit” was giving way to the much cheaper “circular-knit”, which didn’t have a seam. Manufacturers, alway men in those days, saw the seamless stocking as a big advance, modern, sexy. Women had a mixed view.

Certainly the younger ladies saw a seamless stocking as rather daring, suggesting (heaven forbid) no stockings at all – in those days tantamount to a form of nudity. Older ladies wanted to be seen to be respectable – the seam at the back of their legs announced the stocking good and proper. It became clear that the seam was itself a brand, a statement of something important like whether you were a seductive teenybopper or a matronly granny. The slogan we coined “If you don’t go without stockings, don’t go without seams”. The seam was proof of respectability.

Branding is not just for products or attributes of goods. It applies to everything we see and do. As Mr Lim Siong Guan* said in a recent talk on SIngapore’s future, cities and countries are all branded, Singapore’s being a very distinctive sort of brand. Paying attention to our brand is as important as Pizza Hut paying attention to it’s brand image or D. Trump paying attention to his somewhat unconventional political brand. And here I ask ‘What is your brand?’

Easier to answer this question if we define the word brand. I think Mr Lim’s definition is the best I have heard. “Brand – a promise made – and kept”. What a beautifully expressed description of something so important. Every word vital, one whole thought in two distinct slices. So easy to apply, so difficult to endorse. Apply it to yourself. How you present yourself is your brand. If you want to be low-key you wear clothing that isn’t flashy and jewelry, if any, that is simple and plain. If you want to cut a figure and be noticed you wear brightly coloured clothing, sparkling shoes and diamonds that everyone can reckon with. Neither presentation is wrong, both are brands.

However, if your personal presentation is at odds with how people find you, or how you really want to be seen, your branding will do you a disservice. Of course, you may want to confuse. I know a chairman of a major business who dresses to do just that. The clothes belie the brains beneath them. That may be intentional or it may be accidental. If the latter, the branding is all wrong. If the former, I’d really like to know why. There is something perverse about displaying a lie.

Your brand is much more than your dressing. It is the sum of how people see you. A famous BBC radio actor suffered from a massive and very disconcerting stammer. You had to really concentrate to understand him. On air his stammer disappeared totally. Clearly, his stammer was an act to make him the centre of attention. People listened intently to catch his every w-w-w-word. That achieved his day to day purpose. He didn’t need that on air – listeners where already listening.

Even more branding than quirky behaviour is your body language. How you look at people, how you encourage them to speak and how your body movements declare your interest in them is a major part of branding. If you slouch, study your nails, look out of the window, you send a clear message that you are bored. If you ask questions and encourage answers with a nod or a smile, you are making a relationship. The brand you are creating then is yours, not theirs.

Most telling of all branding techniques is your ability to ask sensible questions. I’m not talking about the ‘how are you today?’ type of nonsense but questions that allow you to learn from the knowledge and experience of the other person. These show that you have a genuine interest in their views and appreciate their wisdom and contribution to the world.

There is no better way to flatter someone than to ask their opinion of something you need to know or do. It not only shows them up well, it makes you seem like an intelligent person. It is an old saying that when the other person is talking they are selling your ideas to themselves; when you are talking you have no more than a fifty percent chance of selling them your ideas.

The lesson from this is that you shouldn’t worry to much about your physical presentation. Nice to look lively and enthusiastic. Nicer still to be thought intelligent.

You do that by asking the right questions, not by answering them.

*Mr Lim Siong Guan, former head of the Singapore Civil Service, at a recent lecture.