Archive for the 'Self Branding' Category

Personal Slogan

May 21, 2008

The personal slogan is a technique I used as I wormed my way into the hearts and minds of the good people of Ideal, LLC. I asked myself what it was that I wanted to do there, and I challenged myself to come up with an elevator pitch for it.

I want to transform their way of doing business to be more efficient, to be more reliable, to be more robust. I want it to be scalable. The result of all these changes will be that Ideal is poised to make more money than it makes now. The reason that’s true is that the changes will make it easier to make money. Sales will be easier because our products are stable and documented. Support will be easier because the calls will be less urgent and less frequent. Development will be easier because there will be a roadmap and a timeline that the developers can rely on to reduce the pressure on them.

I am there to make everyone’s life easier.

Easy Button

This is the slogan I use, and it works for everyone I meet at Ideal. I was hired to be an agent of change at Ideal, and people hate change. To cushion the transition, I ask people in various parts of the company what their pain points are, and I ask them what would make them less painful. I say:

“I understand. I’d be frustrated about that if I were you, I’m glad you’re the one doing that for us, you do good work. Wouldn’t it be great if [solution here]? I’m going to talk to some people and see if we can get that done for you. I am here to make your life easier.

I always get a positive reaction when I approach issues that way and use the slogan. They subconsciously associate me with making things easier for them because first I say it, then I actually make things easier. The benefit of this, much like a positive first impression, is that I get the benefit of any doubt that may come up. I have made their lives easier in a tangible way, so when I ask them to go out of their way to make my life easier, it’s not an imposition: it’s their pleasure.

Choosing the Slogan

The most important thing to me in any marketing activity is integrity. Whatever impression you leave on your audience must be a true reflection of reality. Jennifer Rice outlines a strategy you can use to develop what she calls the elevator pitch:

  • Keep it short. Distill your mission into a phrase or sentence that rolls off the tongue naturally and quickly.
  • Use your audience’s language. I could have explained to developers that I wanted to document our products, but documentation is a side effect to them. Documentation is a tool, a given developer won’t care about it per se. The end result is their life is easier with documentation, and that’s what I chose to focus on.
  • Make sure your pitch is something your audience really wants and cares about. Make sure it’s something that no one else is offering as such, so that you become a breath of fresh air to them. Be sure you can actually follow through on the promises you make to people. Last, make sure your activities are really valuable, and you’re not acting as a destructive or divisive force. In short, be sure your proposition is sustainable. These can be summarized as the 4Ds of positioning, Desirable, Distinctive, Deliverable, and Durable.

Positive Impressions

May 19, 2008

The interesting thing about impressions is that they have inertia. Biases being such as they are, people will tend to remain committed to their original positions unless something jarring happens to change their opinion.

I’m going to skip the obvious part of this essay about appearance, body language, and rest of the advice you’ve read before by simply linking to an article by Bill Lampton on Instead I’ll focus on how to plan an important impression.

Joel’s Dud

Joel Spolsky has an article about interviewing technical candidates in which he mentions a particular candidate he interviewed once. An HR person came into Joel’s office before the interview and told him he would love the candidate. That simple act painted Joel’s perception of the candidate so much that the person could do no wrong. Joel overlooked the warning signs, filled in the blanks, and ultimately issued a “hire” decision. There were multiple people interviewing for the position, all of whom issued a “no hire” decision on the same candidate. Joel had been hoodwinked! Tales abound of similar situations in which bias misleads people.

It’s a powerful lesson and a basic fact of social reality that biases influence perception. You cannot get away from human bias. You can make the choice to ignore it at your own peril, or you can use it to your advantage.

The dud candidate would have had to make a huge mistake to jar Joel out of his biased perception. In exactly the same way, if Joel had a negative impression of this candidate, but the reality was that the person was amazing, that person would have to do something jarringly incredible in order to change Joel’s perception. That’s a situation you don’t want to find yourself in.

The Build Up

Walking on Water

If you know you’re about to make a first impression, now is the time to begin planning the build up to that impression. You don’t want to be the amazing candidate who has to prove himself despite a negative first impression. You want to be that candidate that everyone assumes walks on water from the beginning.

When I was researching Ideal, LLC before my meeting with David, the CEO of Ideal, my goal was to create a positive impression with him right away. I was set up with a three part meeting beginning with Jim Peterson, who was listed only as a “Software Consultant.” I called Ideal before the meeting to say hello, and verify the time and place. You can find out a lot about a person and company with a 30 second phone call. It also provides the opportunity to prime the person you’re meeting with to think you’re conscientious since you called first, and to expect a friendly, well-spoken person to show up when the meeting does come.

In this case, I asked the receptionist for Jim Peterson, and she thought I had the wrong number. It’s a small company, so she knows everyone who works for it. That was extremely valuable information because it let me know that Jim was there temporarily, and that either Jesper or David trusted him enough to grill me technically. It also meant that neither of them are particularly technical themselves.

It also told me that Jim was probably David’s guy, not Jesper’s. If I were a bright CEO looking to hire technical management talent I would have my best tech guy grill the candidate beforehand. But how would I be able to get a report from my guy about the candidate if the interviews were scheduled back to back? I’d have to create a natural buffer between interviews. I’d create a break, or some down time between them. Maybe I could kill two birds with one stone by making a particular player feel as though he had decision-making power by allowing him to interview the candidate before I did. David had set up the meetings this way because he wanted to know what Jim thought of me, and didn’t care at all about what Jesper thought of me. That’s good to know about the interview, and about internal company politics.

Most importantly, the phone call told me that I needed to woo Jim. I needed to be prepared to answer complex and very specific questions about the work I had done, and the roles I had played. Just like the Joel’s HR person who gave him a biased impression of his candidate, Jim would give David a biased impression of me. I had to make sure that bias was positive.

Over the course of the interview, as I answered more and more questions in the kind of excruciating detail that I couldn’t possibly have faked, I could see Jim physically relax. I saw him change from the dour technical inquisitor that I began speaking with, into a relaxed, friendly, very intelligent guy. I knew I had him when he began giving me tips about what to say and what not to say around both Jesper and David. I knew he would be my advocate to David, so I had bias working on my side.

Eyes Open

If you aren’t approaching first impressions with the kind of attention to detail and strategy that I’ve just described, then you’re leaving your fate to the wind. Any success you find will be blind luck, and your odds are not good. You must think about the motivations and pain points of the people you are meeting, and target them with positivity and integrity.

Self Branding

May 14, 2008

I was going to write an article about self branding, but as I gathered my thoughts and notes, I started to have vertigo as I gazed into the treacherous abyss of branding, marketing and related disciplines. I opted instead to create a whole new category to house what I think will be an ongoing series on the subject.

I began my timid and uninspired journey toward branding by fiddling with websites as a youngster. It developed into a minor career and a tremendously valuable hobby. As I forged further into the discipline of graphic design through the jungle of small business, a structure emerged. A deep architecture presented itself as I learned to understand how visual presentation, perception, psychology, and allied fields all contribute to this ecosystem we call Branding.

I think it’s far more useful and complex than most people realize or give it credit for being because it has been cloistered by popular perception into the same cage as smarmy salesmen and cut rate sign shops. It’s quite a profound concept that pulls together fundamental integrity, attention to detail, and verve. All the characteristics I’ve seen in successful people are taught by branding.

In the coming series I’ll point out these branding lessons specifically, and show you how you can use them to create your niche in the workplace and get ahead.