The One Thing You Have That Big Brands Wish They Did
And they pay a lot of money to try and get it
Once Upon a Time
When I was in college, I considered myself many things, but a brand ambassador was not one of them. Yet still, I was one.
In my sophomore year, I took up this one opportunity that changed my life then and has impacted me even up till now.
The Hyundai Campus Ambassador program.
Hyundai Motors was and is a Korean company, and they started selling cars in the United States market in 1984. Their first car was the Hyundai Excel.
The Hyundai Excel did well at first, so much so that in its first year it sold more than any other car brand in the U.S. But in a few years, it started to show that it wasn’t built to last. Hyundai Excels started suffering from mechanical problems within three years.
Naturally, sales plummetted and the car became synonymous with junk. That wasn’t their only problem. They were a foreign car company with a name no one seemed to be able to pronounce.
Hyundai didn’t let that stop them, though. They started investing heavily in the quality of their vehicles. They also invested in their brand.
That brings us to the little table I saw on campus in my sophomore year promoting The Hyundai College Brand Ambassador program.
The program was great. Essentially, Hyundai gave me a brand new Hyundai Sonata. Yes. They gave me a vehicle to drive wherever I wanted. In exchange, I just had to be seen driving it. Park it near or on campus and organize a couple of Hyundai-focused events on campus. They were even going to give me a commission if anyone bought a Hyundai.
I used to always wonder why Hyundai would give me and other college kids something as valuable as a brand new car.
I didn’t know it then, but I figured it out years later.
It was because I was a person.
People vs. Non-People
People connect easiest with other humans. This concept is so basic we often overlook its importance.
One might say some of us connect easily with animals. But the truth is, we can only connect with animals when we humanize them. We’re only able to connect with them when we give them a human name and assign human characteristics to them.
So again. People only connect with other people. If you’re a person, you have an advantage.
Brands discovered this years ago. Smart brands and those that could afford it have been taking advantage of it for decades now.
In her book “Nothing Sells Like Celebrity,” author Julie Creswell put it like this:
“Film stars in the 1940s posed for cigarette companies, and Bob Hope pitched American Express in the late 1950s. Joe Namath slipped into Hanes pantyhose in the 1970s, and Bill Cosby jiggled for Jell-O for three decades. Sports icons like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods elevated the practice, often scoring more in endorsement and licensing dollars than from their actual sports earnings.”
As an entrepreneur, your personal brand is your biggest asset.
So I say to my fellow entrepreneur, or my esteemed industry professional, you may not be a celebrity, but you’re a person. And that, my friend, is an enormous advantage.
Brands aren’t people. They have to pay people to humanize their brand. You’re already a person, and therefore, you have the best possible brand there is!
Recognizing the power of a personal brand is something many people have difficulty doing. But the jury is out. People tend to know, like, and trust other people more than disembodied logos.
If you have a business or a career that can benefit from people knowing you, liking you, and trusting you, then personal branding is something you need to seriously consider.
Too often I see new entrepreneurs — particularly solopreneurs and small businesses when they’re just getting started — make moves to emulate bigger brands.
One of the first things they go for is a logo when they should be going for a professional photo shoot. Brands have logos to represent them, but they also pay lots of money for people to represent them. Yet still, so many people (entrepreneurs) prefer to have a logo instead of representing themselves by creating a personal brand.
Sometimes this is due to a lack of knowledge or understanding. Mostly, though, it’s because of fear.
How Do You Brand Yourself?
There are a lot of theories and approaches around this. Sometimes I feel like personal branding coaching is one of the fastest-growing personal growth coaching segments.
I won’t go into my whole approach in this article, but I’d say this: It’s 50% doing what comes naturally and 50% doing what doesn’t.
First, we must face and embrace our fears about inadequacy. Our fears about failure. Our fears about other people’s judgment of us and our decision to put ourselves forward.
It’s one thing if Hyundai asks you to drive their car and tell everyone how great it is. It’s a totally different thing to ask yourself to tell everyone about your product, service, skill, knowledge, know-how, etc.
After dealing with fear, it’s a four-step process:
- We must choose a focus. A niche.
- We must identify and commune with the audience for this niche.
- We must then express that focus through constant content that highlights our expertise, communicates who we are, and above all provides value to our audience.
- We must work to continually add the missing skills, capabilities, and processes necessary to bring further value to our audience and to support our goal of mastery.
Of course, there are details like authenticity, developing a unique perspective, platform choice, etc. But that’s the gist.
You Need to Stand Out or Die the Death of Irrelevance
Chances are there are a lot of people doing what you’re doing. Offering the same product or service. The average entrepreneur knows that he is but one fish in an ocean of fishes. A faceless company minus the budget to differentiate itself.
Adding more features won’t help. After a certain point, more features either become meaningless to the consumer or it simply confuses them.
Dropping your price might work, but that’s a race to the bottom.
So without some budget to play with, you’re left hoping people choose you for whatever reason.
You know you need to stand out, and you know that a snazzier logo wouldn’t help.
People need to know who you are.
If you’re a solopreneur or small business owner, be the brand. I’m sure you won’t charge yourself too much for the opportunity.