198: Catherine Kaputa: The Brand of You

Brands are prized by corporations as significant value-driving economic assets. Brands help customers enjoy more valuable experiences, raising willingness-to-pay levels and thus improving cash flows — higher cash flows as a result of higher prices, faster cash flows because branded products tend to turn faster than their non-branded counterparts, longer lasting cash flows because brands have longevity in customers’ perceptions, and less volatile cash flows because brand loyalty can smooth out the effects of economic booms and busts.

For these reasons, corporations invest in brands and brand building. Catherine Kaputa makes the case that individuals should invest in themselves as brands, and makes the tools of brand-building available to individuals for personal brand-building: the brand of you.

Knowledge Capsule

You are a brand, assessed subjectively by your customers.

Think of yourself as a brand. Think of your customers – your boss, other leaders and decision-makers in your firm, your colleagues, your clients, your suppliers. They all have a subjective perception of you and the value to which you can contribute in any business situation. Is it the perception you want? Do people see you as the problem solver and solution designer for their problems? Like any brand owner, you can work to actively shape that perception. As Catherine Kaputa puts it: If you don’t brand yourself, others will, and they may not brand you the way you want to be branded.

The first tool in the branding toolbox is positioning.

The branding community has developed the idea of brand positioning. In the perception space in which your brand operates, you seek to identify a unique, highly differentiated position. You want to be perceived as different and better. Positioning is the identification and selection of that unique space in the minds of customers and the basis of the of credibility, reputation and trust to be able to make the claim.

Importantly, positioning requires outside-in thinking. Think of your customers first, their needs, their mindset, and their perception of the other brands in the space. Your positioning must be in their minds, not yours.

Differentiation is a most important element of positioning.

Typically, perception spaces are competitive. Customers looking for solutions to problems and better experiences scan the space for alternatives and make comparisons between them. Know your competitors, assess them through the eyes of your customers, and find a positioning that is both different from and better than alternatives for your customer, using their mental model and assessment criteria. Aim to “own” that unique space – meaning that the customer identifies you as the only one or the best one of their alternatives to meet a particular need.

Attach an idea to yourself.

A way to pin down a perception in a customer’s mind is to attach an idea to a brand, in this case yourself as a brand, in a way that the connection is immediate and becomes automatic. The idea should be singular and highly focused. Catherine Kaputa recommends a process of subtraction to reach a singular idea — you’ll start with a multi-layered and possibly complicated idea, but if you keep subtracting the least relevant, least important and least differentiated elements, you’ll arrive at the pared-down singularity. You should be able to express it in a phrase or a sentence, one that you can keep repeating to embed it.

Her own example in her marketing career was to brand herself as “good with difficult clients”. Every marketing services company has clients or accounts or marketing challenges that are deemed to be difficult and not everyone wants to be exposed to that risk. Someone who steps up and enjoys performing well on such a stage is both differentiated and highly sought after.

Personal brand positioning strategy templates provide another tool for self-branding.

In her book The New Brand You, Catherine Kaputa provides 10 brand positioning templates as examples of how an individual might approach the process of self-branding and build their own brand.

Download “Ten Personal Brand Positioning Strategies” in PDF: Mises.org/E4B_198_PDF

These are complete templates for rigorous use and application, appropriate for individual interpretation, embellishment and nuance.

One example is the Innovator strategy. Let’s use this template as an example of the self-brand positioning process.

1. What’s the customer need that the Innovator addresses? Identify your target audience and the problem they want solved. Innovators are needed to create something new, when existing strategies are failing or sales are declining or new market entrants are redefining the terms of competition. New solutions are sought, and Innovators are the ones people turn to. Innovators are recognized as the creative resource that’s required.

2. What are the attributes to point to in order to claim the Innovator positioning? Catherine Kaputa lists 5:

Visionary with clear objectives: not just creative, but capable of identifying business objectives for creativity and of seizing opportunities.

Brilliant at problem-solving: full of ideas, but always directed towards solving important problems.

Bold risk-taking: when others hold back, Innovators are eager to design and run experiments from which to learn, knowing there’s no such thing as failure, just new knowledge.

Fresh thinking: not following the crowd but diverging from the norm.

Inventive: Innovators demonstrate the capacity to be first in new designs, new thinking and new ideas.

The point is to evaluate yourself against the attributes of the positioning type: is this you?

3. The next step is a positioning statement. Catherine provides examples:

Sample Positioning Statement: An innovative professional in an industry beset by mergers and dynamic change positioned herself in the following way.

Draft Sentence: For senior managers, boss, clients, industry who need new products and services I stand for innovative problem solver in industries undergoing massive change.

The format to use is: For (target audience) who needs (problem you solve) I stand for (value proposition).

4. Add reasons to believe. Pick three reasons and 3 keywords or phrases as to why customers should invest in your positioning statement by hiring you or giving you the project.

Innovator is just one of multiple possible strategies. Yours may be one of these or a combination of several. There’s a personal test you can take at Mises.org/E4B_198_Test for initial input to start your positioning process.

Positioning is a means not an end: there is more work to do.

Catherine Kaputa follows the logic of brand positioning all the way to implementation. It’s not a theory, it’s a practice. There are actions that brand marketers take to communicate and embed their positioning. She cites three major ones: visual identity, verbal identity and brand marketing.

Commercial brands spend a lot of time, effort and resources on a brand’s look: logo design, package design, website colors and typefaces, video style, and so on. The goal is to communicate a style and an engaging and brand-appropriate visual personality. The same principles apply to personal branding – choose your look, your dress-style and fashion carefully and thoughtfully.

Verbal identity comes from the words you use, the story you tell, and how you communicate in presentations, e-mails, tweets, speeches and conversations, whether in the conference room, the auditorium or on zoom. Work on it.

Marketing your brand should be guided by your goals for your personal brand. Once you have them defined, choose your media, your message, your content, your campaign tactics and your metrics.

Additional Resources

The New Brand You: How to Wow in the New World of Work by Catherine Kaputa: Mises.org/E4B_198_Book

Find your own brand positioning (Mises.org/E4B_198_Test) on SelfBrand.com

“Ten Personal Brand Positioning Strategies” (PDF): Mises.org/E4B_198_PDF