Larry Linne
Your Business|Sales Strategies
What Google Says About Your Personal Brand | Canadian Insurance
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What Google Says About Your Personal Brand

Your reputation precedes you, so make sure it's a good one

Insurance brokerages across North America are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to create and communicate a brand to the market. They want to send a message of what they believe in and what they want people to think of them. This is an important strategy in the modern business environment. However, a shift away from corporate branding has been happening over the past five years. Due to technology and cultural phenomena such as social media, individual brands are becoming the face of the corporate brand. These individual brands are changing the way people buy and are creating a powerful impact on sales and client retention.

When you hear politicians talking about smoking pot, business leaders involved in inappropriate behaviours, or celebrities like Paula Dean making socially inappropriate comments, you can see how powerful one individual can be in establishing a brand for a business or organization—and how they can help or harm that brand.

The power of the Internet, YouTube, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter is changing the world of business branding. Personal branding is taking centre stage and it is reflecting on the corporate brands. Brand damage is happening to companies all over North America due to the impact of poor individual brands.

Buyer Behaviour

My partner Patrick Sitkins and I did a research project this past year to try and understand changes in buying behaviours and what impact technology was having on the process. While we anticipated certain trends, we were surprised at how one element had changed in the sales process. That was the value of the “personal brand” of the sales person. We found that it has an overwhelming influence in the sale.

Read: How to Sell in 2014

We interviewed over 1,000 executive decision makers in North America and asked them how often they looked up a sales person on the Internet prior to meeting with them. We also asked them how far into the sales process they typically were before deciding they want to do business with that person. And, finally, we asked them at what point in the sales process they did Internet research on the company the sales person represented.

The Results:

• 77% of the respondents looked up the sales person prior to meeting with them on the first sales call.

• The average buyer said they knew they wanted to do business with the person within the first 15 minutes of meeting with them.

• Over 70% of the buyers didn’t look up the company the sales person represented until after they had met with the sales person.

What does this information mean? How does this relate to a personal brand? Let’s take a look at some of the key concepts of personal branding and how it impacts an insurance brokerage.

What is a Personal Brand?

Twelve years ago I spoke to a group of Canadian and US business executives about the power and importance of personal branding. You would have thought I was communicating blasphemy. The feedback was harsh. It was considered “selfish” to brand yourself. They saw personal branding as something you would do as an actor, athlete, or someone who was trying to draw attention to themselves. In a world where teamwork is the focus of business, it just seemed out of place to allow personal branding to be accepted.

Over the 12 years since giving this speech, I have continued to manage my own personal brand and help individuals who buy into the process. Still, while trends in the past ten years have naturally swayed toward acceptance of personal branding, many continued to reject the concept. It wasn’t until three years ago that I finally was able to clearly articulate a compelling argument that someone should manage their brand.

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The main reason for this change came from simplifying the definition of a personal brand. A brand is “what people think of you.” When I speak to business leaders today, I ask them to write down what they think others think of them, and to identify what personal attributes they would most benefit from if those items were well-known to those people with whom they interact personally and professionally. I then say, if they wrote down anything when asked what they think others think of them, they have a brand. If they wrote down anything when asked if they had attributes to highlight, they have a “desired brand.” The process of personal brand management, therefore, begins with the creation of the individual’s desired brand.

Our spouse thinks things about us. Our children can define us. Our employees can list our positive and negative attributes. Our clients have thoughts about us. And now our prospects can look us up online and make early determinations about us. Our brand exists and it will precede us.

Some will say, “My brand doesn’t precede me. If you looked me up online, you wouldn’t find me anywhere.” This is probably not true in 2013. It doesn’t take much work to find information about someone online. However, if a person truly doesn’t have any information to be found in the cyber world, then they still have a brand. That brand is old school, not in touch, and not up to speed with modern technology; not the person I would want to guide me in insuring all of my risks in the modern world.

The Point of First Impression

When I was a young sales person, my boss told me that I had 30 seconds when I first met someone to make an impression, and the buyer would spend the rest of his relationship with me looking for reasons to prove it to be true. In the past, therefore, we established the beginning of what we wanted buyers to think of us at the initial point of physical contact. The research my partner and I did suggests that our personal brand is now arriving prior to our showing up. People are making decisions about us prior to our meeting with them. After we get there, they will look for things to support what they learned about us in their research. The buyer, after doing research and having a short initial discussion, puts the salesperson in a position that allows them to decide early in the process if the sales person is credible and worthy.

Read: What’s Holding Your Brand Back?

An example comes from a class I teach. Sales Mastery is a program I facilitate in Denver, Colorado for over 100 top sales people from across North America. We begin personal branding early in the process. I asked the group to look at their LinkedIn page to see how many people had looked them up over the past few months. One of the sales people gasped when he looked at the information. He said, “Two of my prospects were looking at my page and I haven’t started doing any research on them!”

Our personal brand is out there in cyberspace and it is something people are proactively seeking to know. Our personal brand is moving when we are sleeping. If we don’t get control of it, we leave it to chance that our desired brand doesn’t match what the world actually sees.

How to Manage 

I have five school-age daughters. Every August, I sit with each of them and ask, “At the end of this school year, what do you want your friends, classmates, and teachers to think about you?” They tell me things like, “I was nice, hardworking, inclusive of others, helpful, friendly, good at sports,” and more. Each of my girls is unique and has different items on her list. Then I ask them what they must do to guarantee people feel this way about them. They tell me things like, “I have to work hard, think about others first, introduce myself to new people, be prepared,” and so on. Then I ask them what they have to not do or avoid to ensure people think these things about them. They say “Not talk bad about others,” “Not post negative things on Facebook,” “Not turn in homework late,” and so on.

We frequently talk about personal branding and use the definition “what people think about you” in our home. Throughout the year, we have discussions about how they are managing their “brands.” We talk about “thinking about your brand” before posting on social media sites. We do self-checks on how we are all doing on personal brand management. It has become a fun activity, part of our family culture, and our kids have really connected with the concept. I think they see brand management as a cool thing to do. It is very rewarding to hear them teaching their friends about managing their brand.

Read: Just How Much is a Strong Brand Worth?

You have a much better chance of getting others to think certain things about you if you’re purposeful, rather than leaving it to chance. When a person begins the development of a brand, it is as simple as what I do with my kids. You start by asking yourself what you want people to think of you. Then, you build strategies and plans to make sure your behaviours express what you want others to think.

I also believe in managing a brand that truly represents you. You can’t hide behind a false brand for long. You can, however, ruin a great brand with a random mistake due to a lack of awareness. Brand management offers each of us a way to be mindful of our behaviour, our relationships, our communications with others, and the person we are striving to be.

In the insurance industry, we have a big challenge in differentiating ourselves. Our companies are spending hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars to manage our brand. Unfortunately our personal brands are overpowering the corporate brand because of availability and importance to the buyer. The results can be brand damage or brand success. The more purposeful you are at managing your brand, the more successful you will be in business.

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Copyright 2013 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the November 2013 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine