Mentoring Notes – Focusing On Branding

Earl R. Smith II. PhD

(Read More From My Blog)

These are stories about things that don’t have to happen – things that can be avoided. There is nothing in human experience that makes them unavoidable. These are stories about the great divide between knowing and doing – and about how a trusted mentor can help you remake your future.


One area of work for my mentoring engagements is the ‘branding’ of an individual or company. In many ways, the work is similar for each. Many of the ‘sins’ that individuals commit when tending their ‘brand’ are similar to the ones company’s engage in.

I am not much of a fan of elevator speeches – those peripatetic attempts at speed branding that seem to bubble up all over networking events. Over the years I have come to believe that people do business with others that they know, like and trust. The ‘wham, bam, thank you mam’ that is the elevator speech does not seem to me to contribute much to developing such relationships. In fact, I suspect that it makes them much more difficult to develop.

The Twenty Second Life: There are two major problems with reducing your branding efforts to the twenty-second time limit that most advocates of elevator speeches advance. The first is that inanity is difficult to keep out of the presentation. This is how it might sound:

“Hi, My name is irrelevant and I have been on this earth for the better part of four decades. My life can be reduced to this twenty-second monologue. Now you keep quiet for that brief time while I pass gas.”

The question here is “why would a twenty-second spiel get you anything but an irritated listener? … or, maybe, just someone patiently waiting for their twenty seconds of fame.

Building a relationship takes time and mutual consideration. You don’t run to the end of the process or overload the person across from you with ‘polished posturing’ that is going nowhere given that you have just met. You are branding yourself as someone who doesn’t care much for the details – either of your life or theirs – and is simply an opportunist looking for an advantage.

Opportunism Rampant: There are two extremes of this behavior. The first is ‘I want’. The strategy focuses on the needs of the person performing. The gist of the performance is establishing ‘value’ which will attract enough attention to turn a first encounter into a business relationship. In fishing, we call it baiting the hook. It probably never occurs to the person doing the baiting how the ‘fish’ feels about the process.

The second variation of opportunism begins with a question – ‘what do you do?’ The strategy is to get the other person thinking that there is really an interest in the answer. But it quickly becomes apparent that the question is only designed to ‘size up’ the potential for self-benefit.

The point here is that certain behaviors contribute to a negative branding – either for you as a person or for a company. Both extremes constitute a ‘transactional’ approach to relationships. The underlying questions is “What good are you to me?” The demand is that the answer come quickly.

The reason that I have started with examples of people’s behavior is that companies are represented by them and often take on the characteristics of their representatives. Here is another one that I see a lot.

I Am Whatever You Need: Individuals describe themselves as ‘generalists’ – companies put themselves forth as being capable of a wide range of services – the impact is the same. Most people are looking for specialists – whether in a person or company. They are generally put off by pretensions that clearly overstep the capabilities of the person before them. The roots of this behavior is probably insecurity – the effect is confusing and negative branding.

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