There's an old saying in the public relations business: Perception is reality. Basically, this means that it doesn't matter what the truth is or the facts are, but rather what the public believes to be the reality. For most professional insurance agents, it doesn't matter what you say, advertise, or promote -- many people already perceive the profession in a negative light. This unfortunate situation has recently become worse, particularly during this year's political season. Essentially, the public believes that financial advisors, insurance professionals, bankers, and practically anyone in the vicinity of Wall Street are guilty of something.
This perception is nowhere near reality. The vast majority of professional insurance agents and advisors are committed to providing solutions that will offer clients security and peace of mind. So why have some agents been successful despite the poor public perception of their peers? The answer may lie in the presence of an effective personal brand.
A personal brand comes from building trust and educating both clients and non-clients. It goes beyond delivering the expected services and demonstrating expertise. It's not just what you do, but what you stand for and how you communicate this to your audiences.
Personal brand development depends upon thoughtful planning. You cannot build a brand overnight; you must define and consider your area of expertise, abilities, and desired image. What do you want to be known for? How will you communicate this to clients, prospects, and others?
While the laid-back "business will come" approach works for some professionals, those who have a plan for brand growth and use this to build their reputations will stand out and see much better results. When you combine a personal branding approach with the power of marketing, media relations, technology, social media, and other tactics, you can significantly heighten your ability to attract business and referrals. It's a long-term strategy that should be adopted not for a single year or even several years, but for an entire career.
So how do you start to grow a personal brand?
First, identify your personal and financial goals, just as you would with a client's insurance plan. Ask yourself what level of success or recognition would be satisfactory. For example, would you be happy being as one of the best insurance professionals in your community, county, state, or the country? Start by setting short and long-term goals, but allow for flexibility -- you never know what opportunities or challenges will arise.
2. Mission and passion statements
You'll need a mission statement, but you also need to go beyond the mission. Identify what you stand for and your passion in terms of how you'll interact and work with others. Remember: The way clients and prospects perceive you is the reality, even if that perception is wrong. If your mission seems to be all about you, the reality is that few people will want to do business with you. An effective way to develop a mission or message is to ask yourself, "How would I like people to describe who I am and what I do for others?"
Brand-building requires time, energy, creativity, and money. Materials and websites have to be created, and systems for disseminating information and collecting contact information need to be put in place. Communications and marketing are more effective than ever, but everyone is in the information game today; to stand out, you need to be creative. If you're not creative, your messages won't go through, even if you use the right tools. From a budgetary standpoint, don't think of funds spent on personal branding as direct marketing dollars. Instead, think of every dollar as a long-term investment in your business. Successful brands aren't built overnight, but the more you spend up front, the faster the process and more rapid the results.
4. Tools and tactics
We're lucky to be living in an age where technology allows us to communicate with potentially millions of people around the world. From Facebook's 630 million subscribers to LinkedIn's 75 million-plus users (and growing), it's easier than ever before to communicate and demonstrate your expertise. Writing a blog, a newsletter, or even a book goes a long way toward securing credibility. Combining all three creates a launching pad for media relations and social media marketing. Today, creating a blog -- or even a video blog or YouTube channel -- where you and others can share ideas, information, and commentary allows you to communicate directly with your target audience.
Having this information online makes it easier for individuals to find you. This is where the messages and expertise come into play: By putting out interesting, personalized, informative, and captivating information, people will be attracted to you and follow you. These followers are the people you know, acquaintances, and even strangers. They become your key target audience. People in this group are much more likely to become your new clients because they are familiar with your personal brand.
6. Getting them there
Content is key, but communications and marketing are also important, and it's important to carry individuals to your blog or website. It takes marketing effort and search engine optimization to get them there, but your personal brand will keep people coming back. When they come back, they will ask for more and communicate directly with you.
7. Supporting your brand
Networking, speaking engagements, and media coverage are worthwhile paths to reaching people in different ways. Each has its merits and should be part of a personal branding campaign. When you build a brand and demonstrate your expertise, you'll secure more media opportunities and expand your reach. People at networking events will not only know who you are, but will likely approach you. When you're known as an expert, groups will contact you to speak; when you contact groups to offer to be a speaker, you'll secure even more of these opportunities. Each type of promotional activity strengthens and enhances your brand, and this is where you develop relationships, create leads, and move individuals from contacts to prospects. None of this would have been possible without a personal brand built on a strong foundation.
The brand-building process
I've mentioned a few times that you can't build a brand overnight. Each new client, networking event, speaking engagement, blog entry, newsletter, and media interview is part of the brand-building process. To succeed in the personal branding game, you need to commit your time and embody a sense of determination. It may take a few years and some trial and error, but every action is a step forward in the brand growth process, and each step will attract more attention. The reality is that perception matters -- and you can create the right perception with a well-thought-out and well-executed personal brand strategy.
Bill Corbett, Jr. is the president of Corbett Public Relations Inc., a New York metropolitan area based media relations, personal branding and social media marketing consulting firm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through www.corbettpr.com.
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