In today’s day and age, in the fast-paced world that we live in, we often don’t get a long time to get to know someone before we have to present to them or do business with them. One thing I’ve learned from Mark Bouris, one of Australia’s leading entrepreneurs, is that first impressions really do count, and whether we like it or not, the reality of the beast is that you are a brand.
You’re a brand as an individual, as a representative of the company you own or the business that you work for, or even as early as your days in high school.
In high school as an example, people tend to fit into different categories – you’ve got the Jocks, the Geeks, the Beauty Queens, the Misfits, the Goths. The great thing is that in high school you get the opportunity to do a bit of trial and error, see what works for you and what doesn’t work for you, and adapt your approach from there.
However as you get into business, you may not have that opportunity. As much as we’d like to have the utopian view that no one judges anyone, and that we’re all on the same level, the reality is that you have 30 seconds – 3 minutes to convey some type of impression to those around you. That includes these various elements which make up your personal brand:
– The Look
– The Feel
– The Style
– People’s current perception; and
– What do you want people to say about you?
Reverse-Engineer Your Brand
The good news is that you can use this formula to reverse-engineer your personal brand. You need to first ask, “What do you want people to say about you?” Figure out what that is, then go back through the steps above to engineer a look, a feel, and a style that will give people the correct perception of you.
Mark Bouris, without a doubt, would be one of Australia’s strongest business people in terms of his personal brand.
Anyone who has seen him present live, who’s met him face to face, or on the television on The Apprentice – whatever he’s doing – he epitomises his personal brand. Now, some might argue by having a personal brand that you’re putting on a facade, but I would argue that by having a personal brand you are being authentic and genuine. You’re simply presenting it correctly, and at the right times.
Someone like a Mark Bouris has earned his stripes to the point where he can tell is like it is and people will perceive him in the right way, however when you’re making your way up, you need to be vigilent about how you present yourself and how others perceive you.
I’ll give you an example of how I manage my personal brand.
I’m often in a position where I have to raise capital for businesses or I may be going to a board meeting or an environment where a lot of people there may be older than me. So I need to be respectful of the fact that if I walk in there with a wild haircut, or unshaven, or I haven’t taken the time to prepare myself, physically, mentally, emotionally – then they might not think that I’m taking it seriously. That’s all part of maintaining your personal brand – showing up the right way.
Now, when I’m 50 or 60 years old and if I’m lucky enough to be worth tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars – by then you’ve earned your stripes. You’ve shown the respect when you’ve needed to show it, so your brand has credibility. But until that point, you need to be conscious of the fact that the people that you’re going to be doing business with – or that you’re trying to inspire and motivate to come work with you – they’re going to want to see a certain look, a feel, and a style that emodies the vision that they want to be a part of.
My side note on this is that you must uphold and maintain your personal brand whilst retaining your humility.
I’ll break down the different parts of this formula:
i) The Look
Mark Bouris has a certain look. It’s quite a conservative and understated look, if he’s in the office it’s generally a black suit, white shirt, black tie, black shoes – fairly conservative, but at the same time very professional and stylish.
His casual look would be a pair of jeans with a nice shirt and a nice blazer. Now, we might think that with guys in general, we don’t put as much thought into our look as our female counterparts, however there is a little bit of symbolism there with Mark – by dressing this way he appeals to everybody. Because he is that boy from Punchbowl who took on the banks and won.
Would you wear a pair of R.M. Williams boots?
I have friends who wear R.M. Williams boots because they do business with a lot of people in the agricultural sector. If they’re from a bank and they go to a meeting with someone who’s got a farm and they go in there wearing $800 Armani shoes, you’re going to lose the farmer straight away. However, if you’ve got a pair of RM’s he’s going to be able to connect with you. It’s just the way it is.
It’s something really imporant – if you want to build relationships quickly, if you want to get ahead, you can either sit on your utopian high horse and say I’m not going to conform to what people expect of me, however I would argue – try a pair of RM’s on! They’re actually pretty bloody comfortable. And you might find that your clients actually want that from you – to conform a little bit to people so that they can relate to you.
Another example is that we might have a Yellow Brick Road franchise in a suburb that’s in more of a humble area where there are real ‘salt of the earth’ people. Now, if you rocked up in a fancy suit and tie, they’d probably pigeon hole you as a ‘banker’. So I recommend to the guys who work in more of the working-class areas, go and get a polo shirt with your branding on it. It’s great because the people aren’t threatened by it. By now you’ll have a good idea of the look that will work for you in different situations.
ii) The Feel
In my opinion, your feel needs to be approachable, but at the same time needs to be assertive. It goes hand in hand with your personal brand in terms of how you present yourself to various audiences.
iii) The Style
Your style needs to be the best possible representation of you. It needs to emphasise what makes you unique. So if you’ve grown up in a European family for example, people like it if you carry on a few traditions or have a few cultural quirks based on your upbringing.
iv) People’s Current Perception
Be aware of people’s perception of you. Don’t be afraid to get feedback, and when you do get feedback, try to implement it. At the same time, don’t compromise who you are.
I’d like to share with you my experiences with trying to develop my own personal brand.
I battled a lot with what my personal brand was.
I saw a Mark Bouris who’d come from a different background to me, and I spent time with mentors and coaches to try and become someone that I wasn’t. So it’s an interesting conundrum because I tried to go too much the other way – I grew up in the North-Western suburbs of Melbourne, being that simple boy from Moonee Ponds and then I tried to become this Eastern Suburbs of Sydney person – and that was fake. So that wasn’t my brand and that’s a prime example of how authenticity should be the priority.
It’s human nature to try and conform. So when I talk about, ‘What is your brand?’, it’s not about conforming – it’s actually about embracing who you are. And that’s what I’ve become now – I’m never going to be able to change the fact that I’m ethnic and I have ethnic features – so I’m never going to be the blonde haired, blue eyed, Eastern Suburbs person that I thought that I needed to be. And in hindsight (and this is part of the maturing that you go through) I think people prefer me the way I am!
I think at the end of the day as long as you’re true to yourself and you’re authentic, people are going to say, “Well that’s him!”
Is my brand everybody’s cup of tea? No it’s not. And that’s the thing – the disclaimer on this is that you’re never going to appeal to everybody. So you need to enjoy yourself, always have fun, and build your brand around that.
When you go through and think about your personal brand, build it off a framework of, “Who are you really?” That way you’re not lying to yourself or to other people. Build it off a framework of fun. I think fun is important – in this day and age, people want to do business with the guy that looks like he’s having fun, the guy or girl that looks like they feel good about themselves, the guy that has a style that’s their very own.
Your personal brand is something that will evolve.
Even with Mark Bouris, he’s openly said that he’s an introvert by nature. So for him and his brand he needed to step outside his comfort zone. And doing the television stuff – which has become a big part of his brand – was not natural.
So at the age of around 56 when he started doing The Apprentice – that was a change of brand and an evolution for him. He understood that for him to go the next phase of his growth there was a certain brand that he had to embody further and he needed to evolve as an invidual – and he did!
Being forced to evolve his look, feel and style on-camera has helped him to evolve his style off-camera – and I think it’s for the better. You get a more responsive, more in-depth Mark Bouris as a result.
We can all learn a lot from how someone like Mark Bouris has gone about building his personal brand. For those of us who are aspiring to reach similar heights, we must be vigilent about protecting and upholding our personal brand at all times and use this to our advantage in building our careers and our businesses.
Do you have a question about your personal brand? Ask Andrew in the comments!