The importance of being visible

Brett M. Decker

Posted on July 31, 2008

Individuals need strong brands too

Success in business is often based on philosophical nuances. For example, there is a fine but essential difference between vanity and a desire for high visibility. Vanity, according to one raggedy old dictionary, is excessive pride in qualities or appearances that lack genuine value. The hunt for high visibility, on the other hand, is often part of an effort to add value to individuals, organizations or operations that already have legitimate worth but would benefit by calling greater attention to their positive traits. The highly revised third edition of High Visibility: Transforming Your Personal and Professional Brand (McGraw-Hill, $27.95), by Michael Alan Hamlin, Philip Kotler, Irving Rein and Martin Stoller, takes a hard look at why being seen can be as important as having vision.

The book’s first nuggets of classical business wisdom center on the fundamental need to establish a brand identity. Essentially, this boils down to crafting, controlling and communicating an individual and recognizable image. As the authors write, the goal is to “deeply imprint the product in the minds of some target audience so that it is well understood, recognizable, desirable–and recalled when buying decisions are contemplated.” In this way, branding is one of the fundamental tactics to successful business strategy.

This manner of imaging is no longer chiefly in the realm of corporations, as individuals increasingly are developing their own personal brands. In the case of an entertainer such as Jennifer Lopez, also known as J Lo, personal celebrity is used to sell consumer products based on her fame itself. Or in the case of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, a CEO’s swashbuckling image provides an identity for a corporate brand despite the fact that most of its diverse product line has little to do with Sir Richard’s personality. He simply adds an instantly recognizable face and reputation to the conglomerate’s name.

As these two case studies reveal, visibility is intrinsic to branding. Whether it is by walking down the red carpet at the Academy Awards, giving a speech at a charitable event, or by having her personal life exposed in the tabloids, J Lo maximizes her profit by maximizing her visibility. The more she appears in public, the more of her records or name-brand blue jeans she sells. Or as Mr. Hamlin and his co-authors put it, “In an age when people, places and things can be mass manufactured and easily made into commodities, name recognition becomes one of the few saleable factors that can bring a premium in a competitive marketplace.”

Turning a good reputation into a solid brand is not only for superstars and corporate titans. The same rules apply in a small town, in a firm, or within a given profession. At the heart of the matter is the concept of transformation, which is based on studying what is needed at a particular time and changing oneself to be able to satisfy these needs. In other words, it is always smart to acquire skills that are in demand.

Whether you are J Lo or Joe Six-pack, one’s skills and experience become more visible–and thus more sought after–by deftly calling attention to where and how these skills add value in a targeted market. This is marketing oneself. As the authors instruct, “Launching a personal quest for high visibility is very much like launching a new product or service.” Success comes from studying the market and performing competitively to supply what it demands.

Of course, all good mothers beat it into their kids’ brains that it is proper to keep one’s head down and not call undue attention to oneself. That can be true, but not all the skills necessary to making money can be honed in finishing school. In “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Oscar Wilde quipped that, “There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” The naked truth in this statement is that seeking visibility is nothing to blush about when building and promoting a brand, whether it be corporate or personal. There can be significant value and profit in being a household name. As any savvy old socialite will attest, and as you will be taught in the pages of “High Visibility,” it truly is important to be seen.

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