Like her or hate her, I’m sure you’ll agree that Sarah Palin is a master at personal branding. And never has it been more evident than right now. She is everywhere.
Recently, I turned on the BBC to find her cheering on her husband in a snowmobile race. I was surprised to see her interviewed by a network other than Fox, and for some reason, I was captivated. Mid-cheer she would turn to the eager reporter and evade questions about her potential run for the White House, and in the same breath, scoff at how much money President Obama is likely to raise in his second campaign. I couldn’t stop watching. Even though I knew the gist of everything she was going to say, I was glued to the TV set.
That’s the thing about Palin—you always know her line. This consistency has made her incredibly endearing to her base, which could almost be labeled as evangelically loyal.
All small business owners have the ability to pump on their personal brands. Let's say you own an accounting firm. Consider branding yourself as a money expert and you could land television spots or columns in the local paper. Or maybe you own a pet store. Think about branding yourself as the local pet safety or training expert. Creating a positive, business-related personal brand can only help you and your business prosper.
I’m not suggesting you turn into Palin, but her clarity of message is an excellent example of branding lesson No. 1: all messaging needs to be clear and consistent.
“As a business owner, you can’t be everything to everyone and you can’t change with the wind,” says Lisa Merriam, president of Merriam Associates, a marketing consultancy in New York City. “Your audience is very busy and focused on their world and their lives. They don’t have time to stop and study you.
“They are going to take a two- or three-second look at you and make a snap decision. If you are constantly shifting, they will see you as too much work to understand and may move on.”
Palin’s verbal messages aren’t her only means of consistency. The mother of five also maintains a visual image. She dresses smartly and sets herself apart from female political counterparts by staying away from pants suits, and commanding respect in a skirt.
Lesson No. 2 for small business owners: once you’ve defined your message, stick with a consistent image. Merriam suggests wearing the same style of clothes and colors in public appearances, so people know what to expect. “Find something that works for you,” she advises. “Here in New York, there is a group of lawyers that wear cowboy hats all the time. Everyone knows the cowboy lawyers.”
Even think about the colors and props in your press photos and advertisements and make sure to connect and repeat those visual choices. “For example, Lancôme has a long-stemmed rose as their trademark,” Merriam says. “You often see that rose with their models; therefore, when you see a rose, you think of the brand. The same can go for personal branding.”
Lesson No. 3 is what Maria Ross calls ‘walking the talk,’ something Palin consistently does with her frequent speeches and extra curricular activities.
“Let's say you are trying to get out there as a progressive, forward-thinking risk taker,” says Ross, author of Branding Basics for Small Business, and founder and chief strategist of Red Slice, a branding and marketing consultancy in Seattle. “Consider: what activities do you do in your spare time? What message does that send?”
This is especially true in service-based businesses, many of which pride themselves on stellar customer service. “Saying is important, but doing is everything,” Merriam says. “Your message can’t just be part of your marketing campaign. You need to make it part of your customer’s experience.”