When I need some fresh air and a mental break I like to go out on a walk and listen to a podcast (note: I will pull together my favorite podcasts for a future post). I find podcasts to be an excellent way to listen to engaging information on my schedule. Since I spend a lot less time in a car than most people (my commute to work involves walking down some stairs to my home office) I don’t listen to podcasts in the car as many people do. But for me, listening to great content while moving my body is relaxing and engaging at the same time.
On a recent walk I was listening to this episode of Tim Ferriss’s podcast. It was a short recording where Seth Godin answers a number of questions and basically holds forth for thirty minutes or so on a range of topics.
One of the questions Seth addresses is the creation of a “personal brand”. Seth emphasizes that good brands deliver what the customer needs and does so consistently.
Story setup: Seth got started in 1986 selling books to book publishers. According to Seth, in 1986 “book publishers needed more books than they had”. Seth and a team of people created books that Seth tried to sell to the book publishers – who rejected him “again and again and again and again” until he crafted his message “in a way they could hear me”.
Here’s Seth (bold text is for my emphasis):
“When I was a book packager, I had a brand at the beginning which was that I was a Stanford MBA who was going to great pains to show how prepared he was and professional he was and – yes – smarter about the market than the editors I was selling to. And they responded to my brand by buying nothing from me because it didn’t match the story they needed to tell themselves about what they were doing. So I deliberately and intentionally changed my brand – stopped putting spreadsheets in my proposals, stopped wearing a suit to my meetings, worked hard to listen to what it was that they were trying to tell me and what it was they needed from me, so that I could deliver to them on the promise that they wanted me to make. That mindset requires you to commit to the marketplace you want to be in.”
It’s interesting to me how seldom you hear the word “empathy” when the optimal skills required to succeed in sales are listed. But empathy – defined as the ability to share and understand the feelings of others – requires listening and projecting yourself into the situation of someone else. How else are we to understand what customers and colleagues need from us?
I’m not a huge fan of the term “personal brand” because it’s a marketing metaphor for who you are and what you deliver to the world. For me, it reduces the poetry of a human into a box of Tide. But certainly the world takes note of your consistent behaviors and forms an opinion along the way (just as they do for laundry detergent I suppose).
Hopefully people see you for who you are and feel elevated by your contributions.
But if that’s not happening, ask yourself if you’re listening.