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Thinking Like A Branding Rock Star

Why you need to think like a pro in order to be a successful entrepreneur.

Dylan Kohlstadt




In a crowded market-place, you have to stand to get noticed or make your peace with being invisible and forgotten.

“Branding” might seem like just another marketing term to you, but it could mean the difference between feast or famine for your business.

A few decades ago, someone called Valentino Liberace started playing piano and performing in concerts. Legend has it that he was approached by a critic who said to him, ‘You play piano well son, but you’re not memorable.’

Liberace went away, thought about it and returned wearing a suit made of lights that went on to define his every performance and public persona, shooting him to fame and fortune as the top paid entertainer during the 50s, 60s and 70s.

A modern day example would be Lady Gaga: do you think she dresses in those outlandish outfits because she wants to? No, she wants to stand out in a market filled with thousands of pretty blonde girls with averages voices who sing pop songs.

It’s worked for them but will it work for you? How do you make this type of flashy showmanship relevant to your stationery business or your printing company?

What is branding?

Let’s start at the beginning: what is branding. Branding isn’t something that happens organically or by itself; it is the result of a conscious effort by the business to create a perception and an experience that leads to differentiation from competitors and loyalty with a preselected audience of potential buyers or users.

When I ask you how Samsung is different from Apple, at least five things should flash through your mind; from the presentation to how it makes you feel to use it. This is all a by-product of a successful brand strategy. Mediocre branding leads to a mediocre product perception.

Branding is filled with terms like ‘brand equity’, ‘brand assets’, ‘brand value’, ‘brand promise’, ‘brand pillars’ and so on. In order to be as productive as possible, let’s avoid terms that smack of jargon and just focus on the key things.

1. Get a plan of attack together

Why do you think rock stars have managers? These people know what they’re trying to achieve, which types of songs are right or wrong for their image, where they should sing and what their public image is.

Sit down with a brand strategist who understands what you’re trying to achieve and figure out the roadmap together.

Without a strategy, you’re not going to know whether you’re on the right path or not. You need to know where you are at the moment in order to effect change. Your roadmap should cover the key points below. Remember the goal is to be memorable!

2. How are you different?

Every brand needs an element that will make it stand out from competitors. Is it your location or know-how or your wide product range? It might be your cool brand or the quality of the product or experience.

Just another country singer producing cowboy songs? Do a Dolly Parton and differentiate yourself using assets other than just your voice.

Remember that using price as a key differentiator is fine when you first launch your service but isn’t a sustainable strategy when meeting the potential pricing war it will spark between you and your competitors, where ultimately nobody wins.

3. Who are you competing against?

Sun Tzu, the famous military general, said ‘Know Thy Enemy’ and as in war, it is imperative you have an understanding of the competitive landscape in order to find a gap in the market and position yourself therein.

Know who is closest to you in product offering and what they’re offering that might win your customers over to them.

Competitors make you better at what you do; they’re not to be hated or feared but competed against in order to raise your game and make you better at what you do.

Remember, this is all about standing out, so find that gap and take advantage of it.

4. What do your customers think?

Research is powerful and highly underestimated by many businesses.

Find out what your customers think of your company and service before deciding on your new brand roadmap.

  • Why do they buy from you?
  • Why are they loyal?

This might just be the essence of your brand and a reason for differentiating. You might find that your brand is just fine, and nothing needs to change, or you might realise that you’re about to be overtaken by a competitor.

Research will colour in the landscape you operate in and tell you objectively how you are performing against others.

The other day I walked into a shop and asked the sales rep about their prices, only to have another customer start telling me how great they are and why I should use them. Now that was impressive! You know you’re doing something right when your customers start convincing potential customers to buy from you.

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How to Get Media Coverage for Your Brand


5. Is your staff living the brand?

Your staff is the most important part of your brand because they are the ones who interact with your customers. If they don’t have the right values and personality you will find your customers shopping elsewhere.

Now that you know what you stand for, the key question is whether your staff has the right personality to match your brand.

Put the right people in the right roles; administrators to deal with tasks and people-oriented staff to deal with humans.

The team at Hirsch’s Home Appliances in Milnerton Cape Town, stand out to me time and time again for their exceptional ‘go-the-extra-mile’ service. Nardo, the head of PR has personally hand-delivered items to me at my offices when they weren’t in stock. This smacks of staff that live the brand.

Ann, the brand manager at Woolworths, Sunset Beach, also drove to my house to drop off items that the checkout clerk failed to pack into my bag, with a bunch of flowers. No wonder she’s won top awards year after year.

6. Barriers to entry

The trick is to make it difficult for competitors to enter the market. Service, friendly staff, product range, brand, all of these things are ways you can wrap up the market so your customers refuse to shop elsewhere.

7. Touchpoint analysis

Assess each point of contact between your company and the client.

  • Does your staff greet customers when they walk in, or are they heads-down, working?
  • Does your cashier thank the shopper for each purchase?
  • Do they go the extra mile to satisfy the customer?
  • How long does it take to answer the phone, reply to emails or get work down?

8. Non-negotiables

Certain elements are ‘non-negotiables’. Typing errors, mistakes on invoices, pricing mistakes, wrong deliveries, breakages, poor quality; if you don’t have these ‘hygiene factors’ in place it won’t matter how funky your brand or brand strategy are, and it won’t matter how amazing your service or staff are, your business won’t stand out and might not even succeed.

Those who excel at every point win the war for a share of wallet. Good luck!

Dylan Kohlstädt is the founder and account director of Shift ONE: outsource marketing for entrepreneurs. She has ten years marketing management experience in insurance, financial and property industries plus six years hands-on experience in online marketing involving web, mobile, SEO, CRM and Social Marketing and is considered a subject matter expert on all things digital. Visit for more information.


5 Tips Every Entrepreneur Must Follow In Order To Build A Personal Brand That Sells

Personal branding, a service once reserved for politicians and superstars, is nowadays the key to entrepreneurial success. Personal branding is the venture of the future. It is the best investment you can make in yourself.

Karina Ochis




Personal branding is a disciplined process meant to differentiate and elevate the brand owner from the competition. A clever personal brand entails a series of elements such as but not limited to strategy, logo, website, professional photos, social media platforms, social circles – depending on the goals of the entrepreneur.

Owning a personal brand not only ensures the entrepreneur sells more, it also increases legitimacy, transforms the entrepreneur into a respected thought leader, attracts investors and partners and ensures overall upward mobility.

Even though branding is a current buzzword, proper personal branding remains a mystery for most entrepreneurs. To navigate this intricate process, read the following real-life tips for brand building and reputation management.

1. You are not born a brand, you become a brand

From Oprah to Obama and Ellen to Elvis, every grand personal brand was once a mere mortal – just like you. They had a dream and they hustled just like you. Personal branding when done right is interlinked with personal development. Through an intricate process and an array of strategic actions, entrepreneurs just like you became world-wide leaders.

  • Branding is an ongoing process.
  • When in doubt, ask for professional help; an entire team is involved in managing a brand.
  • Do not compare your first week to someone’s 40th year.

Related: Personal Brand Or Business Brand: Which Is More Important?

2. Do not be a copycat

Good brands get replicated. Great brands cannot be replicated. If you want to own an average brand, go ahead and copy one. However, you will only be able to copy another brand up to 80% and usually the remaining 20% makes the difference. If you aim to be special, you should incorporate your authentic self into the brand – showcase your mission, vision and story. If you cannot do your business at a superior or different level from your competition, you should probably be doing something else!

3. Stable is better than spectacular

  • In the world of Elon Musk and Richard Branson, the brand of the average entrepreneur may seem quite dull. Remember though that your mission is to receive legitimacy to sell your services not appear in the tabloids.
  • You do not want to be a one hit wonder. You want to be in business for many years. Focus on building a stable base for your brand that will evolve and develop throughout time.

4. You network really is your net worth

  • Who you surround yourself with is who you become. You know it, but are you implementing it?
  • Every business is run by an inner circle of individuals; befriend them! The creme de la creme have specific mannerisms and a characteristic way of doing business. Learn to speak, act and behave that way.
  • Before you break the rules, you should know the rules. You learn the rules when you are at the right place with the right people.
  • When your potential customer sees you with accomplished entrepreneurs, you receive instant validation.
  • Your friends with a bad reputation might be costing you brand equity.

Related: The 3 Biggest Mistakes CEOs Make With Their Personal Brand (And How To Turn Those Mistakes Around)

5. Brand building is a life-long game

  • Building a brand that sells takes time. You are not selling a product in the supermarket, you are selling a perception. Every online and offline interaction potential clients have with your personal brand straightens or decreases its value. The ROI is often slow in the beginning.
  • Once your brand is established, the world or some part of it will be at your feet!

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3 Mind Hacks For Overcoming Your Fear Of Marketing Yourself

Take it one step at a time. You get nowhere until you put yourself out there.




When I first started my business, I was so uncomfortable about marketing myself and putting myself out there. For most of us, that’s not something we were raised to do or taught in school. Many of us are taught the opposite.

These days, I see many of my clients struggling with this same challenge. They aren’t sure what to say when asked, “What do you do?” Or they’re afraid to go out and market their product or services.

They’re afraid they don’t have enough experience, or are not an expert and people won’t want to hire them.

The only way to get experience is to get some business. And that requires marketing. So what can you do? The key is to get yourself in the right mindset. Here are three mind hacks to help you overcome your fear of marketing yourself:

1. You only have to be one or two steps ahead

If you are offering a service, you only have to be a step or two ahead of someone to be able to help. If you’re offering a product, you only need to know a little more about the product than they do to help them make an informed choice.

It’s also okay to tell people that you’re just starting out or to say you’ve reduced pricing for a limited time in order to build your new business and gather testimonials.

Keep reminding yourself that you don’t need to be at the finish line – whatever that may be for you. You only need to be a little ahead of the people you want to help. Everyone starts somewhere. As Lao Tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Take that step.

Related: It’s Okay To Promote Yourself – In Fact, It’s Necessary. Here’s How To Do It Better

2. Get clear on your message


When you have a clear message, and you know it inside and out, it can give you a much needed boost of confidence to get out there. That confidence has the added benefit of drawing people to you.

Obviously, your business evolves as you evolve. Your message might change with time, but it’s important you start out with one that is clear and consistent – something that gets you excited so others can feel your excitement and confidence.

Create a statement about what you do, and make sure it aligns with your values.

Distinguish yourself by including the following info:

  • The issue or complaint your ideal client is facing
  • How you can help them
  • The shift – the benefit or outcome of your product/service

Here’s an example. You know how some people are living a life others want for them, instead of doing what makes them feel good? I guide people on how to ask themselves powerful questions to figure out what they truly want, what fuels them, so that they can be the CEO of their life and business.

I could just say what I am – a coach. And so could you. But when you say it, people will just think of the last person they met who does something similar. A clear, consistent and exciting message makes you stand out.

3. Get your feet wet

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.” – Yoda.

These words may have been uttered by a fictional character, but their meaning is very real.

If you want to get into the mindset of doing something, do it! It’s okay if you’re uncomfortable initially. You’re doing something out of your comfort zone.

Welcome to entrepreneurship. As an entrepreneur, you will always be doing something out of your comfort zone. That’s what keeps your business moving to new levels. You are always trying, testing and trying again. It’s not about the failures or missteps. It’s about the doing.

Related: 5 Steps To Becoming A More Recognisable Brand

Go to networking events, go where your target clients hang out (online or offline), join a group or just start speaking to one person at a time about what you do. It truly does get easier and easier.

It’s the same when it comes to selling your product or services. Reach out to one person or one company at a time. You’ll start out with one client, then two. And with each client, your confidence builds.

Take it one step at a time. If you have a fear of speaking in public, go to Toastmasters to practice speaking and overcoming objectives. If you have a fear of contacting someone by email or phone, commit to just one a day, then five a day, then 10 a day. Take it step by step. It doesn’t have to be a big step, but it does have to be a real step.

Whatever fears come up, remember they’re normal. This is something totally new for you. It takes time to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Those thoughts in your head that prevent you from moving forward, the ones that want to keep you safely in your comfort zone, you need to identify them and reprogram them with thoughts that will help you create the successful life and business you want.

This article was originally posted here on

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The Real Value Of Building A Brand

Young people today are likely to join or stay with a company, even if the pay is less, if they feel they belong and are part of the team.

Kyle Rolfe




What is your company’s brand? That may sound like a strange question and the answer could range from thinking about your logo or colour scheme, or the values you frame and put on the wall in your reception area. But that is not what your brand is.

Let me ask you another question: what do customers and employees think when your company’s name is mentioned? Do they think you are a great bunch of people who go the extra mile to deliver on your promises, or do they think you’re a bunch of incompetents who always deliver late and below standard? Do employees think their company is money driven and couldn’t care about people?

What do these people feel when your company is mentioned or when they see your logo? Do they have positive feelings about the company and certain employees they deal with, or do they cringe and hope not to have to deal with you again?

The answers to those questions is your brand. It’s the ability to articulate and deliver on the promise your company makes to the market. It is the integrated result of the values the company leaders hold and the values they inculcate into their employees through their actions. It’s the quality and usefulness of your products or services, and how you deal with customers. And it’s how you promote and operate the company. All these things are your brand.

While the company’s executives are key to developing the brand and all it stands for, the brand promise is the who, what, where, when and how of all you do; the sum of all the company’s interactions with the market and internally with each other. Gartner indicates that companies that prioritise the customer experience generate 60% higher profits than their competitors.

Who you are and what you stand for is critical to companies in today’s market where trust is a rare commodity (86% of US and European customers says their trust in corporations has declined over the last five years). Your promise to the market and your ability to fulfil it again and again engenders that trust, which puts you at the top of the pile when it comes to competition.

Related: Are You A Commodity Or A Brand?

When it comes to your product or service, are you the first name that comes to mind because you are a trusted partner? Do your employees deliver on time and to or above the standard expected as far as is possible? Do your employees represent the company in a natural, proactive manner because they are invested in the company and its culture? Or do they do the minimum to get by and collect their pay at the end of the month?

There’s much talk about company culture in the media, but most of these articles miss the most important aspects of culture, buy-in and commitment. When your employees value the culture they are part of, when they feel they belong and are valued, it shows in their commitment to the company, each other and to their customers. Did you know that between 60% and 75%of customers will do business with a company again if it deals with a customer service issue fairly, even if the result is not in their favour?

In fact, young people today are likely to join or stay with a company, even if the pay is less, if they feel they belong and are part of the team.

Customers are the same. While everyone wants to pay the least possible for a product or service, your brand and the associated value (and positive feelings) customers associate with you means you don’t have to cut margins to the bone to get the job. Customers will pay a bit more (within reason) to ensure they get the full package – product, service, support etc.

So your brand, its value and standing in the minds of people includes the marketing and brand building you do, but the promise you make (sometimes unknowingly) to each customer and each employee is what is critical to success. That promise is made up of the products and services you have on offer, if you are meeting the real needs of the customer. It depends on your culture and how valued and appreciated your employees feel, which extends to how they value and treat your customers. And finally, all that impacts customer service, how you react when there is a problem and what you do to keep your promise and develop and maintain their trust in good times and bad.

Brand enthusiasts are welcome to follow Kyle Rolfe’s latest thoughts on brand building in South Africa and his analysis on relevant global trends and issues via Twitter @kylerolfeSA or on LinkedIn at

Related: How Snapchat Can Expand Your Brand [Infographic]

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