We talk a lot about what it means to be a brand.
Jeff Bezos likes to say:
“Your brand is what people say about you when you aren’t in the room.”
I would alter it slightly. I believe your brand is what people say about you right before you enter a room. If someone is going to express an opinion, this is typically when happens.
In reality, for most of us, very little is said. Why? because people genuinely haven’t formed an opinion, good or bad.
But we all recognize when there is something to say. I have a good friend that is in dialogue with Harley Davidson. If you are sitting in a room waiting for a representative from Harley Davidson to walk in, you are typically saying to yourself, “Holly sh@# I am about to meet with Harley Davidson.”
And as you sit and wait, everything that Harley Davidson stands for runs through your brain – iconic, bad-ass, credible, etc. Think about how much Harley Davidson has invested to shape this opinion.
Our industry is a little different, yet brands do exist. If you are in a room waiting to meet with KKR, AQR, Two Sigma, Texas Teachers, CALPERS, etc., you aren’t sitting there “opinionless.”
Although, I would argue that the firms mentioned above, and most of the other juggernauts of the industry, have become brands by accident. They have simply survived long enough, and push around enough capital, to be revered, in one way or another. If there is an exception, it would be Bridgewater. Ray Dalio isn’t posting about the “Principles” of Lincoln and George Washington on LinkedIn for fun. He is working hard to shape perceptions.
Hedge funds and private equity funds have only recently started to shed their affection for anonymity, and it wasn’t by choice. Conversations were happening without them, and it was not flattering. It quickly became apparent that a plan was needed. “Branding” was needed.
Which leads me back to the title of this article, brand is earned.
You don’t wake up one day and decide to be a brand. The first time “Just Do It” was written under the Nike swoosh, it didn’t mean anything. It was just a catchy phrase. It took decades of work for Nike to attach the desired stigma to the words. Organizations like Nike have earned the right to be a brand.
Creating a tagline, defining your values, and finding your voice is a great start, but it doesn’t make you a brand. It takes years of consistent communication to build a reputation synonymous with the term “brand.” This is something I think is overlooked in our industry.
So, how do you influence the sentiment that exists within a room in advance of your entry?
1.) Figure out what you want this sentiment to be (this is called a brand strategy).
2.) Continuously and tirelessly re-enforce this message across your target audience.
If you do 1 and 2 well, one day, someone may say “Holy sh#@, I can’t believe I am about to meet with (you).”
By Kyle Dunn