Monthly Archives: September 2013


Who Are You?

Since I created this blog page, many different people have suggested that I should do a piece on personal branding, as it is a topic that is obviously near and dear to everyone.  It is also extremely important in all aspects of life, from establishing one’s career path, to developing a business, to finding the right partner in life. Creating one’s personal brand can be difficult, as it requires deep personal reflection, and it often times takes the help of one’s close friends and family to figure it out.  Yet, once you understand who you are, what you represent, and what your goals are, making critical life decisions becomes a lot easier because the direction becomes clear. There are many different bloggers out there who offer a variety of tips on how to present yourself to your audience, and proclaim this as personal branding.  However, I find that they do not address the core issue – who are you, and how do you let people see who you are? The approach I have taken for myself is very similar to how I try and determine a business’ brand identity.  My roadmap starts with David Aaker’s Brand Identity Planning Model:

More specifically, I perform a strategic brand analysis of myself, identify my core and extended identities in order to develop a value proposition that I can then execute. The goal is to identify the core characteristics that make you unique and define who you are, combine them with traits and qualities that you do well, and deliver value to whomever your target audience may be (boss, client, interviewer, cute girl having a coffee at Starbucks, etc).

Strategic Analysis

Using David Aaker’s model as a guide, the first part of unlocking your personal brand is putting together an understanding of who your audience is, who else may be courting the same people, and what your strengths, weaknesses and values are. As an example, let us assume that you are looking for work in finance, but aren’t quite sure yet what it is you would like to be doing in finance. You will want to examine numerous job boards to find out what employers are looking for in an employee, and gain an understanding of what other types of people might also be interested in this job. This information is readily available through job descriptions, and career websites. The meat of the strategic analysis will then involve you spending some time brainstorming what your strengths and weaknesses are – both hard and soft skills, what you are looking for in a job, what kind of people you like to associate with – basically anything you can think of as to why people like you, and why people may not like you.

Core Identity (i.e Soul Searching)

This is where some soul searching comes into play. Now that the brainstorming session is complete, the real question now is, what are the 2-3 attributes that make you unique? This can be a very difficult question to answer, and I find that a lot of people tend to focus on their hard skills (i.e math skills, proficiency in Excel), as opposed to their soft skills (i.e ability to ease a tense situation, empathy towards others). The core identity of any individual are the pillars of what define you as a person; the attributes that make up your core are present in everything that you do, say, act, and feel, no matter whether you are on a date, job interview, or on the soccer field.  Often times it is the soft skills that are present wherever you go, and simply unique to you (unless you are the greatest mathematician that ever lived…then maybe your math skills might be more a part of your core).

Extended Identity

Once you have established your core identity, you can now look at what other attributes make you great. Your extended identity will include attributes that do not necessarily define who you are, but are added qualities that make you attractive to your prospective audience. Unlike your core identity, which is fixed, your extended attributes may vary over time, and may depend on your audience (i.e your math skills probably won’t be useful to you when you present yourself to that cute girl who is still sitting at the Starbucks, but will be for that financial risk management job), and can include hard and soft skills. Your list of extended identity attributes will generally be your 4-6 best, and most relevant attributes that are specific to the audience that you hope to attract.

Value Proposition

So you have now managed to find all those attributes that make you wonderful, and categorized which ones make up your core and extended identities.  But how does this help you?  Well, these attributes should help give you a sense of how you can benefit your audience (or how you make the world a better place). There are three types of benefits one can provide to their audience: functional benefits (what tasks can you accomplish that will make other people’s lives easier), emotional benefits (your ability to make others feel good), and self-expressive benefits (how you improve the image of your audience). Your promise of value to your audience should be able to deliver on all three fronts in some way, shape or form. This means that when you walk into that job interview, simply telling them that you are great at math will not get you the job!  Because at some point in time, someone who is better at math than you will come around, making you replaceable.

At the same time, your promise of value must be able to resolve a need for your audience (i.e the missing piece of an innovation team, or the man that Starbucks girl has been waiting all her life for), which ties back into the strategic analysis you conducted of yourself where you looked at who your audience is, and who else is looking at that same audience. Selling yourself as an analytical thinker with strong negotiation skills and a background in finance in an interview for a graphic design position will not give you an edge for the position. Therefore, if your value does not fulfill the needs of the job being posted, or is inferior to your competitors, it might be best not to waste your time applying.


You have now constructed your personal brand, you know what you have to offer, and how you can make the world a better place.  Now how do you showcase yourself? You will find a lot of information on how to execute your brand – whether it be how to tackle an interview, or how to be the ladies man you always wanted to be, yet I find that the recommendations are fairly standardized and focus on conforming to sociological ideals. I believe however that while adhering to social norms is definitely important, it must be done in a way that is synchronous with who what you represent, and the value proposition that you represent – only conform in ways that are a genuine reflection of who you are. If you are a beer drinker, who likes sports, you probably won’t find the woman of your dreams at a martini bar, and if you do so happen to find yourself at a martini bar, it is totally okay to buy a beer anyways because you may attract other beer drinking women who are also unhappy about being at said martini bar. Daft Punk for example, decided on an approach to execute what their brand represented that did not conform to the prevailing trends in marketing, but it worked because it was genuine and unique to their personal style. Confidence is key in executing your image, and you will only feel confident with your execution strategy if it is an accurate reflection of who you are as a person, and what you represent.

Taking the time to unlock your personal brand is a very rewarding and useful exercise, as it helps to not only clarify in your mind what makes you special and how you would like to project yourself, but it also helps sort out what your goals are, and what you want to get out of your career and/or relationships. Personally, I have found that having a solid grasp of what I represent has given me the confidence to showcase the value I provide to others more effectively, and a clearer idea of how I hope to achieve my goals.

Do you have any tips, recommendations, or examples of how one can develop their personal brand? I would love to hear your comments!


Lessons in Teamwork from the Soccer field

I recently played my last game of outdoor soccer for the season, and although we did not make the playoffs this year, they were an amazing group of guys that I enjoyed playing with. What made this year more interesting than previous years was that I joined a new team with a bunch of people that I had never played with before.  One of the many early challenges we spoke about was the time it takes to develop chemistry within the team. This got me thinking about the parallels between soccer (and other team sports in general), and business – mainly, how do teams come together to succeed, and what are the challenges of making real-time decisions as a collective group in order to achieve a goal?  In my experience, playing team sports is crucial for developing teamwork skills. While I could go on for days discussing how soccer hones both career and life skills in general (and do expect me to do so in future articles), I will limit this post to discussing the teamwork lessons that can be gained from playing soccer. The three key lessons I have gained from being a more effective team player, and getting the most out of my teammates, involve (1) getting to know your teammates, (2) the importance of communication, and (3) checking your ego at the door.

Get to know your teammates

Part of understanding what your teammate is doing involves knowing what kind of personality they have.  Although it takes time to get a grasp of a teammate’s style, it does not take long if you take the time to get to know them off the field as well. Our team had beers after every game, and it was a chance to talk, not only about the game, but also about life off the pitch. This helped to strengthen relationships and understanding between one another, and what makes each person tick. By building this bond, teammates tend to go the extra mile to help one another out on the field.

(I think this guy’s teammates learned a little more about him after this night)

This same principle applies in a business setting as well. At my previous place of employment, our team made it a point to go get a coffee at 2:30p.m. every single day, and it did wonders for developing a bond between our team.  We felt like a family, which made going in to work, and staying late when necessary that much more enjoyable. This bond made it much easier to ask a co-worker for help, to understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and to plan out our work strategy as a group.

Communication is Key

Getting to know your teammates also helps to make another crucial component of teamwork easier: communication. On the pitch, as the ball is always in play, game plans and strategies go out the window when your opponent adapts and situations develop.  The only way to succeed as a collective group is effective and constant communication. This communication comes in the form of warnings (“Player on you!”), support (“I’m behind you!”), advice (“Lots of time!”), and encouragement (“Great shot!”). Effective communication on the pitch not only provides confidence when on the ball, it also provides numerous extra sets of eyes in order to navigate all of the moving parts on the pitch.

Business teams also need to communicate in order to be successful, as warnings, support, advice, and encouragement are critical to the success of any team in achieving its goals. It is very difficult to complete a task when one of your teammates fails to inform you of a critical change in the details (or maybe that there’s a linebacker in the office charging at you from behind), knows the answer to a problem yet fails to share it with you, or doesn’t encourage you when you are frustrated. Making sure that the lines of communication are open go a long way towards developing the cohesion of a team.

Check your ego at the door

I feel as though this point is not stressed enough among articles about teamwork, even though this is perhaps the most important one. Not everyone is created equal, and some people are better at certain things than others. Joining a team however with the belief that your skills are more important, or that you are overall superior, is a recipe for disaster for teams both on the pitch and in the office. There have been many instances over the years where a player has joined the team that has had a belief that they were the best player on the team (and in many instances they may very well have been the best player on the team).  Time and time again, their play reflected their lack of trust in the abilities of their teammates, they tried to do too much on their own, and repeatedly tried to do things that they simply were not capable of doing (like scoring from your own half). That selfish, egotistical attitude regularly betrays these players as a huge detriment to the team, in spite of their ability, hindering the team’s success. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that one player versus eleven does not give the team great odds of succeeding.  Leveraging your teammates skills goes a long way in achieving success.

There is a saying in team sports that states that “you are only as good as your worst player”. What that means is that the opposition will find your weakness right away, and exploit it. Teammates may gripe and complain about the quality of that weak player, but that does not help the team.  In order to succeed, it is everyone’s responsibility to help your teammate to not reveal his or her deficiencies, and make them a better contributor. At the same time, the opposition may be able to expose your weaknesses too…wouldn’t you want your teammates to help you out? If the goal is to win, playing the blame game does nothing to help your team win.  Only true teamwork can.

The hero mentality, coupled with complaining where help is needed, plays out poorly in the workplace, and inhibits team functionality (thereby reducing your own personal value). In my opinion, a great performer is one who makes the people around them better, and brings out the best in the team as a whole. Tackling a group project on your own will only expose your own weaknesses, alienate your teammates, and limit the quality of the output.


In my opinion, there is nothing more beautiful than a string of multiple one touch passes that leads to a goal.

Achieving this feat is only possible when the team is functioning at such a high level that communication is seamless, that sense of being able to predict where your teammates are going to be is spot on, and they can predict what you are going to do next. It is through the subsequent understanding and mastery of the points above, as a collective unit, that such a feat is possible. The business equivalent of multiple one touch passes leading to a goal can be difficult to master, as it takes time for a team to bond together – and in business, teams do not always stay together as a unit for a long enough period of time. I do, however, see the value of taking the time to develop a bond with your teammates, emphasizing communication, and checking your ego at the door –  that all go a long way in both speeding up, and improving the process of becoming a cohesive and effective unit.

What else do you think is critical to developing team cohesion? Drop me a line in the comments section below!


Is All Publicity Good Publicity?

Recently I read an article about Kenneth Cole and his latest tweeting escapades where he referenced a Barack Obama phrase regarding the conflict in Syria to promote the sale of their shoes.

 In a war-weary USA, his comment seemed to touch a nerve with columnists and what was perhaps more interesting was the fact that Kenneth Cole was purposely trying to be offensive in order to generate publicity for his brand. This raises an interesting question: Is all publicity good publicity?

In my opinion, the purpose of communication strategies are to provide awareness and recognition of what your brand promises to deliver to the right customer audience. Just as I mentioned in one of my earlier blog posts on humorous advertising,  the type of edginess used as a strategy will depend on the type of audience that you wish to covet. For example, Diesel is a brand that is young, edgy, and in your face – and their “Be Stupid” ad campaign did not seem offensive to the audience they were catering to and as a result the brand saw strong growth.


If Martha Stewart launched that same “Be Stupid” campaign, her core audience would be very offended and confused by the campaign and although it would definitely draw attention to the brand, it would not help strengthen the brand image. The point is, be who you are because if you try and sell your brand as something that it is not, it just looks fake, contrived, and not very credible.

Kenneth Cole is a fairly conservative, inoffensive bridge brand that caters to both men and women looking for contemporary style at a moderate price point – a fairly large demographic where a lot of brands compete. Therefore, his core audience would tend to be those who like to wear conservative, fairly inoffensive clothing that looks sharp without making too bold of a statement.  As someone whose personal style and demeanour is much edgier than what the Kenneth Cole brand represents, I actually do not find the tweet particularly offensive at all, however I can see how his comments appear more offensive to the media because it is coming from an unexpected source.

What is interesting to note is that Kenneth Cole himself purposely tries to be offensive in his communication in spite of his brand being more toned down.

“We’re clearly bolder with our social messages than we are with our fashion messages, and that is by design.”

So why is Kenneth Cole using this approach?

As I stated earlier, the target audience Kenneth Cole is competing for has a wide selection of brands to choose from and it is difficult to stand out and get noticed. I believe that Kenneth Cole is employing the shock and awe tactic in order to increase awareness of the brand because he has seen short term spikes in sales whenever he does something offensive.

“If you look at lists of the biggest Twitter gaffes ever, we’re always one through five. But our stock went up that day, our e-commerce business was better, the business at every one of our stores improved, and I picked up 3,000 new followers on Twitter. So on what criteria is this a gaffe?”

Kenneth Cole’s strive for awareness and short term sales spikes may come at a cost if he does not re-align his product mix with his messaging because existing customers will be offended and leave, while new customers will be disappointed with the fact that the existing product line does not coincide with the edgier image being communicated.

The “all publicity is good publicity” approach is a great mantra when you are struggling to become noticed and are looking for a quick and dirty approach to letting people know that you exist. The problem with this philosophy is that unless the message is consistent with what you are offering, customers will not know what you are about, and once the initial curiosity fades you will not be remembered.

What are your thoughts about Kenneth Cole’s communication strategy?


Place Branding: Toronto Who?

Just like any organization or individual, destinations are also capable of branding themselves in order to provide a promise of value to specific customer groups that satisfy their needs; either as a place to live, or as a travel destination. In my last post, I wrote about Las Vegas and how it has informed people around the world what to expect, and then delivered consistently on that message for many years. The Las Vegas identity is well-known, and the mere mention of it conjures up visions in one’s head that actually become reality when travelling there. Today, however, I am looking at a contrasting example – my hometown of Toronto. I love this city and believe it has many things to offer to visitors around the world.  However, whenever I ask people who are not from here what their thoughts are about this city, they usually know absolutely nothing about it, and the ones who have actually travelled here do not really have any powerful takeaways from this place I call home. So, how can the city of Toronto become a place that a) the world knows about, and b) is on people’s bucket list of places to see before they die – like London, Rome, New York, Paris, and Las Vegas.

Unique Value Proposition

All great destinations offer something unique to its visitors that is usually a combination of physical attractions, along with an indescribable aura that is unique to that city. Rome offers a combination of a rich history combined with “La Dolce Vita”. Paris offers beautiful architecture, the Eiffel Tower but is also “the city of love”. Finally, New York offers towering skyscrapers but is also “the city that never sleeps”.

So what does Toronto have to offer as a physical attraction? Well, I would say that the thing that makes Toronto the most unique to me is the fact that on most lists, Toronto ranks as one of the most culturally diverse metropolitan areas of the world.  A fortunate consequence of this is that one can eat almost any type of food in Toronto, with the quality resonating with that of the area from which the recipes originate. As someone of Italian background, I can honestly say that the Italian food found right here in Toronto is on par with what one can find anywhere in Italy – which is a lot more than I can say about some Italian food I’ve tried elsewhere.

Given the rise of the foodie culture in North America and across the globe, I think that the quality and variety of food found in Toronto is something that will attract a growing customer segment to the city and is something that can and should be exploited.

The variety of international foods also brings out the emotional reason why Toronto is a great place to visit – that one can learn about a multitude of cultures all in one place; and beyond that, visitors can witness and take part in the cultural exchange and integration of peoples. While studying in Toronto I have had the opportunity to become friends with and share stories with Muslims, Jews, Chinese, and Columbians, all while having a drink at a bar. While the ability to interact with other cultures is present in other cities around the world, the level of diversity in Toronto is superior.

Consistent Messaging

After several hours searching the internet for an advertisement promoting Toronto as a destination for travel, I could not find even one that was less than 10 years old coming from the official tourism board for the city.  Even going to the official tourism website does not help me gain a clear understanding of what to expect when coming to Toronto. It would appear therefore that if Toronto does have a message for its audience, it is not readily available to them.

So where does Toronto go from here? Well, if the city agrees with my statement regarding its unique value proposition, it needs to develop a clear communication strategy.  This would let people who are interested in exploring new cultures know that Toronto is the place for them.  Staying in Toronto will provide access to some of the best food around the world, for all kinds of budgets. Without getting into too much detail, this would obviously require a slogan that captures the proposition being sold, printing ads around the world reaffirming this message, a youtube channel with promotional videos showcasing the diversity of this city, and it would require directly seeking out these “culture junkies” to let them know that Toronto has exactly what they are looking for!

Cooperation among Stakeholders

Cooperation between local businesses and the various departments of the municipal, provincial, and federal government is paramount to delivering the unique value proposition and communicating a consistent message.

At present, there are a multitude of excellent restaurants in Toronto that are not recognized globally by prestigious restaurant ranking systems. Michelin has never published a restaurant guide for any city in Canada, let alone Toronto.  Not a single Canadian restaurant entered the “San Pellegrino top 100 restaurants in the world” list. There needs to be a concerted effort by both the municipal government and the restaurants themselves to convince these prestigious restaurant rankers to at least come to Toronto to try the food.  Having Canadian exposure on these lists would go a long way in helping Toronto strengthen its reputation as a food city with fantastic international cuisine.

In conjunction with beefing up the city’s restaurant exposure, Toronto must make it easier for tourists to explore the varying cultures that the city has to offer. This involves the coordination of festivals, traffic and transit improvements, and welcoming committees, to help make it easy for tourists to get the most out of the city, among other improvements I won’t mention here.

As you can see, branding a destination is more than just finding a catchy slogan, and does not come as a result of fortuitous geography, nor as the benefit of history.  Branding a destination requires careful planning, and commitment from all stakeholders involved. Las Vegas saw an opportunity to satisfy a customer need, and managed to become an oasis in the desert, representing all things copious through consistent messaging and cooperation from all stakeholders, in order to deliver on their promise. Toronto is like many other cities in the world that struggle to attract visitors.  By defining a physical and emotional differentiator, communicating this differentiator to the right customer base, and ensuring that their promise is delivered through cooperation, Toronto can become a travel destination that people will want to include on their bucket lists.


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