How can people or companies reinvent their brands?
What does it take to remake who we are and how people perceive us?
I’ve been thinking about these questions since I had lunch a couple of weeks ago with Dorie Clark, a stellar marketing strategist. Clark graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Smith College at age 18, and hasn’t slowed down since. In addition to consulting and teaching, she writes for Forbes and Harvard Business Review, and has a new book on personal branding called “Reinventing You.” (I recently finished my complimentary review copy and recommend it to those at a crossroads.)
As a branding expert, Clark has many interesting things to say about people and companies who seek to fundamentally redefine what they stand for in the minds of others. I want to share four lessons I’ve learned from her, along with my thoughts:
1. Start with the cold, hard truth about where you are now.
If you want to rebrand yourself or your company, you have to start with how people presently perceive you. A brand is not what you wish you were—it’s how people perceive you right now. There may be a big delta between what you think you project or dream of being and how others see you.
In fact, there most certainly is.
For individuals, Clark suggests interviews and focus groups that shed light on your strengths, weaknesses and current brand. Companies can glean much by exercising the same kind of listening skills. While you won’t hear everything you want, you will collect insights and positive qualities that give you a foundation on which to build, and ideas about how you should evolve.
2. Puffed up PR doesn’t reinvent anything.
Shortcuts to closing gap between an existing and desired brand don’t work. A new logo, inauthentic self-promotion or trumped-up taglines can’t revolutionize your place in a market. There has to be substance to your efforts, and true reinvention is hard work.
As Clark writes in her book, it might mean a person has to train, make a host of new connections and develop a new set of skills. A company may need a better product, different approach to its customers, or drastic improvement in service. Which brings me to my next point …
3. Real reinvention starts with showing your value to others.
If you really want to rebrand, you have to solve a problem or address someone’s need. What you do for others, not what you say, is your real brand. This is the single biggest factor of success for a person or company.
People from Michael Milken to Al Franken have reinvented themselves by making a difference over time, through research and public service respectively, as have brands like Harley-Davidson and Apple by providing great product experiences. They changed more than their words-they changed their actions. And not just once, but over time.
4. The reinvention story has to make sense—and tell the truth.
If you can’t create a narrative that helps people understand how a person or company changed direction, you’ll stumble. People make sharp turns in their lives, and so do companies. People will understand these shifts if they make intuitive sense and seem authentic.
Clark talks about how people can go from one career to another successfully if they tell a story that builds a mental bridge between the two. The same is true for companies. Provide a rationale for the transition, notes Clark, while showing you’ll remain true to yourself. Believe in the new you so others will, too.
I’d add that the same holds true if you rebrand your company. You need to make sure everyone who works with you believes the brand has become something new and special so they are united in reintroducing the brand to the market.
True reinvention is not easy, but for most people and companies, it’s necessary. As C.S. Lewis said, “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”
We have to hatch—and hatch again. That means doing the hard work of creation and re-creation, and doing it right. Reinvention awaits.
Katya Andresen is chief operating officer and chief strategy officer at Network for Good. A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.