From Italy with a Smile: How I Reinvented My Personal Brand

Karen - Italty to Branding Expert

I saw my dental hygienist this week.

Not an earth-shattering event but significant because it made me think about reinventing one’s brand. Not hers, mine.

As she peered in my mouth, she told me that she is amazed at how successfully I have rebranded myself (in addition to keeping my pearly whites healthy!). She remembered how in 2005 I was known as an Italian vacation specialist with the company tagline, “Savor the Real Italy.” Today, I am a book author and recognized branding expert.

My book, BrandingPays, has been featured in national media like Businessweek, WSJ Radio, Fast Company and A major business school is using BrandingPays as a textbook for career management. In October, I will be a keynote speaker at the 2013 World Brand Congress in Mumbai, India. I have, indeed, come a long way from selling vacations in Italy.

How to Rebrand Yourself

Am I an overnight success? Hardly.

I had a 20+ year consulting career in advertising, public relations and marketing strategy before my diversion into Italian vacations. Six of those years were as a principal and partner with Regis McKenna Inc., the marketing consulting firm that did the brand positioning for Apple, Genentech and Intel. So it wasn’t that I learned branding overnight.

But, reestablishing myself in consulting after a two-year Italian hiatus wasn’t easy. I had done a great job branding myself as the Italian vacation expert that booked unforgettable stays in farmhouses and villas (see my book for how a Korean American became a credible Italy expert). I had built an Italian vacation ecosystem with suppliers, partners, key customers and allies. The thought of rebranding myself and rebuilding my ecosystem for brand consulting was daunting.

Luckily, I had a methodology for helping companies position or reposition their brands. I became my own patient and took my own medicine.

My goal, at that time, was to be known as Silicon Valley’s brand strategist.

Building Credibility

I built out my branding methodology and tested it doing pro bono brand strategy and messaging projects for a non-profit organization and, separately, for a commercial company. By doing a great job, I won two important endorsements as a brand strategist and got a number of referrals.

With a service product defined, I went to work on building my personal brand and thought leadership by creating a website, starting a blog, and later creating my profiles in social media with regular postings on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. I also started speaking to professional groups and business schools, and building ecosystem relationships for service delivery, influencer endorsements and marketing.

Thought Leadership: Writing a Book

Clients and organizations I spoke to begged me to write a book on branding (see my blog post on how I overcame my fear). The interest in personal branding was high and I had just started an executive branding program at a large company, so I decided to write BrandingPays: The Five-Step System to Reinvent Your Personal Brand. In actuality, the BrandingPays methodology works equally well for organizations.

The lesson that I learned from becoming a published author is that if you truly want to be a thought leader, you have to write a book. I was well known in Silicon Valley, but once my book was published I got speaking and media requests nationally and internationally.

Don’t Just Say It, Do It

Because I am a branding expert, I wanted the book to align with my brand in its carefully crafted content, professional artwork, two-color printing and even the foil stamping on the book cover. I demonstrated best practices for book promotion by hiring a great book publicist, PR by the Book, to handle media relations. An influencer campaign ensured that key bloggers got interviews with me and wrote reviews.

I have found my passion: to educate and enable others to brand themselves and their companies.

I get great satisfaction from sharing my expertise, and in turn, other people share my content with their communities. How can you make sure that your brand stands for something? Don’t just turn up the volume; ensure that you have quality programming. Personal branding happens when others find value in what you say and do.

A Continuing Journey

Branding is a journey. I still have brand improvements that I will be making in the next months and years ahead. But, I have rebranded from Italian vacation specialist to branding expert in a short amount of time. Stay tuned for my next chapter.

What is the moral to this story? Like me, you can change your career and rebrand for new business opportunities. But, as my hygienist says, you have to work at it if you want a healthy smile. Keep working on your brand. I see a healthy smile ahead.


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