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Friday, January 13, 2012

Cattle Rustling, Cowboys and You

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ETP Professional Member since 2007

Old western movies frequently were about how the good guys (often cattle ranchers and the heroes that would help them) had to deal with the bad guys. Frequently the bad guys were ―rustlers, thieves intent on stealing the ranchers’ cattle herd. To protect themselves, ranchers would burn a symbol depicting the name of their ranch onto the hide of an animal. This symbol was called a brand.

While usually not explained to movie audiences, the branding strategy, to be effective, had to have certain characteristics.

Brands had to be:

  • Unique- If multiple ranches used the same symbol it would be difficult to determine which ranch owned the animal. If a symbol was widely used rustlers could even claim that the symbol was so commonly used that it was really meaningless.
  • Easily identifiable – Too much similarity would cause confusion as to which ranch was depicted and so ownership could not be determined.
  • Recognizable – If nobody could determine what was being shown, then it could not be traced to a unique ranch and anyone, including rustlers, could claim it was their symbol.
In other words, lack of a well-structured brand would make the brand ineffective. On the other hand, a well thoughtout brand could be a valuable tool. For cattle branding, easy recognition would enable viewers (such as sheriffs) to determine animal ownership and discourage criminal activity. 

For non-ranchers one cow can pretty much look like another, so separating one rancher’s animal from the rest of the herd could be difficult. Having a brand, however, quickly identified and distinguished cattle. While this history lesson may not be interesting, unless you are in the meat or dairy industries, you may be wondering how this could apply to your career.  After all, you probably don’t even live on a cattle ranch, let alone own one.

And you probably aren’t interested in classifying yourself as a cattle thief. But if you are the CEO of Me, Inc. - YOU have a product – YOU. You need to distinguish that product from another, and in many ways probably similar, products. That is done through your personal brand.

You want people to easily separate you from the herd of other people who do similar things like you do. So you have to make it obvious to them that you are different. Perhaps it is your schooling, or maybe the uniqueness of your background, or your organizational ability or problem solving or skill at team building. Take the time to determine the distinguishing factors. Make a list.  Take the time to review it for relevance to your job or profession. Then select those items that you really want people (including potential employers) to know about you.

Once you have selected your distinguishing characteristics, you will need a ―picture‖ that is recognizable. No, the objective is not to burn the picture on viewers’ rumps; it is to make an impression on their thoughts. When they think of certain characteristics (the ones you have chosen from your list), you want them to think of you.

Create an expression or phrase (keep it short, unless your profession is rewriting long novels) that summarizes these characteristics. This is a well recognized marketing tool. Think of any major company and their best known product. Chances are they also have a marketing phrase to support their brand. If it helps distinguish their product, why couldn’t the technique work for you and your product, that is - YOU.

The next step is to market your brand. While some companies go to great expense to market their slogans, you can market your phrase inexpensively. Place it on your business cards. Use it in short introductions (aka, elevator speech). Place it in emails.  Practice the phrase with family members or telemarketers. Don’t be afraid to annoy those old cabbage patch dolls. State it at networking meetings in any way that would make you feel comfortable using your personal brand. Simply use your personal brand frequently and effectively.


About the Author
Jerry Clifford is a Project and Program Manager experienced with all aspects of software project development. As both employee and consultant he worked with some of the nation’s premier companies including AT&T, Cisco Systems, and Merck. He holds a graduate degree in mathematics, earned certifications in project management and information systems auditing (CISA) and was elected to two terms as President of the EDP Auditors Association, New Jersey Chapter. He is the published author of several technical and nontechnical books on topics ranging from computer math to car repair and carpentry.

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