Relaxing on the Amalfi coast of Italy does wonders for creativity and powers of observation. Italy is a country where the love of “brand Italia” is almost palpable and provides an enormous amount of material on how to build your personal brand. All you need to do is observe what is around you on a daily basis. That is what led me to think of yet another way to differentiate my personal brand.
I enjoy cooking and the variety and quality of the local produce available on the Amalfi coast makes the experience doubly enjoyable. First of all the seasons truly influence the menu as you are reliant on locally grown ingredients. This dictates the prevailing tone. At the moment it is all sunshine, light, fresh and very easy. Fresh fish and lightly grilled vegetables. Quickly cooked pastas with simple toppings as compared to the slow cooked Risotto of winter. And my favourite. Mozzarella (preferably made from buffalo milk) and tomato salad with fresh basil, finished off with a drizzle of olive oil and a touch of ground pepper.
This leads me to my point about tomatoes. I took this photograph, at one of the local grocers. At any one time you will find at least four varieties of tomato available. Each has a different shape, colour and most importantly flavour. Coming from a typical metropolitan city, I am used to the more mass produced, consistently shaped, perfectly packaged offering that you find on the supermarket shelf. Whilst these are very promising to the eye, once you have experienced the joy of local produce, you find the tastes bland and very similar.
When I visit the Amalfi I am spoiled for choice. One of my favourites, that I can never find at home, is the enormous ox heart or beefsteak tomato, so named because they are huge and almost like a small pumpkin. It has a more bland taste and is a perfect compliment to the gentle flavour of mozzarella. Whereas the little cherry tomatoes are very sweet and are best cooked gently into a beef stew to retain their shape and offer a “pop” of sweetness.
So what’s the connection to your personal brand?
As an Executive Coach one of the most frequent anxieties that my clients express is their concern about differentiating either themselves or their businesses against the competition. The pressure to stand out very often results in the individual masking who they are and a poor imitation of someone else’s unique offering.
Consider the tomato. The fact is that a tomato is not just another tomato. Each is quite unique and once people know what it offers, it is used correctly and enhances the end result.
Here are a few pointers of how to apply the “way of the tomato” for yourself.
- What is your lineage? Some tomato seeds were brought to Italy as far back as the 1500’s, from the Americas, by the Spanish conquistadors. The Italians that I have engaged with on the subject argue that whilst this may be the case, it was the Italians that perfected the fruit.
What is your lineage? Each of us has life experiences, which contribute to the unique features that you offer. This may be as simple as the family values you embrace, the community you grew up in, your education or the teachings of a grandparent. We tend to ignore so much of what falls outside of our “formal credentials” and yet within this lies the potential for differentiation. Don’t limit yourself by standard reference frameworks and what the market dictates. Be creative and look for the experiences that make you what you are. Review, understand and package them into a unique offering!
- Stay true to your purpose. An equal blessing and curse for entrepreneurs and ambitious execs is the inability to say no to an opportunity. This may seem counter-intuitive, but the fact is that when you stretch yourself in too many directions you end up not only confusing your customer but yourself as well. You become a mass produced tomato lacking flavour, purpose and substance. So understand your strengths, focus on the benefits they offer and stick to perfection. Understand your “stretch” and limit saying yes to those offerings that allow you to remain true. If your market shifts, don’t change your shape. Rather explain why are you still relevant.
- Promote your relevance. Another comment lament that I often encounter is “but I do can do that, why won’t they use me!” This is quite different to being untrue to your purpose. We often make the mistake of not packaging and promoting our offering well or frequently enough. We are so in love with we have to offer that we forget that we have to get out there and be seen, heard and understood. In Italy there is layer upon layer of brand competition and promotion. Each region prides itself on differentiation. It begins with local dialect and is often expressed by their cuisine and the agriculture. Even the humble tomato enters the fray and is promoted as a unique offering with not only its own shape and hue of red but also the only tomato that should be used to complete a particular dish.
The bottom line is never believe that you are the same as everyone else. Each of us has the opportunity to differentiate and be valued. Look at your assets, choose your platform and then promote how you can enhance the end result. Just ask the humble Italian tomato.
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