The Brand Called You

Good branding conveys a factor of trust for a winning combination.


What is your brand — the defining feature that identifies your small business?

Is it your name, specialty, or office location? Do you primarily promote the issues you address, the methods you use or the results you deliver? What sets you apart from the rest of the many professionals with similar credentials, who may be offering similar services in your zip code?

Twenty years ago, Tom Peters wrote an article titled “The Brand Called You” for Fast Company Magazine. It was a remarkable call to action, well ahead of its time. He urged people to think of themselves as being as important and distinct as the brand of clothing they might select, or brand of snack food they sought out in a grocery store.

According to Peters, it was a “new brand world” and branding was an essential strategy for success. With a good brand, people had a chance to stand out, to learn, and improve. “Everyone has a chance to be a brand worthy of remark.” His ideas are still relevant today, maybe even more than twenty years ago.

Why You Need a Brand

To see the importance of branding, look at the profession of therapy. There are over half a million therapists working in the United States. We know that therapists are not generic; not all therapists are the same. That is clear to us as therapists, but not so obvious to the average client.

The average client looking for a therapist does not understand the distinctions between you and another therapist, such as those based on your training, experience or methods. The average client (as well as many of your less sophisticated referral sources) need to know, in plain language, the following: Given the sea of therapists available — what is different or better about you?

A good brand educates potential clients about who you are and what to expect when choosing you. A good brand becomes a mission statement of what you stand for, personally and professionally.

Your brand is both macro and micro, a summing up of your message to the world. As such, it also defines your marketing approach. There is no one, right way to brand yourself or market yourself, but as Peters says, “When you’re promoting brand ‘You,’ everything you do — and everything you choose not to do — communicates the value and character of the brand.”

When I work with therapists, coaches, and healing and helping professionals, I recommend one more thing to consider when defining your brand: don’t overlook the importance of conveying a sense of trust.

Branding and Trust

According to marketing surveys, trust is the #1 most influential factor when people purchase costly services (like therapy and coaching.) Its more important than location, return on investment, or price. When you are in a relational business, your brand must focus on building trust.

Take a moment and think about the essence of trust. Many of us are familiar with the core developmental stages, explained by Erikson. The first challenging stage a child encounters is trust versus mistrust. When trust is present, based on a secure attachment, the child feels hope. Having a brand with trust creates a felt sense of hope.

How is Trust Conveyed?

Trust needs to be a feature of your brand; it reaches beyond the concrete aspects of a practice, such as your technical expertise, training, population you work with, or your specialty. Branding with trust is not reliant on the methods you use, the variety of services you provide, or the fees you charge.

When you are engaged in marketing your practice, trust is communicated primarily in the way you relate. Its more show than tell.

As with any marketing strategy, developing the “Brand Called You” and making sure that trust is communicated requires that you take some steps. Let me show you some of the specific soft skills of trust, 3 questions to ask yourself, to consider how your level of trust is communicated to others, and then a few basic action steps that I recommend.

Soft Skills of Trust

Trust requires softer skills within marketing, including an ability to not just tell others how you work, but shows them your qualities, such as:

  • Empathy
  • Rapport
  • Availability
  • Honesty
  • Careful listening
  • Resourcefulness
  • Willingness to educate
  • Curiosity and caring
  • Professionalism
  • Ethical behavior
  • Follow through
  • Measurable results

I know that these are skills that many of us use when providing services. But for marketing/branding purposes, take this one step further.

Are you communicating your level of trustworthiness to others? The questions to consider are:

1. Would current clients say that I embody these skills?
2. Do potential clients understand my commitment to these skills?
3. Do my referral sources carry this message about me to those they refer?

If you are unsure about the answer to any of these three questions, there is some work you can do on branding yourself with trust.

What You Need to Do

As with any marketing strategy, developing the Brand Called You and making sure that trust in a feature of the brand requires a set of steps. Here are 3 actions to take to move forward:

Craft your basic message—the brand called you: Start by identifying the qualities or characteristics that make you distinctive.

What have you done lately—this month—to make yourself stand out? What would your colleagues or your clients say is your best quality? What are you known for? Who do you help and why? What results do you consistently achieve with clients? (Need more help? Defining your basic message is reviewed in depth, with examples, in my book Building Your Ideal Private Practice, 2nd Edition (W.W. Norton, 2015).

Add elements of trust that you can show, not just tell: Telling someone that you are empathic is not as compelling as showing it.

Use your writing, speaking, and daily interactions with others to express elements of trust (show), and then emphasize what you are doing (tell.) Connect the dots for others.

In your office, with clients, be willing to identify and then claim your varied expressions of trust right in the moment. (Example: “Right now, I am trying to support you by listening carefully and validating what you are saying. How does it feel to have me relate this way with you? What can you learn from this, right now?”)

On your website, in your networking, and in your workshops, explain who you are. Give examples. Show it in action. In this way, start to educate referral sources and existing clients about what you stand for.

For example, in my role as a business coach, I brand myself as a trusted advisor. Over the past 30 years, I have consciously tried to align my words and my actions with this brand. I believe in the values and viability of our profession, so I give freely via writing, speaking, and mentoring. I believe that a rising tide lifts all boats. The more therapists and coaches who succeed–who make a good living while helping others–the more grateful I am that our important work continues to thrive.

Have a deliberate marketing plan: Branding is a marketing strategy. You need to treat it as such, and have a clear plan of action.

Who do you need to communicate with (public, other professionals, specific organizations, etc.) What are the steps you will take? What resources do you need (time, money, access to others, etc.) What are the measures of success you hold yourself accountable to achieve? Accept the amount of follow through and repetition any plan requires in order to produce success. Commit to the long term of your practice. Sow seeds for future growth.

Start Now

There is some urgency to this concept of branding. Peters says that the only critical factor in branding is that you start to do this immediately. I will let him have the last words. “It’s this simple: You are a brand. You are in charge of your brand. There is no single path to success. And there is no one right way to create the brand called You. Except this: Start today.”