I recently coached a business client about expanding her customer base. She wanted improved customer recognition for her micro beers. I asked, “Jane, what’s unique about your brand? How can you attract potential customers?” In her market, brewers have differentiated beers to make individual brand unique. The result of beverage differentiation, however, too often results in a proliferation of similar beers. Instead of unique output, businesses create products that confuse and overwhelm consumers with multiple choices. “My brand is first of all my personal reputation. Customers are attracted to me and then to my beer,” she said.
Her response reminded me of how reputation improves our awareness of choices we face. One evening last autumn, two skunks appeared in my headlights. Instead of an escape to the safety of an adjacent field, they sauntered about fifteen feet ahead of my car. The skunks acted nonchalant about my intrusion. In central Wisconsin, I frequently encounter wildlife that immediately flees when I appear. “What’s different about skunks?” I wondered.
In some Native American stories, skunk represents reputation. And, as a youth in Wisconsin, I heard tales about hikers who were sprayed by a skunk. I learned to give skunk his right-of-way. Most predators also instinctually know to avoid skunk because of his reputation.
Early recognition of skunk’s identity serves him well. Because skunk’s vision is limited, he can’t see what approaches him. Skunk’s lack of awareness may give us the impression that skunk is not concerned about our presence or his safety. Quite the contrary is true. Skunk’s first method of defense is to rely on his reputation because his second line of defense, his spray, is limited. Skunk, therefore uses his reputation, his uniqueness to announce his presence. When skunk shows up, he doesn’t need to spend time on self-defense. Skunk’s reputation, therefore, gives skunk more time for all aspects of his life.
Without skunk’s reputation, predators would see him as similar to other prey. A possible sameness to other prey would not help skunk. And, because of skunk’s reputation, we recognize his differences from other animals and usually choose to avoid skunk.
Like skunk, my client Jane has a unique personal reputation. Jane’s reputation is exceptional customer service. Her reliance on reputation overcomes sameness and redundancy of beers in her market. When Jane promotes her reputation for special customer service, she differentiates herself and her beers from the competition. Customers will choose Jane for who she is, in addition to the excellent beer she brews.
What’s unique about you? How could you use your reputation to achieve personal, career, or business aspirations? Are you purposeful to market what makes you special and announce how you are different? Like skunk, does your reputation precede you? If so, could you nonchalantly go about your business and have more time for all areas of your life?
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Richard Wilberg, MS, PLCC, ACC
Life Coach for Personal Fulfillment and Career Success
About the Author
Richard Wilberg is a creativity coach, musician, photographer, and former business leader who lives in Madison, Wisconsin.