Perhaps more than any other time of year, the winter holidays provide the best opportunity to build your brand. Why? Because the holidays are all about expressing gratitude, reconnecting with others, being generous, meeting new people, and looking ahead to a new year. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or solstice, the season is ripe for personal branding opportunities.
As with all effective marketing activities, effective personal branding is based in authenticity. Your boss can see through a plea for a promotion disguised as a sentimental holiday message. A business prospect won’t be impressed by a flashy, mass-produced gift that doesn’t communicate anything about what makes you unique. Instead, make sure your intent is consistent with the spirit of the season – gratitude, joy, kindness and connection.
Extend your thanks beyond the people at your Thanksgiving table. Reach out to those who have helped you earlier in the year, those who have been an inspiration and those you appreciate but rarely get to thank. Make a list and make time in your calendar over the coming weeks to overtly express gratitude – in person, online and through actions like writing LinkedIn recommendations for employees, etc. Express your gratitude in a way that will be deeply appreciated by the recipient.
Being grateful and expressing appreciation are positive attributes that enhance anyone’s personal brand. Being grateful on Thanksgiving is a cultural norm, but the time for gratitude is all the time. Expressing gratitude daily has a huge impact on your success and happiness. Robert Emmons proved this in a recent study, featured in in his book Thanks! How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happy.
The holidays give you an opportunity to reconnect with people in your network you may not have seen or heard from recently. Holiday greetings, either in the form of a traditional greeting card or an e-message, are a tool to remind people you are there. This tradition can be highly valuable to your personal brand, but make sure what you send and the way you send it reinforces how you want to be known. And make sure your intent is to send warm wishes to others, not to badger people into furthering your career
Then decide on the right format for you and your recipients. Whether you select snail mail greetings with a photograph, or e-cards, or a holiday video, choose something that will stand out from the pack. And if you go the physical-card route, consider personalized postage stamps or add a custom sticker to the envelope to help differentiate your greeting from the bills and flyers piling up in the mailbox.
Remember, the goal is not just to be different but to bolster your brand attributes. If your brand is about protecting the environment, forgo the printed greetings and use e-cards.
Tis the season of giving – and giving gives you an opportunity to bolster your brand. Try to link your brand to what you give and how you give it. A friend once told me that a business partner whose brand was all about being global always gave him something from another part of the world – something he couldn’t get in the US. The business partner would find gifts throughout his travels and store them up for the holiday season. Each gift came with a personal story of where it was from and why it was valuable.
Customizing gifts is another way to go. You can customize everything from scented candles (choosing your own scent and vessel) to wine bottle labels.
And of course, non-traditional gifts are the ones that often touch our hearts. When I worked at Lotus, the team at our ad agency, Ogilvy, didn’t give us the traditional corporate gifts. They went to the NYC post office and scoured through hundreds of letters that were addressed to Santa. They chose one letter for each of us and fulfilled the wishes of the writer on our behalf. One writer asked for a dress for his mother because she only had one and it didn’t fit. Another asked for clothes for his sister because people at school always made fun of her hand-me-downs. When they told us about our gift over a holiday lunch there wasn’t a dry eye in the restaurant.
You can also stand out by “saming.” I have a friend and colleague who always sends the same gift – delectable peppermint bark – not because she is lazy and doesn’t want to come up with a new idea each year. It’s because she knows that we look forward to it every year. It’s a happy constant.
Packaging is another element to consider. Custom gift wrap can be a great way to reinforce your brand message.
If Christmas wrapping isn’t your thing, how about some Christmas rapping?
Holiday parties and events provide great opportunities to reinforce your brand with those you know, and to establish it with those you don’t. It’s one of the easiest times to meet people. Everyone is in a festive mood, and the spirit of the season helps to reduce any tension you might have about starting conversations with strangers. Of course, holiday parties are not officially for networking. You don’t want to come across as “all business,” so keep the schmoozing light and joyous. And remember to follow up after the holidays so those new network connections don’t grow cold. Don’t wait until next year’s holiday party to connect with them.
The holidays also precede the start of the New Year, so it’s the perfect time to start thinking about your personal branding plan for the next chapter. Make time during the holiday season to build your brand plan. Also, identify ways you can adopt new habits that will help you take one daily brand-building action in the coming year.
Of course, if all this holiday stuff sounds ho ho ho-hum to you, you can take the opposite approach – jetting all the traditional seasonal activities so you don’t get lost in the sea of craziness and creating your own outreach routine at a time of year that you can own – like the start of Spring or Groundhog Day or the anniversary of the day you started your business.
Whatever you do, stay on brand, spread joy and enjoy yourself this holiday season.
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