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Book Review: The Brand Mapping Strategy, by Karen Tiber Leland

Karen Tiber Leland has built her career, and a business, by helping CEOs, executives, and entrepreneurs build effective personal brands. Her work also encompasses the broader challenge of corporate branding. Her book, The Brand Mapping Strategy, offers insights into the branding process. It also provides a great deal of practical guidance for reaching personal branding goals.

This is a calling card type book. Leland is showing you, the prospective client, what she can do for you. Writing such a book can be a challenge, in that the author has to sell without overt selling. Leland threads this needle well. The book is informative and readable. She delivers real value, provoking useful thoughts along the way.

The book is about how individuals can become thought leaders by leveraging media attention (and related forms of publicity, like speaking) to build personal brands—which in turn lead to revenue growth, career growth, or both. With that goal in mind, Leland sets to work describing how to design a personal brand and then accelerate its traction in the competitive market for media attention.

She leads off by explaining how the world of media and public relations has changed. Time was, she says, all you had to do to land your personal brand in the popular imagination was get booked on Oprah. Not anymore. It’s not just that Oprah is off the air. The whole model of getting onto marquee programs as the ticket to public awareness no longer works. (And, as she mentions, it was flawed even its heyday.)

Rather, we are now in an era when thought leaders can build their brands through numerous, diverse channels. These include social media, content creation, and traditional media. It’s a bigger field to play on, but it takes more planning and execution to succeed.

She stresses the importance of being fully ready to be a thought leader, too. This is a point I also make with my clients. You have to have a viable platform before you start putting your name out there. It’s not useful to push people to a website that looks amateurish, for example. In fact, it’s counterproductive.

From there, Leland’s book gets into depth on the “how to” of personal branding, as well as parallel corporate branding. As she mentions, there has to be alignment between these two layers of the brand. If the corporate brand is sedate and professional, for instance, then the CEO’s brand should not be brash and iconoclastic.

Leland walks the reader through thought exercises that are designed to distill what can often be inchoate ideas into a coherent brand message. For example, a brand must have an “anchor statement,” a simple, go-to description of what one does.

This is also known as an “elevator pitch.” This seemingly simple idea can be quite difficult to execute in real life. All sorts of competing voices and ideas crowd out the effective selling essence of a brand. If you ever want to hear this done wrong, check out the sponsor descriptions on NPR. They invariably contain a jumble of clauses that distract from the main idea of the brand. You can tell they were written by committee, with everyone insisting that their little message get jammed into the anchor statement—wrong! Don’t do this.

A unique branding proposition follows, tempered by well thought out brand tone. What your brand’s energy? Leland asks, while offering a process to get to a successful answer. What is your signature story? What are your signature services? All of these elements are essential for brand success.

This is a useful book. If you’re struggling with your personal brand, or simply want to make your personal brand better, it’s worth a read.