Green Day sings about knowing your enemy. Are they talking about personal branding in the song? Probably not. But when you think about what your personal brand stands for, it’s as important to consider your opposite. One tactic I use to help people position themselves and crystallize their difference is asking them, “What are you NOT for?”

For some reason, the passion of what they’re against causes all kinds of sentiments to flow freely. Just as a company’s brand has to be positioned apart from its opposites, personal brands do too.

What audience are you not for?

You can’t please everybody. Nor should you try. Let’s face it – we all occasionally face the prospect of working with someone who, during the course of a meeting, provides a “red flag” that tells you this person is not going to mesh well. Maybe they don’t see why your services cost as much as they do. Or they don’t seem to place a high priority on going forward.

My point is this – even when they’re motivated and have a need, don’t jump for joy just yet. You’re screening them for a fit too. Because I’m going to assume your ideal scenario is having an ongoing relationship and a referral stream with this client.

Imagine being faced with these two different prospects:

Prospect A:

“You should Google me. If you’re lucky enough to work with me, you’ll see I know a lot of people. So cut me a really good deal.”

Prospect B:

“I was referred to you from Joe Smith, who you worked with recently and had wonderful things to say about you. I have goals similar to Joe and I’d like to get together to hear your thoughts on my challenges as well as whether there’s an opportunity for us to work together.”

I know which one I’d rather have a conversation with. Don’t you? Not just because Prospect B is a referral but because he’s already beginning to understand what you bring to the table and there’s a possibility of mutual respect.

The other guy is all about himself. He may know a lot of people but it’s a stretch that he’ll appreciate your value. It’s likely he’ll dictate more and listen less. Which makes it even less likely he’ll make a referral to someone you’d like.

What groups should you not spend your time in?

Just like the prospects above you’re screening, you want to do some hard screening on networking groups too.

Some people go to dozens of different networking groups, hoping and hunting. More power to them, but that’s probably a lot of time and expense that doesn’t have to be spent. Because that person isn’t doing a lot of homework on each group to qualify them as a fit. Or not a fit.

It never hurts to check out a networking group once, ideally as someone’s guest. But after a maximum of two times, you should get a good idea of the fabric of the group.

Yes, a big group that fills the room or large promises of business being referred your way may sound good. But take a closer look. What do you know about the people in that group in terms of how they fit into the audience you want to serve most?

Are they nice people who can’t truly refer you the business you want? Professionals too far removed from the real decision maker on your service? People who aren’t real strategic partners?

To me, they have to at least sit at the same table as your decision maker or they have to refer you to someone who does sit at that table. Or they have to provide a service outside of your well-honed offering that feels like a natural extension. There’s a referral and then there’s a referral that makes you realize the person really gets what you’re looking for.

What sites are not the ones you should spend your time focusing on?

Don’t choose that social networking site because a “guru” tells you to. The guru doesn’t know what your personal brand is about. Just because it’s the newest site or the most popular doesn’t automatically mean it it’s the answer. Choose that social networking site because it’s right for how you want to convey your message and because it appears your audience hangs out there frequently. If it doesn’t play into those goals, look elsewhere.

And of course, there’s your competitors

Talk about people you’re not for. Do some monitoring on this one of those who seem to share the same circles you do (by industry, geography, audience). Before long, you’ll come across a few blogs, books, posts or videos of someone in your field that feels very un-natural in message or tone than what you’d say. It doesn’t mean they’re wrong. It might even be someone you admire. But if it feels forced coming out of your own mouth, don’t apologize for that feeling.

One more thing: Part of this differentiation process comes with the confidence that some people may say to others, “He or she is not for me because….” Guess what? Don’t be afraid. That’s not a bad thing. Because believe it or not, that person who you’re not for is going to be almost as important as the person you are for. They’re actually helping clarify what you stand for.

Wow. Even the enemy is working in your favor? Sounds like you’re on the road to being unstoppable.


Dan Gershenson is a Chicago-based consultant focused on brand strategy and content marketing. Dan has guided a variety of CEOs and Marketing Directors at small to medium-sized companies, providing hundreds of strategic plans to help businesses identify their best niches and areas of opportunity. Dan blogs on Chicago Brander, mentors advertising students and cheers relentlessly for the Chicago Bears. Dan graduated from Drake University with a degree in Advertising.