Without Influence, Knowledge And Skill Are Not Enough To Build Your Brand

New research reveals the power of influence in getting your message heard. The authors provide four keys for really understanding what that means—and how to do it.

You could be the smartest person in the world—and it could easily not matter.

In business, you could be the leading expert in your particular field—and again...nobody might care.

You might even have the cure for cancer. Or possess the secret to limitless energy. And it might not make any difference to the world.

That’s because knowledge and skill are never enough—unless you possess the influence to make the world take notice.

We’ve always understood the importance of influence, which is why it’s a vital component of our Celebrity Branding® services on behalf of our clients. And that importance is rapidly growing.

In the last two decades, traditional signifiers of power—such as status and position—have eroded, while the weight that influence carries has only increased. In fact, there are those who would argue that today influence is even more important than traditional branding techniques.

We wouldn’t go that far—but we also won’t dispute just how potent influence is in the current culture. For those who need proof, however, a recent research project provided it.

The project, detailed in the Harvard Business Review, studied risk management chiefs of two English banks in roughly the same situation. Over a five-year period, they pursued two very different management strategies, and achieved two very different results.

The first chief’s method was influence-based—and, over the time span studied, her team became completely unified in its approach—and had made a big impact throughout the bank. The second chief’s group, in stark contrast, was divided in its efforts and had little visibility beyond its small areas of expertise.

Beyond proving the power of influence, another awesome outcome of this study was identifying a quartet of keys that are critical to obtaining high levels of influence. We’d like to discuss this fantastic foursome in this post—because these are tools that can be used by anyone inside or outside a business to create the most powerful relationships possible.


The research team describes trailblazing as "finding new opportunities to use expertise"—in other words, demonstrating your expertise in ways that maybe haven’t been done before. The successful bank officer created those opportunities by having her and her team conduct weekly meetings with members of every department of the financial institution, as well as requesting a seat at the table of the bank’s weekly decision-making executive meetings.

In terms of branding, trailblazing means finding innovative ways to connect with potential customers. For example, Richard Branson, CEO and founder of Virgin, has written about the opportunity his company immediately saw with the explosion of popularity of social media sites—at a time when other business giants were afraid or ignorant of their marketing potential. This allowed them to stand out and get a decisive jump on the competition.


Toolmaking is defined as "developing and deploying tools that embody and spread expertise." To us, that means using such informational and influential instruments as books, infomercials, and branded films. These are tools that the average professional or entrepreneur is typically not using because of the expense or the time required to create them, which makes the business person who does use them stand out from the pack and boost their influence.

For example, earlier this year, when Jaguar wanted to promote their F-Type sports car, they produced a lavish and lengthy branded film to show the car in a James Bond-type adventure scenario—a move that AdWeek thought was definitely worth the effort. It was a big, expensive move to influence potential buyers who would see themselves as a sexy superspy if they bought the car—and it worked.


This Influence Key involves "using personal interaction to take in others' expertise and convince people of the relevance of your own." In terms of branding, this means getting people involved and on your side in a direct and personal manner, where they feel your company is very responsive to their needs.

For example, a few years ago, Dunkin’ Donuts created a contest that allowed consumers to create their own "dream donut"—and the winning concoction was actually added to the chain’s donut menu. Consumers were captivated with the interactive campaign and sales spiked as a result.

Whenever you can directly involve your customers in your marketing and branding efforts, it’s much more effective and influential. People love it when a business seems responsive to what they want—and it puts them on your side.


Translation, in this context, means "personally helping decision-makers understand complex content." In other words, it’s kind of important that your customers be able to actually make some sense of what you tell them! For example, if you’re a doctor, dentist, or lawyer, and you explain something to a potential patient or client in language loaded with technical terms and inside jargon, your influence on them may lag as a result.

In contrast, when you speak what might be called "plain English" to prospects, they can fully understand the products and services you’re offering. More than that, they’ll appreciate the fact that you made an effort to communicate clearly.

Branding superstars such as Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil are masters at this kind of communication—and understand how to break down complex clinical concepts for consumption by viewers who lack the necessary PhDs. That’s a big part of why they wield such a huge influence with their audiences.

Whatever your expertise might be, it doesn’t do you any good if you lack the ability to influence others. To achieve true influence, your crowd has to (a) know who you are, (b) like who you are and (c) trust who you are. When you use the above four Influence Keys, you can make all that happen and more. That way, if you do happen to discover the cure for cancer people will believe you!

JW Dicks (@jwdicks) & Nick Nanton (@nicknanton) are best-selling authors who consult for small- and medium-size businesses on how to build their business through personality-driven marketing, personal-brand positioning, guaranteed media, and mining hidden business assets. They offer free articles, white papers, and case studies at celebritybrandingagency.com.

[Image: Flickr user Dhilung Kirat]

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  • Anthony Reardon

    Great job guys!
    You know what- you have an interesting way of putting things. This concept of "influence" is worth meditating on. The keys are interesting too, and I couldn't help but try to put these in my own words.
    1. Be the first to opportunity: It just kind of makes sense that if you are one of the first to be there, people will tend to look at you as an authority. Plus, you are the one most likely to influence the direction some movement takes early on- before popularity or market saturation takes over, and the influence one person can have is diminished dramatically.
    2. Be more dynamic: I also think it makes sense that if you can demonstrate the confidence to really move in and take advantage of new opportunities, people will be more inclined to respect your capability. It's true- some people have the same opportunities, but some still find a way to do more with them, so it's those people that are going to stand out and have more influence.
    3. Be genuinely responsive: In a world that is supposed to be increasingly social, it can be amazing just how much there is a sense of prevailing animosity and apathy. I think it has a lot to do with the traditional one-way relational model where attention is asked for but not returned in kind. However, if you allow people more influence to have their impact felt by you and what you are doing, they are more likely to actually be responsive- you can get more influence by giving it. That's a great one.
    4. Be intentionally relatable: I suppose it goes without saying that some subject matter "experts" try to impress with semantic confusion, but in terms of social authority this is increasingly viewed as an unintentional shortcoming. I've actually followed some of the premier thought-leaders in some pretty complex sciences switching their fields to more contemporary practices, because if you can't get the ideas through to the people that need to utilize them, then you can't make the implied difference. Besides, if you really know what you are talking about and thoroughly own your understanding, then you shouldn't have too much trouble translating that into something useful for people. Naturally those people are going to have more influence.
    I've put a lot of time into these very ideas, and found it really refreshing to hear them put forward from a different perspective. Thanks!
    Best, Anthony