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Barbara Corcoran: Building a Powerful Brand Pays Big Dividends

Businesswoman and investor Barbara Corcoran shares her tips on amassing social capital by way of branding. This is the first video in a helpful Corcoran playlist focused on guiding small business owners and emerging entrepreneurs.

Fans of ABC’s ‘Shark Tank’ know Barbara Corcoran as the show’s resident real-estate guru. What you may not know is how Corcoran got her start. A straight-D student in school, Corcoran was working as a waitress in 1973 when she decided to quit her job and borrow $1,000 to start a small real estate company in New York. Over 28 years, Corcoran turned that thousand bucks into the vaunted Corcoran Group, which she sold in 2001 for $66 million. Most industry speculators deemed that a huge overpay. Corcoran explains why it wasn’t:

“I sold it for much too much money according to industry standards. They paid me for my sales. It was a great company making great sales. But then they paid me double for my brand.”

Big Think is proud to present a new video playlist entitled “How to Succeed in Small Business: Barbara Corcoran’s Playbook for Emerging Entrepreneurs.” The first video in this helpful mini-course places a focus on the importance of building your brand. The subsequential videos serve as a brief how-to for attracting investors, recruiting strong employees, and expanding the business. The first lesson is embedded below:














As one of the business world's great entrepreneurs, Corcoran knows how to keep things concise and efficient. Her lesson on building a brand highlights three actionable points to serve as a launching pad for your own brand building. As Corcoran explains, you have begin promoting your brand from the very first day. When it comes time to attract new investors or sell the business outright, you're going to want to sell the name of your company as much as what your company does.

Attract a third party endorsement.

A very effective way to boost the power of your brand is to gain public approval from a respected third party. It's really the same idea as being the candidate endorsed by the most popular politicians in your party. For Corcoran, her first major breakthrough was when she stumbled her way onto the front page of the New York Times real estate section.

"I realized immediately it put me on the map.  I had power in my brand immediately. People started giving us listings. My salespeople even started respecting me more. Go figure. All it really was was a third party endorsement. And a third party endorsement you can’t pay for but when they give it to you your name starts to have meaning."

While ended up in a publication like the New York Times is certainly a huge accomplishment, third party endorsements can be as simple as retweet from an industry giant or a viral marketing campaign that ends up on highlighted on Reddit or Yahoo. This leads to Corcoran's second piece of advice:

Be a good old-fashioned grandstander.

Self-promotion is the name of the game. Attending social events and exchanging business cards is a good start, but in order to build an image in your industry you'll need more than just a firm handshake. If you have the personality for publicity stunts, don't let fear of wildness get in your way. Corcoran explains one example from her career:

"In my business I had to get in every article that even addressed real estate. So I invented stuff almost like P.T. Barnum. When I found out that the co-op boards in New York City were not welcoming dogs in certain buildings and one board actually said they’re going to interview the dogs, I invited a hundred dogs to Central Park and taught them myself, on my knees, how to shake hands so they could pass the co-op boards. Was it preposterous?  Of course it was but did every single newspaper come out to cover it with a camera crew? You betcha they did."

Develop a creative online presence.

When Corcoran was beginning as an entrepreneur her focus was getting in as many newspapers and magazines as possible. Today, that focus needs to be shifted toward developing an online presence that causes you to stand out from the pack. This means running social media accounts that turn heads and fine-tuning your business plan to take advantage of the web's direct connection to your customers. The beautiful thing about building a web presence is that, as long as net neutrality isn't snatched away from us, the little guy will always be able to compete with the industry giants via disruption.
"The little guy's as powerful starting out as the big guy because it’s a level playing field. You don’t have to worry about the big guy cornering you because the truth is the little guy always has to corner in creativity. The big guy’s got the corner on money. And money helps online but it’s not going to build a brand as powerful as great creative thinking is going to do it."

Moving forward 

We recommend you take a look at the 4-part playlist for more lessons from Barbara Corcoran on taking your small business to the top. Do you have any particular strategies for brand-building that you've found to be successful? What's your take on Corcoran's strategies? Let us know in the comments below.


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