Vincent Lee of ‘Can You Brand Me’: “You are NOT an imposter”

You are NOT an imposter. Our internal naysayer is one of the greatest enemies, causing us to compare ourselves with other authors and making us feel inferior. Your experiences in life give you a unique voice and perspective, and you have the ability to impact people with your stories and ideas. As part of my interview […]

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You are NOT an imposter. Our internal naysayer is one of the greatest enemies, causing us to compare ourselves with other authors and making us feel inferior. Your experiences in life give you a unique voice and perspective, and you have the ability to impact people with your stories and ideas.

As part of my interview series on the five things you need to know to become a great author, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vincent Lee.

Straddling between two countries he calls home for the last twenty years, Vincents residential status as an Oklahoman and his citizenship as a Singaporean have earned him an unofficial title; Okieporean. He is a self-taught graphic designer who found his passion for brand strategy during his career as an in-house marketing professional and later, as an author and brand evangelist. With a handful of clients in Africa, North and South America, Vincent enjoys working with small business owners in crafting memorable brands and currently working towards expanding his reach as a brand coach and through his upcoming book “The ONE Game Changer to Boost Your Business. Use the B.R.A.N.D. System to Go Deeper so you can Go Further”.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you share a story about what brought you to this particular career path?

Going to a graphic design school in the 80s was cost prohibitive for a working class family and I have to channel those artistic energies into participating in community art competitions, joining my school’s Art Club, and designing the school’s bulletin boards. I even bought an Apple computer with the money I made as a waiter to learn the tools of the trade.

Since my parents were not well-educated, they wanted their children’s academic journey to be college-bound and geared towards a law or a medical degree. However, between three years of trade school and six years in the civil service, walking across the stage with a college degree was not promising.

During the nine years when I earned an electrical engineering diploma and a badge as a law enforcement officer, I continued to fuel my interest in graphic arts through various logo and brochure design projects for friends and at my job.

As I continued to save aggressively, I started attending evening classes to earn credits towards a Mass Communications degree from a U.S. based university. It was during those evening classes when I began to see the possibility of applying my passion in graphic design into various fields like advertising, broadcasting, and journalism.

In 2000, I moved to Oklahoma to complete my senior year as a full-time student on the campus of Oklahoma City University. That marked the beginning of my full-time career as a creative professional in the U.S.

Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

I often describe my career as an immigrant working in the U.S. as having three love affairs. This is one of many stories I tell for as long as I have been navigating the country’s immigration system from an international student to an immigrant worker to now, a permanent resident (ie. green card holder).

Seeking and maintaining a job as an immigrant in the U.S. is like dating, falling in love, getting married, and in my case, feeling betrayed, and almost giving up on love.

I have had invested in three relationships as I worked for three employers in the first 15 years of my career. The first one died because of the global financial crisis in 2007/2008. The second one cheated on me, or at least that’s how I felt when I was replaced by another person. And I left the third one after obtaining my green card because we have a verbal equivalent of a prenup.

It is not a story of love affairs at work, though it may be juicer. It’s my love story in the form of three employee-employer relationships. And like any human relationship, hearts will be broken as much as lifted up when your legal status as an immigrant is at the mercy of your employers.

While my career path is not glamorous with high-budget campaigns and high-profile clients, working as an in-house design and marketing person has sharpened me as a brand designer and fueled me as a brand strategist. I grew to appreciate the depth of a truly powerful brand, one that goes beyond the visible like a logo, a website, or a product.

More importantly, the experience has molded my character and formed my core values. Losing my first job did not take away the relationships I have built with people in and outside of work. Being replaced at my second job did not take away my skills and ability to continue pursuing the career I wanted elsewhere. And leaving my third job is not an act of sticking-it-to-the-man but a desire to step out of my comfort zone, challenge myself, and have time to take care of the people I love.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in your journey to becoming an author? How did you overcome it? Can you share a story about that that other aspiring writers can learn from?

I paint with pixels more than I do with words and therefore, the first and biggest challenge was overcoming my self-doubt as a writer.

For one, there are tons of books about branding and so, who am I to write another one, much less get published? There are also many brand experts whose words bear so much more weight than mine because of their experiences and track-records. Will I not just be a faint echo of what has already been said and heard? It’s the battle of David and Goliath; if I am even worthy to bear the name David and swing the literary sling and rocks. That’s the imposter syndrome in its full glory.

I started digging deep into my own brand as I formulated the structure of the book based on a working title “It’s not about you but it starts with you.” Being a solopreneur of a brand design company, I do know that my business must be unique to me as an individual.

Embracing all my good (and bad) threw the first punch at the inner naysayer. Recognizing that my experiences come with a perspective that only I can bring delivered the second jab. While the Marty Neumeiers, the Simon Sineks, and the Donald Millers of the world can reach millions, being able to form, deepen, and impact the relationships within my circle of influence sent the internal skeptic sprawling with a decisive blow.

The manuscript of my book is completed and due for publication early 2021, but the doubter in me will continue to raise its head. I am ready with gloves on as I continue to build content around the book, which is officially titled “One Game Changer to Boost Your Business. Using the B.R.A.N.D. System to Go Deeper so you Can Go Further.” Get updates about the book launch here.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I have always enjoyed telling stories, especially of my childhood memories. As part of the in-house marketing team of a land developer and home builder several years ago, I started a blog series to introduce new floor plans. Here’s an excerpt from a post titled “I Believe I Can Fly”:

“As a preschooler, I dreamed of flying like a caped superhero. Though my mom and dad had not allowed me to test my flight capability, I was free to “fly” around my childhood home looking into a mirror right underneath my nose (ie. the mirror’s reflection made it look like I am walking on the ceiling)… As a creative professional working in the home building industry, my childlike imagination will kick in occasionally as I imagine exploring the homes designed by the Architectural Specialists… Imagine flying through the secret dungeon (aka walk-through closet in the master bedroom), leaping over an electric barrier (aka archway leading into the living & dining room), and breaking through a force field (aka doorway leading to the covered back patio) and into a new universe.”

Looking back, I wouldn’t be surprised if readers were scratching their heads wondering if this was for real. That if they were to visit one of the model homes, a salesperson may just hand them a mirror to place under their nose to explore the floorplan.

Maybe there is still a little part of me hoping to find people who have played the same game when growing up. And my take away? Make sure any attempt (ie. in writing or design) to resonate with the audience is actually relatable.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

Interviewing different business owners as I developed the book content led to collaborating with one particular founder, who shares the same conviction about crafting a good brand story.

Tammy Fraizer founded Decision Grid to help their clients tell a good financial story. Their bookkeeping and accounting services are geared towards assisting businesses manage their finances with integrity. But more importantly, Decision Grid wants to help reinforce their clients’ brand story.

Our spending, in life and as a business, reflects what we value. And what we value will drive the way we live and run our business. A webinar series called “Common Cents and Brand Sensibilities” is in its infancy stage, where Tammy and I interview business leaders and talk about how ones’ finances can, and should reflect and be aligned with ones’ brand.

Can you share the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

It was two months before COVID-19 turned the world upside down and another more localized but equally devastating event was overturning the lives of people in the middle of the world.

Here’s an excerpt from “Flying into fire”:

“October 3rd, 2019, the nation straddling the equator was crippled as protestors blocked roads and highways protesting President Lenin Moreno’s decision to remove a four-decades-old fuel subsidy.

It was probably the worst time to visit the country known for her Amazon jungles, the Andean highlands, the famous Galápagos Islands, and her geographical location of being in the middle of the world.

However, having planned this trip several months before to conduct an initial brand analysis for ADSE, getting a front-row seat to Ecuador’s 12 days of crisis became part of my agenda.”

While the crippling unrest was not good for the economy of Ecuador, it was during the crisis that I got to witness how the underlying values of my client guided their action in the midst of challenges. This experience is one of many stories I shared in the book to illustrate the power of understanding one’s brand and how it will inspire both day-to-day and marketing decisions.

That experience was also an aha moment at the beginning of my journey towards becoming an author and brand coach. Read the backstory here.

What is the main empowering lesson you want your readers to take away after finishing your book?

Many start-ups and small businesses believe that they need a huge budget to create a brand as powerful as the likes of Coca-Cola, Disney, or McDonalds. It took these companies between 65 to 130 years to attain their position of God-like name recognition!

While most businesses don’t have that luxury of time in an already saturated market, owners and leaders of smaller companies can still build their brand without breaking their bank.

Keep in mind that building a brand is never an overnight bus ride to the promised land of demands and cashflow. Neither is building a brand just about having a professionally designed logo, a stack of business cards, and a website promoting the products or services.

The B.R.A.N.D. System as discussed in the book, highlights five key components essential for gaining a deeper understanding of one’s brand; in life and in business. A brand will evolve with time and readers are encouraged to reflect and evaluate these components as they make marketing and day-to-day operational decisions.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Know to Become a Great Author”? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. You are NOT an imposter. Our internal naysayer is one of the greatest enemies, causing us to compare ourselves with other authors and making us feel inferior. Your experiences in life give you a unique voice and perspective, and you have the ability to impact people with your stories and ideas.
  2. Start with the WHYs. It came down to why you want to write a book in the first place. Getting a book published is not an easy feat but understanding your motivation will give you a boost in that direction. My non-fiction book looks like a How-To on the cover but between the pages, I hope my readers will be inspired to dig deep within themselves to uncover their “Whys” and thereby, leading to greater alignment between the components of their brand; in life and in business.
  3. Be ready to be vulnerable. You will leave a part (if not all) of yourself between the pages of your book and your genuineness will flow through if you are willing to be vulnerable. Everyone has a story to tell and you are a storyteller, even if it’s a non-fiction. Don’t just tell success stories as lessons are best learned through failures.
  4. Be ready to write, rewrite, and repeat (within reason). You cannot be a perfectionist and you have to embrace writing ‘ugly’. Don’t worry about sentence structuring or using the most descriptive words at first. Mind mapping is always helpful for me as a big picture person, allowing me to put down key ideas without having to write out paragraphs. Write as if speaking to your intended reader and get someone to proofread for another perspective.
  5. Go beyond the pages. You have to finalize your manuscript at some point and consider using any extra material beyond the pages of your book. The publication of a book should not be the end goal. For me, the book inspired an on-going blog called B.R.A.N.D. Freeze where I freeze a moment in the life of a brand to learn what they are doing to be memorable. Consider adding a link within your book to redirect your readers to more content via your blog or social media channel.

What is the one habit you believe contributed the most to you becoming a great writer? (i.e. perseverance, discipline, play, craft study) Can you share a story or example?

I wouldn’t consider myself a great writer but I know I am getting better each time I write.

Drawing from my experience as a brand designer, I see similarities in the art of attention grabbing between designing an advertisement and writing a book.

In visual design, we use colors across from each other in a color wheel (ie. complimentary colors) to create contrast. We also use white space to bring attention to an element.

In a book, contrast comes from presenting a problem with a possible solution. And the villain in a fictional book always set the stage for a hero.

Which literature do you draw inspiration from? Why?

I drew inspiration from the Bible; a compilation of 66 books written by many God-inspired people. I am especially intrigued by the story of Jesus and like to think of Him as the Ultimate Brand.

Before I am accused of committing an act of sacrilege by comparing Jesus to a brand, allow me to make the following statements.

Firstly, a brand by definition is essentially what people remember about a company and/or a person. Jesus is indisputably one of the most influential and remembered persons in history.

And secondly, Jesus doesn’t need any “marketing” strategy to be made known. Studying how Jesus lived His life on earth has and continues to inspire how I too, can live a fulfilling and purpose-driven life.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Many people are trying to find happiness in the wrong places; from employment with a high paying salary to sticking-it-to-the-boss and starting a business; from accumulating material wealth to seeking acceptance from every individual they meet.

Uncovering one’s personal brand is, at the end of the day, all about discovering one’s unique path to happiness. Aligning your purpose and drive in life with that of your business (or the company that employs you) will lead to a greater sense of fulfillment.

Happiness is not a destination. It is a journey in life and a journey to be shared with people.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

My author Facebook page will put a face to my name and this blog will put a story to my game.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspiring!

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