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Every Brand Needs Cake And Icing

This week on the Wednesday Edition of Talk Business With Howard on Blog Talk Radio, the guest will be Karen Kang, author of the book, Branding Pays: The Five-Step System To Reinvent Your Personal Brand. To listen to the live broadcast on Wednesday, January 30 at 11 AM/Eastern Time, click here. Thank you, Karen, for being a guest on the radio show and for sharing this guest blog post. -Howard-

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Every Brand Needs Cake And Icing by Karen Kang

Karen Kang - author of: Branding PaysWe brand people every day in our minds and in what we say to others. Raj is the go-to marketing expert. Helen is the brilliant strategist. Soo is the office social director. Carl is the company misanthrope.

What are people saying about you?

If it’s not what you want, you can change it. Branding is not just for brand gurus. You can be your own brand expert. You just have to “bake the cake, then ice it.”

You may wonder what a cake has to do with branding. The cake is just a metaphor to help us understand what branding is all about. Think of the iced cake as your brand.

Cake = Your rational value Functional benefits, expertise

Icing = Your emotional value Personality, image

  • The cake foundation represents the rational value for your brand— your expertise, strengths, functional value and experience.
  • The icing is your emotional value—your personality, your smile and your style. It’s how people connect with you emotionally, such as your likability and whether they trust you.

To be a strong brand, you need to have both cake and icing. You need to marry the rational with the emotional.


BrandingPays: The Five-Step System to Reinvent Your Personal Brand

You’ve probably met people who appeared to be all icing and no cake. For instance, our first impression when seeing a beautiful supermodel might be that she is all icing. Then there are people who appear to be all cake and no icing, the stereotype for most engineers. You need to achieve a balance.

Let’s look at a consumer brand example to help us better understand the role of cake and icing. Starbucks is a leading café and coffee brand. Starbucks’ cake, or rational value, is providing a consistently good cup of coffee. The icing, or emotional value, is providing an inviting gathering place, friendly baristas, support for worthy causes and, for some, a brand that introduces us to new music. Starbucks has many competitors, but few have its rational and emotional brand power.

It’s easy to see how consumer products are branded, but how does the branding of people work? Before we take a look at you, let’s look at people who are more sophisticated in the care and feeding of their brands—that is, celebrities.

When you look at this picture of actor George Clooney, what is the first thing that comes to mind?

“He’s a talented actor and director.” That’s cake.

“He’s a handsome and charming guy.” That’s icing.

“He’s a humanitarian activist.” That’s both cake (rational value as a humanitarian) and icing (emotional value as someone who cares).

We can go through quick associations for other celebrities like Kim Kardashian (cake=reality star and icing=beauty), Hillary Clinton (cake=Secretary of State and icing=personable and caring) and Bono (cake=rock singer and icing=humanitarian who cares).

What we associate with people can be both good and bad. You might say that you know of people who have reputations as being jerks, but they are still successful. I can think of a number of CEOs who demoralize employees by belittling them.

These company leaders will ride high as long as they deliver bottom-line results. But when they no longer produce the expected results, these CEOs, whose negative icing outweighs the positive cake, become vulnerable.

Let’s leave the celebrity realm and move closer to your reality. What are the personal brands that you admire in your profession? What is the cake and what is the icing of those who are successful?


KAREN KANG  ( is a recognized brand strategist and the CEO and founder of BrandingPays LLC, a corporate and personal branding company. She has trained thousands of professionals on the unique BrandingPays™ System for personal branding, and has consulted more than 150 organizations from Fortune 100 companies to non-profits and startups.  She is a former partner with Regis McKenna Inc., the legendary firm that created and helped launch the Apple brand. She is a frequent speaker at leading business schools and professional organizations. Follow her on Twitter @karenkang, and at


To join Howard and Karen on Wednesday, January 30 at 11 AM/Eastern Time for the live broadcast, click here to listen in. You can also bookmark this page and revisit later. The replay of the radio show will be posted at the top of this page.

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