Curating a brand is one thing, but making yourself memorable is how to reach a niche audience
Standing out is tough to do in a serious, suit-clad industry. But some industry professionals have figured out a way to incorporate a schtick into their self-branding — whether it’s a motto or a style of dress.
Dalila Ramos is an industry veteran who learned how to make her career more her style. She started in the industry in 2001 and has worked in several roles since: originator, account executive, recruiting, and title work. And as she pursued each of these roles at various companies, Ramos picked up a hefty following and professional network, and she wanted to use that to her advantage. In 2019, she was inspired by a colleague, Sean Cochran, to use her following as a way to enforce her brand and, in turn, boost her business. “Sean’s a Realtor who calls himself the cowboy of real estate, and he told me if I wanted to brand myself better, then I should combine something that I love with mortgages,” Ramos said. “After I thought about it some more, I figured why not incorporate tacos into my brand.”
Just one week later, Ramos hosted her first Taco Tuesday with Dalila video, which she uploaded to LinkedIn. That was at the tail end of 2019 and, due to the onset of the pandemic, Ramos pursued these videos on her own.
“I feel so blessed to have started the videos right before the pandemic because it became my outlet,” she said. “It allowed me to add value to my career and helped me educate and form relationships. It really helped me blossom.”
As pandemic guidelines became more lax, Ramos started incorporating guests into the videos, which helped them continue to gain popularity. She was even approached by people in the industry who offered to pay her to appear on a Taco Tuesday episode.
Back when Ramos curated her Taco Tuesday brand in 2019, she worked for Planet Home Lending. “They really let me take off and run with my own personal brand,” Ramos said. “They knew that it was positive branding and videos that were driving business.” But, as Ramos moved forward working at other financial services companies, she found that she was being asked to choose between her personal and company branding.
“As you get older and make [the mortgage industry] a career, it’s vital to understand the power of presence,” she said. “I’m one of the only women in the industry who check a lot of boxes. I’m a mixed-race woman, a single mom, and bilingual. So I wanted to embrace what made me stick out rather than be pale, male, and stale.”
Monetize The Schtick
From there, Ramos started her own company, Love and Tacos Media. The Orlando-based company is what Ramos describes as half media and half content creation. “It’s mainly me and my media partner, Michael Hammond,” she explained. “We essentially do ghost marketing for other companies in the mortgage industry. We do press releases, email campaigns, video creation, and even cross-promote with Taco Tuesday.”
Today, Ramos has monetized her schtick — and not just for herself. “Way back when I was offered by a guest to pay me to have them on my show, I decided to put a package together to offer that to others,” she explained. “Now as part of my media company, people can collab by being on Taco Tuesday. They can pay for one or a few episodes, keep and chop the video however they like, and I promote the videos on my page. It’s great marketing.”
Shane Kidwell, CEO of Dwell Mortgage, started his self-branding well before his career as a mortgage originator took off. The top-producing CEO is known for wearing his baseball cap backwards, casual appearance, and for always having a cup of coffee in hand.
As a former Seattle firefighter, Kidwell was used to a physically taxing blue-collar environment. “After every shift, I would make it a point to stop at a new coffee shop,” he said. “It became a part of my identity as a fireman that I decided to carry with me into my career in the mortgage industry.”
But when Kidwell took a job at a mortgage company following early retirement from the Seattle Fire Department, he found that it felt inauthentic to be clad in a suit and tie and sitting behind a desk. “It didn’t feel like me, and what I realized was people cared less about how I looked and they cared more about what I knew and how I treated them,” Kidwell said. “But I knew that if I were to dress however I wanted to look and feel, then I have to be really good at what I’m saying and be good at my brand.”
Kidwell says he started wearing hoodies and backward baseball caps, and customers began to realize that they could relax and let their guard down around him. “I didn’t want people to feel formal around me because they’re already stressed out,” he explained. “So there were three reasons why it made sense [to brand myself this way.] One, it was how I felt most comfortable. Two, it made others feel comfortable. Three, it made me more memorable.”
Curating Your Brand
Kidwell said that although his schtick was a conscious decision, it wasn’t hard to “curate” his brand. “Your brand is who you are. When you’re being authentic and you have a good sense of self, it’s not hard to brand,” he said. “It’s only hard to brand when people try to do things outside of who they are.”
Kidwell knows that he doesn’t come across as a serious mortgage guy, but that doesn’t deter potential customers. “Your audience is looking you up before they ever come in contact with you, so people already know what I’m about,” he said. “Not everyone is your audience, either. And me changing my brand wouldn’t solve that problem, that would be reactive. This is who I am whether people want to work with me or not.”
This article was originally published in the NMP Magazine August 2023 issue.