Tuesday, November 27, 2012

You Are A Brand - Value Yourself!

My second article was published in the Star Newspaper a few weeks ago. What made me happy is not the fact that it was printed, but having someone write to me as a reaction to it. It is a great feeling to know that you have touched someone -- whether it was my painting, or my writing, or something I created or maybe what I said. I am glad my blog did help out a few people, and I even ended up gaining a number of good friends ... all fruits of my labor because I wanted to help out.

The article I wrote was about branding... not just any brand. This is about branding yourself -- increasing your own value, your own worth especially in the world of career. I myself have been through that ladder. And I wanted to share some insights to people who are out there constantly trying to improve themselves while in the working world.

This is what I wrote...

"You Are a Brand"

You are presented with 2 cups of coffee. One that is in aplain white paper cup while the other cup’s exterior shows the green round logowith the siren-mermaid picture within. Which one will you choose?

Another scenario, (for the ladies): the fairy godmotherarrives and presented two handbags. Both made of fine leather. The first onedoes not bear a brand. The second bag looks fancier with a famous brand attachedto it (Louis Vuitton? Maybe Prada?). The magical fairy asked you to pick one,which one would you choose?

My point for both scenarios: branding matters. It doesn’tstop with just material things. Branding yourself is important because when itcomes to the workplace – whether it’s a job interview, working in a company oreven just being amongst people, those who have worked on their own personalbranding will stand out from the rest.

Brands across the world spend millions of dollars tostrengthen their image, to increase their profile and to maintain theirrelevance in the market. Those who have been successful in creating a strongbrand garner a good following and can command a premium. Investing on brandingyourself will have the same effect.

Where do you start? Let’s work on the basics. An essentialingredient is good grooming. Nothing can replace a good shower, fresh breath, adecent hairstyle and well-trimmed nails.

Next step, be more than just ‘basic’. To do that, carefuland tasteful choices on clothing, shoes, and accessories are needed. There is asaying: “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” Sadly, our ultra-speedy brainanalyzes everything before we can even stop it. The “first impression” justhappened before we tell the brain ‘don’t judge’. Choosing the right style neednot be expensive, as there are tons of options out there.

Should you merely dress the part? Or go beyond that? Irecall a quote: “Don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job you wantto have.” I personally witnessed an individual who showed up at work anddressed “more” than his part – and it did bring him places. He was dressedimpeccably despite his small role in the company. Add that to the fact that healso had a positive outlook & gift of gab, he was able to elevate hisprofile. In time, I watched him grow from a small position to the place wherehe wanted to be.  My own observation fromthe sidelines would point to the “branding” he has made for himself, whichhelped him turbo boost to where he wanted to be.

It is a natural human behavior to gravitate towards allthings beautiful. My own silly theory is that in the real world if a hiringmanager needed to make a decision between two equally qualified candidates, he/shewill tend to choose the visually appealing one over the other, if no othercriteria were to be imposed upon the decision making process. Therefore, lookyour best at all times in all job interviews. If you are unsure of theappropriate look, ask a friend who is in the same industry or do your research(online). This highly depends on what type of company you plan to work for andwhat position you are aiming for.

There is no harm in looking your best at all times. However,being at your best is not just about appearances. Looking pretty will not bringyou too far if you just stop there. Another important element in your personalbranding is your communication.

A well-versed individual can impress people wherever theygo. Fluency, diction, pronunciation, vocabulary and body language are thingsyou need to take note of when you are communicating. These elements worktogether to express your confidence and intelligence. To improve any elementunder communication, there are no shortcuts – practice, practice, and practice!

Some of the tactics that worked for me (as well as for somepeople I know): practice by talking to yourself (or to the mirror or while youare driving!); repeat after television newscasters; look up the difficult words(immediately) to increase your vocabulary; practice before your presentation(don’t be afraid to look silly role playing together with your slides or evenwith gestures); watch your body language as this equally gives off signs &can be misinterpreted; learn to look at people in the eye while conversing (toshow sincerity); voice modulation is important – if you know your voice is toosoft, work on your volume until you get it right.

Another branding element is recall. When you hear the brandAir Asia, what comes to mind? Cheap flights? Affordable? This is the same for theindividual. If someone were to ask about you, what do you think would be thedominant trait or description they would say about you? If you want to be knownfor something, then make sure you work towards that. For example, if you wantto be described as someone professional, you will need to make sure that yourimage, work ethics & choice of words will pave the way to that impression.

In conclusion, there are tons of books and trainingsavailable for good grooming, dressing for success, as well as communicationsskills. You don’t have to wait until you finish reading that self-help book or toget a certificate from some training. You can start increasing your brand valuetoday. The Internet, media and your circle of friends and family can be astarting ground. The most important is being conscious about it and wanting todo something to improve it today. Branding matters.

French Products & Shop for a Cause

Long ago when I worked for the radio station BFM 89.9, I chanced upon one of the touching interviews with the owner of Gadis Manis. Her story is so touching and special that I had to meet her in person after I listened to the podcast.

I visited her shop in Solaris Dutamas and fell in love with her work. Her stuff are really well designed and perfect as gifts for friends who have visited Malaysia or for foreigners who want to have a piece of Malaysia with them as a good remembrance.

It's funny because of a little coincidence that happened today. I wore one of the shirts I bought from Gadis Manis to school today (currently I am studying in Alliance Francaise Bangsar). I got compliments from the French teachers and they quickly noted down the name of the shop. They immediately thought of SHANGHAI TANG when they saw my shirt -- and true enough that is the inspiration of the owner of Gadis Manis. Just when I had all that discussion about the brand, I received an email from the owner... and had to share this piece of news.

For all lovers of French products and would like to shop for a good cause, do drop by the upcoming event.  It will be a good place to shop for unique gifts for your love ones this coming holidays.. plus the venue is a beautiful hotel which I find very charming. See you there.

Legoland & Hello Kitty Town in Malaysia

With a little girl who is about to turn 3 years old in November, I could not resist the thought of bringing her to see the newly opened Legoland and Hello Kitty Town. At the time of my research, Legoland is below 6 months old while one cannot find a lot of info on Hello Kitty Town yet.

On Nov 16-18, 2012 we spent some time in Johor, something we have not yet done despite living here in Kuala Lumpur for almost 6 years now. Nothing in Johor really prompted us to visit that place. And now, with the allure of both parks we made our way there.

Driving was smooth and so easy. The road was straight almost all the way. Unlike Penang and Cameron Highlands, this trip was an easy drive. I switched with hubby every now and then to break the monotony since it was getting too "boring" as it was a straight drive almost all throughout. We needed a few breaks which was easily available. The drive with little daughter was pretty easy and it took us about 4 hours from Mont Kiara.

We reached Johor about lunch time and headed straight to the Italian restaurant (which I read about on TripAdvisor). Will probably make my own comments on TripAdvisor when I get the time. The place was okay and I wouldn't say I would go over the top just to go back there.

After lunch we checked in to a boutique hotel in town, which I will also comment on TripAdvisor. We didn't waste any time and went straight to Hello Kitty town about 2:00pm. It was a 30-minute drive from town.

We stayed from 2:30pm to 5:00pm, which I would say was enough time to spend in Hello Kitty Town. We didn't bother going to the other attraction which was right at the same building (which includes Bob the Builder and Barney, etc) since we didn't have enough time. You can buy combo tickets for both attractions or just buy for one park. For expats: don't forget to bring your Resident Pass card or whatever identification that shows you have a work permit or resident status in Malaysia as that allows you a discounted price for the entrance fees.

A quick run down on Hello Kitty Town:

- very cute and suitable for little girls between the age of 2-10 years old (in my humble opinion). Which means it was perfect for my little one. I saw lots of older girls like teenagers who were also smitten by the Hello Kitty fever. I must admit I enjoyed it too, especially as I grew up with all the Sanrio characters back in Manila
- they had a tea cup ride which was perfect for my little girl. Cute. Not too wild. Just enough to entertain her and she got on it about 5 to 6 times! We went on a Friday so that meant less people than the weekend crowd. The staff mentioned that it was less busy than weekends. So I suggest that people go off-peak else it would have been hell to queue up for all the stuff there.
- they had a nail salon session as part of the activities you will find in Kitty Town. My little girl enjoyed it and I found the small stickers sooooo cute! However, in true Malaysian fashion, maintenance is an issue. The concept was good: little girls with their parents can go into a room and do some nail polish time... however: the nail polish were all dried up and sticky (too thick already), they ran out of nail polish remover and they did not provide ample time for people to enjoy inside. I would say they need a lot of improvement in overall execution of the activities
- same goes for the other activity which is jewelry making. Instead of having some fun experience making something with my daughter, the staff just decided (maybe on that day?) to just hand out the Hello Kitty necklaces. It made a nice remembrance for our trip, however I would have enjoyed better if we had the true experience of what the creator probably had thought of in the first place. Execution, execution, execution
- horrible toilet experience!!! We arrived and at the toilet they did not have tissue paper. One would think that if we pay RM50 for the entrance fee (per person), they would at least have decent toilets with paper??? Especially as we would be coming with little ones!
- at close to 5pm, the cafe at the ground floor, which was supposed to give you a hello kitty cafe experience was plain, well, ordinary and lacking of variety. I tried to order cupcakes but the staff there explained everything was almost finished because it was close to end of the day. Hmm... I would have thought they would make more cute stuff in Kitty designs to give you a superb experience. I was wrong.
- The souvenir shop: they ran out of the Hello Kitty Castle which was at the play area and the kids all loved it. When I asked, they said they ran out. I wish they could at least analyze what are the fast-moving items and stock on it? Clearly it was super popular with the little girls and they had a model unit for playing at the store.
- The photography: they had some photo shoot service and again maybe we were unfortunate. All the shots taken were so-so, and when we had one nice family shot, the girl didn't center it and instead took more of the sofa and the empty space on the side. We asked if it could be cropped and the answer was no. We didn't get to buy any photo... sigh.
- My daughter enjoyed the maze part of the activity. There was a problem-solving part which you had to hold your own lantern and solve the riddle. She enjoyed the little activity (me and hubby too). That was worth doing and glad they did such a thing.
- They have this street show which was short but nice. Hello Kitty and friends would come on stage and dance with little girls. That was fun.
- the parking was unfinished at the venue. We parked at the basement and had to suffer a lot of noise and cement smell. It was not even stroller-friendly. I would highly say the place is still half-finished. Perhaps if you visit after 6 months it will be better
- I read many articles where people were expecting a big Hello Kitty Town like Japan or China. There are NO (as in NONE) outdoor activity. This is simply a big building where they housed Hello Kitty town in one floor. It is just a fun thing to do with the kids for maybe half a day. Don't go with too high expectations... Legoland is a totally different story (and the investment that was put there is way different)

Overall, I can imagine if the place was packed, we would not have enjoyed as much. I have my share of complaints but my daughter did enjoy the trip. So it was worth going -- however don't fly to Johor or drive there just for Hello Kitty town only. I find that is impractical. Make sure it will be a joint trip with Legoland.

Legoland - Nov 17, 2012
By the time we went there, we read many reviews and expected hot weather. Online, people complained about the lack of trees and shade -- which I can totally understand and comprehend now. It was extremely hot when we arrived at the opening time (10am). There were hundreds of people by the time we arrived. I would highly recommend that people go during opening time to maximize the day. And also because during this time, it often rains in the afternoon (in KL)... and the same happened to us on that day. It rained at 3pm and it was non-stop until 7pm. Basically we just enjoyed half a day at Legoland.

I thought the place was well built. You can see the infrastructure was well thought of. The lack of trees and shade, well, I hope they can address that because you can really die of heat! It was extremely hot and you need to be prepared with sunblock, umbrellas, hats and water. Yes, you can bring your own food and drink (which is so different from the usual amusement parks).

We enjoyed some of the rides with our toddler: like the Lego boat, the airplane and the choo-choo train around Legoland. They even have a toddler mini choo choo train which was cute and perfect for my daughter to ride alone.

We did not have enough time to finish the whole Legoland. In fact, I would recommend 2 days for that if you have little children with you. The queues were long for some of the rides... long, hot and tiring. Some of the staff were very friendly and helpful... while others -- you could see boredom in their faces and they didn't have the jolly look which I thought these people should be having since they are at an amusement park (and supposed to deliver happiness to guests?). Disneyland and Universal Studios were better at their "happy staff" execution.

For the lunch, I would say the food is okay. I would not rave about it yet I cannot complain. It was okay and we spent about RM 90 for 3 adult lunch sets plus 1 child lunch set. It was chaotic though at the lunch area... the cashier counters and the condiments area were not well planned (again, my humble opinion) and there could be some improvement there.

My little girl was about to turn 3 years old. So on the day of the visit she was not 3 years old yet, hence we did not have to pay for her entrance fee.

It is a good concept and I am glad they opened in Malaysia. Just hope they will improve over time. Maybe a year from now when they open the Legoland hotel it would be worth revisiting. Meantime, I find it was worth the money and time going there.  Parents with little kids will enjoy the place as there were lots to do with toddlers.

We stayed 2 nights in total at Johor. If I do come back, I would not book the boutique hotel (it was too cramped for my taste though the service and staff were extremely helpful and wonderful).  Maybe I will book Thistle to ensure quality and space. Or hoping that the Legoland hotel will be open by then.

My little girl had fond memories of the visits and still mentions it every now and then. Glad we did it. Not too pricey, not too far and perfect for little girls. 

One of the better rides for toddlers

Hmm... I wonder who is taller?

A great place for toddlers to play and run

For 3 years old and above I think they will enjoy driving around in Lego cars

Sunny day -- be prepared with sunscreen!

The Choo-Choo train which my daughter enjoyed. Good for little ones

At the entrance of Legoland

One of the best rides for young kids --- they feel independent as they ride themselves sans adult supervision

Had a grand time in Legoland

The baby area -- they had a place especially for babies. Didn't check out the inside since mine is a toddler. I am sure parents of young babies will appreciate this area

One of the computers at Hello Kitty Town

Hello Kitty goddess

Daddy and daughter enjoyed this little teacup ride. Dizzy!

The Hello Kitty Town not fully "cleaned up"... I hope they get their act together after months of operation. 

Enjoying the Hello Kitty teacup ride

Super sunny day at Legoland. See Choo Choo train passing by the water area

Kids get to drive the cars themselves

Boat ride was fun -- a must do for those with toddlers 
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