When we think about “brands”, we generally think of consumer products and companies. We can conjure up brands like Domino’s Pizza, Volvo cars and Apple. The image that emerges when we think of them is the brand. With Domino’s, we think “fast”. While we don’t think “gourmet food”, we do think we can be eating pizza thirty minutes after ordering it. When we hear Volvo, we think “safety”. Apple we associate with “innovation”. These associations are the brand.
Companies carefully cultivate their brands over years in an effort to ensure that the impression they leave with you is the one they desire. When they are successful in creating a strong, desirable brand, it has “pull”; it creates action on the part of the consumer. In the case of Apple, consumers stand in line to be among the first to get Apple’s new “innovation”.
People can have a brand, too. As an example, Walter Cronkite’s brand was “trustworthy and honest”. If Walter Cronkite said it, you believed it. When you think of your co-workers, you probably have a couple descriptors that come to mind: the creative one; the analytical one; the organizer. These descriptors are shorthand for their brand. You have a brand, too. Whether you know it or not, you have made an impression on people. When people think of you, they have associations.
All executives should focus on building and marketing an exceptional professional brand. Your brand should not be left to chance.
What makes a good brand? The most important aspect of a brand is that it represents a distinctive and compelling. It must provide significant benefits that are not easily replicated elsewhere. A good brand has a position in the market. That position occupies a space that is unique and easily identifiable: often called the “market niche”. It is the area in which you excel.
A good brand has to be relevant. It does you no good to have a brand as “the class clown” when that has no relevance to your career in a software firm. On the other hand, if you are a monologue writer for the Tonight Show, being the class clown would be highly relevant.
Your brand must be consistent. Whatever distinctive and compelling value your brand represents, it must bring that value consistently. When you drink a Pepsi in Dallas, it will taste like the Pepsi you drink in Chicago. If your brand is “superior organization”, you must have superior organizational skills not just in the easy times, but more importantly in the most trying times: when your platform is reorganizing; when a key team member is on maternity leave; and when your firm is acclimating to a merger.
Finally, brands need to be supported. Brands need cultivation and investment. As a kid, I gave my dad Old Spice on Father’s Day. That brand languished until just a few years ago when it received the necessary cultivation and investment to reinvigorate it. Now Old Spice is “The man your man could smell like”. The new brand campaign has won awards and sales with a whole new clientele.
So why does having a professional brand matter? Just like with consumer products, a good professional brand has “pull”. It creates more recognition and opportunities. Your unique and compelling professional brand represents your essence as a business executive.
As state before, you already have a brand. Associations already exist among the people that work with you and know you. The question becomes, do you have the professional brand you want? Will the brand I have take me where I want to go professionally? Does it match my aspirations?
Therefore, the first step of building your professional brand is doing a situation analysis: what is your current professional brand and what is your desired professional brand?
Start the brand process by developing a 10-15 word brand identity statement that creates the associations you desire. This exercise will require introspection and focus. It should concisely describe who you are, what you do and how you benefit your market. It should look at you from the mind of your customers.
Finding out what your brand currently is can be difficult to do. We are not objective about ourselves. We see our outward actions through the lens of our inner motivations and thoughts. Getting objective information from co-workers can be problematic as well. Co-workers may downplay your more outstanding qualities both positive and negative for a variety of reasons (competitiveness, fear of hurt feelings, etc.). Ideally, you can get someone you trust to be objective and thorough (human resources, your manager, an outside consultant) to interview people on your strengths and weaknesses. An anonymous survey is also a good way to get good input.
Once you acquire the research on your current brand, a profile of your current brand should emerge. Some consensus on your qualities – your brand—should reveal themselves. Compare that brand profile to your brand identity statement. What do you need to change to get the brand you want? Bridging the gap between your current brand and your desired future brand is your Brand Marketing Plan. The brand marketing plan addresses the key brand principals: distinctive and compelling; well-positioned; relevant to your audience; consistent; and supported.
Let’s say your current profile says you are approachable, a good listener and introverted. Your aspirational brand, however, is approachable, a good listener and an effective communicator. You want to be seen as less an introvert and more as someone who has something important to say. Matching this change to the key brand principals, it is distinctive and compelling and it is relevant to your career. You know that people who effectively give presentations and convey the company’s goals and strategies are given better opportunities quicker than those who are not comfortable giving presentations and making the company’s goal accessible to their team. While you think you have consistently been a good communicator that aspect of your brand is not coming across. By supporting this aspect with a development and communication plan, you may achieve your aspirational brand. development plan is the tactics it takes to grow the brand dimension you desire. In this case, it could include something as easy as summarizing what people say to you back to them to ensure understanding, “so you are saying…” It could include asking people “was I clear?”, “do you have any questions?”, or “did we cover everything?” It could involve taking a public speaking course or joining Toast Masters.
A communication plan involves letting others know about your brand dimension. In this case it could be offering to give presentations inside the company or at industry functions. It could be taking on the role of liaison for your group to other groups within the firm such as accounting or sales.
A well-thought out professional brand is a guide post pointing in the direction you want to go. Brand building is a process that gets refined over time. The key is to begin that process today; it will pay dividends today and in the future.