by Scott Hamilton, CEO, Executive Next Practices Institute (ENPI),
and Ron Wolf, Co-Founder, ALLIGN
The melding of your name and what you do best builds recognition and demand for your work.
If a shark stops swimming, it sinks. Constant movement is required for these legendary creatures to reign supreme at the top of the marine food chain.
Careers follow a similar pattern. Without movement, it’s all too easy for a career to sink into oblivion. That’s why smart executives are proactive in managing their careers, keeping a sharp watch for new opportunities that will propel them onward and up.
Developing a personal brand is a key component in keeping careers buoyant. Just as a commercial brand differentiates a product from all similar products in the field and makes it memorable to consumers, a personal brand captures for employers your “motivating difference” – what is it that makes you unique.
Executives who embrace personal branding recognize it as the launch pad that will place them in the path of potential employers. Even if you’re satisfied in your current job, consider a personal brand with an eye toward the future. Ideally, you should always be in the position of having to turn down job offers. If the offers aren’t coming in, it may be a sign your career is stagnating.
Experience Is No Longer Enough
A brand is your promise of what makes you different. If you’ve ever had a burger made your way, nibbled on candy that melts in your mouth and not in your hand, or drank a cup of coffee that was good to the last drop, you’ve experienced the power of branding. A powerful personal brand can shape not only how others see you, but even how you perceive yourself.
Think about the words or images that pop to mind when you think of a Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Carly Fiorina, or Jack Welch. Each brought an indelible stamp of recognition to the table. Boards, shareholders, and employers of today want more than a strong resume—they’re seeking distinction from those they hire.
Look at the people around you. What distinguishes your performance and at the same time contributes to the team? What makes you more capable, a better choice to lead a team or a project? If you don’t know the answer, you can guarantee your boss doesn’t either.
5 Steps to Creating Your Personal Brand
To create a branding strategy requires that you know who you are, your talents and core values, and the uniqueness of your history and experience that will add value. Use the steps below to begin the process of finding and forming your personal brand.
1. Identify “Moments of Purpose”
Moments of purpose are those times in your career or personal life when you know you’re doing exactly what you were meant to do. List up to ten “moments of purpose” when you were at the top of your game. What do the moments have in common? What were you doing, who were you with, and what qualities came forth that made you select these specific events as examples of you at your best? The commonalities will point you toward your dominant strengths to be used in your branding strategy.
2. Practice Courageous Canvassing
Others must see your personal brand as authentic and not something made up just to market yourself. You’ll want to interview decision-makers and key contacts within your industry and outside it. Solicit input from former employers and co-workers, peers, family, and managers. Prepare a list of questions. Decide ahead of time what insight you’re seeking to gain through the answers. Do you want an honest evaluation of your leadership skills? Do you want Feedback on how others see and respond to you? Ask others to list words that best characterize you. (You may want to give them a list with both positive and negative words already listed.)
3. Determine Your Unique Value
While it’s natural to want to present a laundry list of accomplishments, branding is about being specific. People won’t remember a list—they need you to provide them with the one trait or ability that makes you unique. That’s what they’ll cue in on and that’s what they’ll remember.
To assist in determining your unique value, define your target market and competition. What branding tacts are others taking? How do your branding promises stand up compared to theirs? Ask yourself, what is the one thought you would like others to hold about you? This is your “unique value” and is what you’ll integrate into every aspect of your brand dissemination.
4. Integrate Your Brand Into Your Life
To integrate a personal brand into your life, you first need to know where you’re going. What are your career objectives? Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten? Does your personal brand—again, that unique value you bring to the workforce—track with your career goals? If not, what activities can you engage in to realign your brand or are you sure your stated goals are really what you want (and not just what you think you should want)? Once you’re clear on your brand and purpose, integrate your brand into every aspect of your life. This means keeping your brand in the forefront of your mind in everything from the way you dress, to what you say, to the words and phrases you use in an executive bio, profile piece, resume, press release, speech, etc.
5. Commit to the Process
Branding isn’t a one-time event. As your skills and strengths evolve over time, your brand may change as well. Commit to the process and be willing to update and reevaluate what is and isn’t working for you in your brand and in your career.
One resource to assist you is …What’s Your BQ? Author Sandra Sellani (www.ebq100.com ) advises assessing and building your brand around a single, mesmerizing “motivating difference” that comes to mind when someone speaks your name or talk about your company. Ask yourself what it is about your work and character that stands out from the crowd. The job title—“Senior VP of Marketing” reveals nothing about the person behind the title. Employers want specifics: what’s unique about you that they should care about?
Let’s look at some examples of how a CFO might use a personal brand to position himself/herself in the market:
Bill Smith offers over twenty years experience in managing the finances of Fortune 500 companies, including but not limited to, overseeing accounting, budget, tax, and audit activities with a focus on improving cash flow. Yawn. Bill may be well-qualified, but is there anything there that makes you want to take Bill out to lunch? The text sounds like something lifted off Resumes-R-Us. Now compare with the version below.
Sara Jones is the #1 turnaround expert for small to mid-size companies in financial difficulty, specializing in identifying hidden value in assets.
Sara’s brand statement is short, memorable, specific and—most important—it shows how she adds value. If a mid-size company is struggling and looking to restructure, both Bill and Sara have the qualifications to lead them. But what will draw a company’s attention—ten people touting “twenty years experience,” or “the #1 turnaround expert for small to mid-size companies”?
A BRAND New You
Successful brand dissemination comes from buy-in. You may see yourself as a collaborator or visionary but if those around you see if differently, you’ll have a hard time making the brand stick. Drilling down to the core of your branding strategy will involve time, self-examination, accountability, and a solicitation of others’ opinions. All of which takes a commitment to the branding process and a full acceptance of the need to market a personal brand.
Is creating a personal brand worth your time?
Absolutely. A brand that resonates in the minds of others will do more for your career than any other marketing material ever could. Just as successful executives keep an ear close to the ground, listening for new opportunities to keep their careers on track, so too do employers keep a roving eye out for talent to bring on board.
Sink or swim? For those with a personal brand, it’s clear sailing ahead.
Additional questions to ask yourself as you work toward defining your personal brand:
• What does my ideal career look like?
• What accomplishments am I most proud of?
• When am I at my best (“moments of purpose”)?
• What do my moments of purpose have in common?
• Is my brand unique? Can I claim a niche where I am #1 and be perceived as credible?
• What does my competition do better than me? How do I compensate?
• Do I have any stories that show my brand in action?
• What word(s) do I want people to think of when they hear my name?
• How can I develop ongoing systems for obtaining feedback on my brand?
• How and where can I best disseminate my brand? (Papers, speeches, web sites, etc.)
• Am I comfortable promoting my brand? (Your brand should be a natural extension of yourself.)