How to Establish Your Brand
Target and Chipotle enjoy cult-like brand stature. But so, perhaps, did your favorite high school teacher. How?
Let's take Mrs. Demming, my personal favorite. Was she "top of mind"? Yes. My classmates worried about her opinion back then and reminisce about her even now. She embodied specific values and created an emotional connection that any Fortune 500 brand would envy. And she sustained loyalty year after year.
So Mrs. Demming, wherever you are: A+ for personal branding.
According to Wikipedia (speaking of great brands), "branding and brand equity have become increasingly important components of culture and the economy, now being described as 'cultural accessories and personal philosophies.' " In other words, a brand sums up a complex worldview into a very simple set of messages or icons. So think for a minute. Just who exactly are you? What do you do? Who are your "consumers"? And why does it matter?
In case the answers don't immediately flood to mind, here are a few strategies to help you figure it out.
Transgress boundaries. In most situations, people consider crossing lines as the last thing they should do. Wrong. It should be the first. Court danger from the start. At work, "boundaries" include departmental silos, job descriptions, project parameters, and deliverables. In what ways can you excel by looking for opportunities outside your department? By rattling the status quo? By pushing beyond expectations?
Start a conversation. Say you saunter up to a stranger at a party and begin rattling off your accomplishments. Soon, you'll be standing alone at the cheese platter, right? Yet this is generally how most presentations and job interviews go: Somebody tries to sell his message by pushing a one-way dialogue. Soliloquies don't help your brand; conversations do. Instead of assuming you know all the answers, the key is to engage others. By increasing participation and sharing ideas, you draw others in, rather than sending them running for the exits.
Connect with emotion. Style and intellect will help you to make a quick flash with colleagues and customers. A critical Powerpoint presentation, for instance, should be visually exciting. But if you're trying to be remembered for longer than the one-hour slide show, connect emotionally.
In the workplace, an emotional connection doesn't mean running into your boss's office sobbing. (Ahh, no.) It means taking time to bond meaningfully, on a human level. Instead of sending an IM to the project manager across the hall, walk over to talk your idea through. Instead of sending a memo to the new employee, invite her out to lunch.
Extreme collaboration. You may already hold many of the tools you need to brand yourself, but through strategic partnerships, you can become far more than you ever could alone. When the La-Z-Boy furniture brand sagged under a sleepy reputation, they dove into extreme collaboration, developing a partnership with naughty-boy niche designer Todd Oldham which gave the brand a shot of unexpected sex appeal. In the workplace, it's easy to stay stuck in our own comfort zone. But by considering partnerships outside your department or company, you can draw upon skills, clients, networks, and areas of expertise to catapult your performance to the next level.
Hit the refresh button. When you're web browsing, information quickly grows stale if you don't hit the "refresh" button. Same with branding. Consider how Google reinvented its own advertising model, despite the fact that they only recently invented that model. In the same way, we must each constantly seek new ways to avoid growing stale.
In what ways are you looking at possible innovations in your own career? In marketing, for instance, the trend has moved away from traditional media and toward interactive and digital media. If your work experience only includes print ads and TV commercials, it might be time to refresh your projects, your clients, or even your job.
All any of us want is for our personal brand to be as fabulous as W Hotels and as highly regarded as Southwest Airlines. Now you know how.
MBA Jungle, December 2007