How To Build a Relevant and Truthful Professional Brand

Customers are fiercely loyal to brands they like, and those brands become wildly successful.

What was once called a reputation is now called a brand, and we are told that anyone can have one. My colleague Dr. Jim Bright, author of Chaos Theory of Careers, notes that you can brand a swine but it still has to be processed before anyone wants to eat it. Branding is really just a buzzword for building a reputation, and it cannot be done as quickly as most of the branding merchants will tell you.

You can brand objects, but people are more difficult, because people change within themselves almost constantly, and they change jobs and careers so frequently that the brand has to be flexible, has to be able to evolve without losing its identity.

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As you commit to greater involvement in the evolution and management of your professional destiny, you have to look at your career with the same consideration for objectivity and strategic development that an established corporation uses for its sustained growth. You have decided to develop new transferable skills and polish existing ones, have moved along a path to more consciously integrating your professional values into how you think about and conduct your professional life, and after considerable self-analysis you have a killer resume focused on a target job.

Your job search is a major sales campaign, and the final preparations before launch must include tweaking your marketing communications documents to ensure the product you are taking to market is clearly defined, with enough distinctive features to differentiate you from others. At this point you should have a more thorough knowledge of the product you are taking to market than you have ever had before, so now is the time to consider ways to further define your legitimate professional persona, the face you show to the world of work, and the supporting documents that position you (resume, letters, e-mails). When you do this in a conscious manner, it gives people a distinct way to look at you, and if the promises made by your professional brand are substantiated by your work habits, your reputation/brand will grow.

Beware of Instant Brand Promises
Considerable rubbish has been written about personal branding by a legion of freshly minted branding coaches with few or no credentials in career management or advertising and no understanding of the damage that can be wrought by irresponsible quackery. In some of the  coaching communities that straddle the netherworlds of professional culture it is generally believed that to say something is to make it true. Who am I to say this isn’t okay in a “personal brand” and your personal life? But your professional life and your professional brand are a different matter, because what you say in speech and writing will be examined, and when the truth is seen to be exaggeration, hyperbole, or outright fabrication, it will destroy that relationship and sour potential employers. Besides, people get around: Large professions become small communities as the years roll by, so you must be respectful of the collective memory of your professional community.

You Must Have a Relevant and Truthful Brand
It is all too easy to brand professional attributes that are of little interest to your target market, and just as easy to over-promise on, or overlook, attributes that are of interest. If you rush to create a professional brand with limited appeal, it’s your own fault for not taking the time to understand what your target market wants.

If you over-promise, the employer might initially be attracted by the pizazz of your resume, but when you aren’t able to live up to its promises, or are seen as all thunder and no lightning in your job interviews, it will backfire.

If a box of cereal doesn’t live up to the brand’s hype, you simply don’t buy it again. But sell yourself into the wrong job and it is likely to cost you that job and haunt you for years with collateral career damage. You have to be able to stand behind and deliver on the brand you create.

Branding Is a Long-term Marketing Strategy
Branding is the process by which you consistently draw attention to the ways your product is special: the sum of these special attributes creating the brand. Differentiating the message that defines the professional you and keeping that message consistent and visible in all you say, do, and write is what constitutes a professional brand.

Think of your professional brand as a thoughtful way of defining how you want to be seen in your professional world. When you create a professional brand as part of an overall career management strategy, it gives you focus and motivation, and over time offers others an easy way to differentiate you.

The Geico Gecko Didn’t Happen Overnight
A brand is the public face that makes MeInc memorable. All the most outstanding commercial brands have a distinct personality: That green gecko with the funny English accent immediately springs to mind.

The question is, what came first, Geico or the gecko? The product came first; the insurance giant was successful before the gecko became a household name, because the finely tuned personality that makes it so memorable backs a solid product.

Branding means creating a distinctive and memorable image of your professional persona as a means to an end: imprinting that professional persona onto the collective memory of the professional community (your customer base).

If you want a brand that helps you succeed professionally, you must consider what your customers want (they don’t want a lizard with a funny accent), and then develop a brand that resonates with the priorities of those customers. A well-conceived brand can give momentum to a product, but don’t put the cart before the horse: A great product comes before the packaging. To be successful, the public face you create in developing a professional brand needs to be based on a firm foundation of the skills, behaviors, and values desirable to your customers.

It’s easy to mistake all the hype about branding for an instant solution to all your professional challenges, but brand development takes time because you have to get it right. Your priority is to build the core of your brand: those transferable and technical skills and professional values that your customers want most, want now, and will always want. Get the basics down, own them in everything you do, and identify yourself as such in your marketing materials; beyond this, let your brand/reputation evolve over time.

Focus on building the backbone of your brand so that you embody a product worthy of branding: one that resonates with the priorities of your customers. No one gets hired or promoted because their winning personality trumps their lousy skills. But if you are patient, when your brand supports a product built to meet the needs of your customers, it can make a real contribution to your credibility, visibility, and ultimately your long-term success, because people are fiercely loyal to brands they like and those brands become wildly successful, sometimes for generations.

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