Building a brand is something that I have been thinking about more and more as I try to move up in my firm. At any professional services firm, your brand can make or break your career – have a strong brand that everyone knows about and it can accelerate your career like nobody’s business. Have a weak brand and your career will stagnate and die a slow death. I’ll be honest, the firms (or at least the firms that I have worked for) don’t give a lot of guidance on how to build and strengthen your brand. Most consultants learn by moving up in the company and perhaps watching others. Heck, I’ve been in the industry for 5+ years and I don’t feel like I have a strong grip on building my own brand.

Tom Peters though used to work for McKinsey and Co and then he branched off on his own to publish books and to speak at seminars. If you know Tom Peters, you may associate him with “excellence” or “wow” or “revolutionary” – but how did he get associated with these terms? I picked up an interesting book called “the brand you 50” where Tom outlines 50 different ways of developing, defining and transforming yourself from an ’employee’ into a brand. Here are five things that I learned from reading the first few chapters of the book.

“The secret to life is to have a task…something you bring everything to… And the most important thing is – it must be something you cannot possibly do.” – Henry Moore, sculptor

Perhaps the most important tip in the book is the first tip – which is it is completely up to you to do the things that define, build and transform your brand. Well I suppose this isn’t quite right – if you don’t do anything then your brand will be defined for you and you might not like it (let’s be completely honest here, you certainly won’t like it). I like the quote above because it means one of two things: one – your current self cannot possibly do it but your future self can. Why? Your future self will have the skills, experience and network to be able to achieve that task. Or two – you have to recruit others to your mission. Could Google be a one person business? Probably not. But recruit enough people and you can build a business around a brand that is bigger than you.

“The attention economy is a star system… If there is nothing special about your work, no matter how hard you apply yourself you won’t get noticed, and that increasingly means you won’t get paid either.” – Michael Goldhaber, Wired

I look at some people around me. Heck, I look at myself a lot. If I’m honest with myself, I don’t work as hard as others that I see but I do see that there are a lot of very hard workers who don’t get far in life. So the quote above is interesting to me because not only do you have to work hard, you also have to have something special about the work that you’re doing. Whether it’s the way you deliver it. Whether it’s the way you market it. Whether it’s the way you support it after. Having something special means that you are also remarkable – helps with word of mouth and marketing after. I think that’s the point here – is to have something special, remarkable, unique, fascinating about your work that makes it worthy to talk about to others.

Three key skills = craft, distinction and networking skills

Craft = marketable skill; Distinction = memorable; and Networking skills = word of mouth collegial support.

I find that this is a simple framework to think about the projects that you work on. And believe me, every thing you work on is a project. Before beginning any project, think about what your craft is. What are you bringing to the project that nobody else can bring? How are you going to develop your craft? Challenge your craft to transform and improve in ways that are unique to this project. What distinguishes you from others and what can you do on the project that will do so? What will others be talking about after the project is done? (Crosses over into networking skills). And how can you market the success of this project, and the skills developed on this project to others so that others in your network can share with others?

Take a personal brand equity evaluation

Ask yourself the following to help guide you in building a brand:

  • I am known for [2-4 things]. By this time next year, I plan also to be known for [1-2 things]
  • My current project is challenging me in the following ways [1-3 things]
  • New stuff I’ve learned in the last 90 days includes [1-3 things]
  • Important new additions to my rolodex in the last 90 days include [2-4 names]
  • My public (local, regional, national, global) visibility program consists of [1-2 things]
  • My principal “resume enhancement activity” for the next 90 days consists of [1 item]
  • My resume is distinctly different from my resume last year at this point in time in these ways [1-2 items]

Don’t have the answers to these questions? You now have a plan for what to work on or think about.

Everybody should wear 8 hats

Tom believes that when you are building your brand (and this is more in the context of running your own business but can apply in other ways even if you are an employee) is that everybody wears 8 hats:

  • Marketing – your packaging has to be memorable. It must be clear how you can approach and serve clients.
  • Product development – you offer needed services or products. Your product / service portfolio is constantly being upgraded to serve the needs of clients
  • Operations – things need to run smoothly, whether its reports that need to be prepared or that your products / services are being maximally utilized.
  • Customer service – a critical piece of any business – how are you making sure that your customers and clients are your top priority?
  • Sales – sell, sell, sell.
  • Information management – extremely important in making sure that your information systems are a strategic asset and not something that will set you back. Can you access documents in a timely manner? Store them and back them up?
  • Time management – it’s likely that you and others won’t have enough time to do everything that you want to do. The key then here is to focus on the right things.
  • Planning – what is your mission? What are your values? How do you plan on growing and improving yourself / your brand/ your product portfolio / your business?

Did any of these resonate with you? What are you strategically or tactically doing to build, develop, define or transform your brand?

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