It’s probably rare to encounter anyone who will admit to intentionally watching television commercials and taking notice of newspaper or magazine ads. A rather geeky trait I suppose, but I’ve always found the concept of advertising, marketing and branding quite intriguing. Having no comprehension of football and minimal interest in understanding the sport, my only reason to watch the Super Bowl is for the highly anticipated debut of all of the creative commercials. And, of course the half-time entertainment, which usually includes some form of product placement and cross-promotion as well. While most people find those things intrusive and annoying, I tend to become fixated on them and consider them worthy of attention. Perhaps it is due to consideration of how those techniques translate to personal and professional branding efforts that makes this an area of interest for me…
When mentioning branding in particular, I get a sense that most people’s eyes glaze over while they politely listen and try to decipher my affinity for something that is typically taken for granted. I’m not sure why I’m drawn to original and unique concepts for brand messages or imagery, but there are certain variations and styles that become engrained in my memory. Many times, I actually find myself analyzing what the marketers are trying to accomplish, who they are targeting and whether their campaign is effective. Of course, it is important for them to know their audience and stay abreast of changes in the environment. I’m always curious about how they are doing that… Another result of these ingenious branding efforts is the buzz they generate which turns into word of mouth advertising.
Our personal and professional brands are subject to the same type of exposure over time as many traditional consumer product brands. Essentially our conduct, knowledge, skills and abilities define our brand the same way quality, value, service or innovation is associated with tangible products. Of course, significant differences exist between individual or organizational branding efforts. Most notably the distinction is that as individuals we tend to do all of this without the aid of agencies or publicists - meaning we only get to rely on our reputation with peers, colleagues and others to help organically build a brand.
When thinking about the effectiveness of our brand, it is helpful to consider the quality and quantity of enduring relationships from each phase of our careers. As is the case between consumers and marketers, professional relationships are developed over time, usually out of mutual trust, respect and shared values and interests. Using a consumer related example to illustrate, let’s say a person moves away and no longer gets to shop at or eat at a favorite place – but every time they come back to town, that is the first place they visit. Sometimes, something or someone might be out of sight or out of mind for a while, but they are never completely forgotten. That is the sign of a meaningful brand.
Personally, this topic has come up several times recently, causing me to reflect about which relationships remain intact even after many years of not being in the same environment where they originated. Fortunately, I’ve been able to spend time in a diverse collection of settings in which I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with many talented individuals. The best part is that those are the ones that have transformed into long-term mutually beneficial relationships. The way to identify such relationships is that despite lack of recent exposure, either party would still feel comfortable supporting the other in their current or future endeavors. Just like revisiting a favorite spot when the opportunity presents itself, having a solid professional brand will be reflected with that same type of loyalty.
In addition to building an impressive professional brand in the first place, one must nurture relationships in order for them to create a lasting impact. Networking is one of the easiest ways to accomplish this. Of course, networking is another eye-glaze-inducing topic… Not always a favorite of mine either, but gradually I’ve come around to realize that it doesn’t have to be unpleasant. I also appreciate the need to practice what I preach - more often then not!
For me networking is not about going around meeting a bunch of strangers to find out how they might be able to help out. Rather, it is a way to establish and foster relationships with others out of genuine interest in getting to know then. I would compare this to how marketers conduct consumer research in order to target their audience, provide solutions and occupy their niche. Probably some of the worst misconceptions about networking are due to the “what’s-in-it-for-me” (WIIFM) types that perpetuate their self-serving agendas. My advice is to steer clear of them whenever possible and stick to finding authentic people to associate with. Most importantly, keep an open mind about how and when networking takes place. It can be a simple as striking up a conversation at the car wash or as elaborate as attendance at a formal cross-country business symposium.
There have been some unique developments in our culture which make it tough to predict how professional branding will continue to evolve. For certain, it will become more important for each of us as professionals to maintain focus on differentiation as independent solution providers. Emerging trends should be analyzed as they may have profound a impact on our ability to remain marketable. There are plenty of examples of business models which failed to stay in touch with consumer demands. Whether they simply became obsolete or were replaced by an enhanced version – when translating that concept from a product to a person, it sounds even more powerful.
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