Its not what you say…
Claire was apoplectic going on about the unfairness of it all. “Ive got a huge SoMe footprint, profiles in all the right places, I blog like a speed freak on a caffeine break and still I can’t get my brand through! WTF!” Claire exclaimed as we enjoyed the java at Thunderbird’s, simply the best coffee shop in a town well known for coffee shops.
She’d been at her firm over two years, led or co-led five high-profile projects but still couldn’t get her company to give her the big projects and concurrent recognition she felt her brand deserved. She felt she was on the leading edge while her colleagues found her a poor collaborator.
In coaching her I’d checked in with mentors and peers and managers and discovered the basic truth: Claire was seen as someone who didn’t understand the fundamentals of the business nor the future for her industry. With her projects seen as only marginally successful and some an absolute waste, the die was cast: she won’t be getting any more leadership opportunities there.
Leading edge or non-collaborator? Her perceived brand and real brand weren’t in sync.
T (short for Turbo Man “because I’m always on!”) is a favorite colleaugue, young, athletic and full of energy. T’s big problem is that while he’s always on he’s frequently off-target making more left turns than right. Like the hare he often has his attention diverted going down rabbit holes (I could not resist) taking colleagues along for an energetic run while the tortoise went blithely on producing results as T produced noise.
T sees himself as that bundle of energy that just won’t stop. His colleagues see him as a kid who gets distracted by shiny objects and suffers from a lack of tact and judgement. Tact we can help you with a lá Emily Post, but to paraphrase Ron White, you can’t fix judgement.
T too will need a reboot if he will ever slow down enough to listen.
Steve opened up a consulting firm out of a storefront on Congress Avenue, the most expensive commercial real estate in my little town. We’d been colleagues in a tech firm (God, I love tech…) but he’d gotten in way early, picked up boatloads of options which later split and was/is a bona fide millionaire. He was also confused.
Like a lot of the people we worked with he was confused between lucky and smart. Our founder was smart: he made a boatload of money for a lot of people and there isn’t a day that goes by thatI’m not thankful I was there. But I’m not confused: I was lucky, not smart.
Steve saw himself as an expert in global logistics management. The market saw him as a slightly arrogant too-proud lucky guy. His gig closed in less than half a year.
All of these people – friends, colleagues and clients of mine – suffered from brand management blues. They spent so much time telling themselves and others who they were they forgot the first rule of brand management: your brand isn’t who you say you are, its who others say you are. Your brand is defined by others in reaction to what you do and don’t do.
I spent the first twelve years of my career at P&G: I understand a little about brand management. What I learned from the excellent brand managers that firm is built on is that the market dictates your brand in reaction to their experience with you. I don’t advise people on brand management, I advise them on career.
Do what you have passion for, be mostly right, work harder than the next person: these are all brand attributes the market will notice.
Should you build a cool profile, pimp yourself on SoMe and create blogs and links and web pages extolling your brand? Knock yourself out, but its probably not the best return on your investment in my view.
A better brand management strategy might be to work really hard to be really good at whatever you do, and get known for what you give and what you give back. To become known as someone who’s always learning and open built on a foundation of integrity.
Your brand isn’t what you say it is, its what the market says it is.