It’s hard to come across career development advice without someone telling you that you should “have a professional brand.” But where does this branding business fall on the must-have scale?
Keep in mind that the idea of having a professional brand is by no means a trendy fad or a new concept. In the early days, it went something like this: Come up with a business idea that fulfills a need, make a promise, open shop, name the business after yourself and people will come. Keep your promise and people will keep coming (known as brand loyalty).
Professional branding is rooted in a value promise
The good news is that you don’t have to have a marketing degree to grasp the concept of branding. That’s because you are a customer. Every single day, you are choosing where to invest your time, energy, trust and money based on based one thing: a unique value promise in return for the financial, physical or emotional investment you are making. That promise may be rooted in a healthier option, fewer ingredients, quality, better performance, faster news, a smarter product, kinder customer service, convenience or authenticity, and so on.
Professional branding, in simplest terms, is the packaging of your one-of-a-kind occupational value promise in a way that stands out from others who are competing in the same space as you.
Two principal reasons it’s a good idea to have a professional brand
Given today’s incredibly competitive job market, it’s not that difficult to understand the important role of establishing marketplace individuality. The purpose of branding is twofold: awareness plus persuasion. In other words, how will you become known, what will you be known for and importantly, how do you convince a hiring manager of your greatness?
The front end of hiring process today is much more formulaic and less personal than it’s ever been. With hundreds of applications pouring in, how are hiring managers to discern the good from the great? The mavens from the mediocre? There are just too many candidates with similar experiences, knowledge, background and training. You are an individual with a unique set of strengths—and it’s become increasingly necessary to find stand-out ways that endorse those traits.
Five key elements your professional brand should have
1. Identity. Who you are professionally and personally are often linked. That’s because who you are is often tied to your personal beliefs, morals, ethics and values. To help shape your professional identity ask yourself: what is it you do or know? (skills + education + experience + personal values), who do you do want to do it for (what age groups, communities or industry do you want to serve?) and why do you do it (what's your purpose?)
2. Value. Presumably, you are improving or enhancing something else. Specify what that is. Can you bring in more sales? Manage time, relationships or conflict? Improve productivity?
3. Distinction. What is your point-of-differentiation? It may sound cliche, but you are one of a kind and therefore, so is your value. How can you package and demonstrate that? It's quite possible. Just think of entire grocery store aisles dedicated to cereal or carbonated drinks.
4. A good story – Storytelling is an important component that helps showcase your professional progression in a clear and compelling format. Where did you start and how did you get here? What's more, it's an easy way to engage and connects with others. Think about the components that make a good story and start building your professional tale.
5. Promise. Simply put, it's your commitment to deliver – consistently and for the long-term.
In a herd of cattle, find your inner giraffe
The phrase “branding” can be intimidating or even off putting and suggestive of corporate marketing jargon or a herd of homogeneous cattle. You may prefer to think of it as your hallmark, imprint or fingerprint.
I happen to love giraffes. Giraffes are known to walk with confidence, have long necks which they use to assess their environment strategically, are forced to stand tall no matter what (they can't help it!) and each one has a unique pattern of spots. All excellent branding qualities. So in a herd of branded cattle, find your inner giraffe.