It's a brand new work world. And I do mean "brand."
It used to be that only large businesses worried about branding. To thrive, they had to distinguish their company from the competition. This meant carving out a niche based on competitive advantages and specific corporate attributes. They crafted and maintained a strategic brand--a unique, useful promise to current and prospective customers--to gain brand equity and loyalty. This was business, after all.
But things have changed. The 21st century is the age of free agents and custom ringtones. Nike doesn't just sponsor Tiger Woods; Tiger Woods sponsors Tiger Woods (check out the personal logo on his cap). Today, branding occurs at the individual level. This is especially noticeable in service industries, but increasingly in others as well. Everything about you, from the type of cell phone you carry and the vocabulary you use, to the brand of coffee you drink, says something about who you are and what you can do for the rest of us.
In business today, your most important job is to promote yourself. You probably won't work the same job from graduation until retirement. More likely, your future depends on leveraging your strengths along a winding career path ripe with possibilities. To take advantage of these opportunities, you need to stand out in a crowd. You must become your own brand.
Essentially, this means distinguishing yourself based on your "competitive advantages," including unique professional skills, life experiences, character strengths and personality traits. Here are some suggestions to get you started:
1. Ask the No. 1 question in branding: What makes you different than others, particularly others in your field? What qualities, experiences and skills make you special? Generate a list of personal brand attributes, and then prioritize them.
Your brand is a promise of the value you'll deliver to your customer. It's important to consider how you add value. For every feature, there's a corresponding benefit. Are you always on time? This translates to reliable service. Do you tend to think out of the box? You're a problem-solver. The more unique your brand is in your field, the better. If you add value like everyone else in your industry, it's not considered a competitive advantage. Look for ways--even small ways--that make you different and thus more valuable and irreplaceable to customers.
Ironically, it's really not about you. Like business branding, you must consider the needs and desires of your prospective customers. What are they looking for? This is a critical but often-overlooked component of personal branding. For example, if your competitive advantage is dogged reliability in a field defined by fast-paced innovation, you need to rethink either your brand or your field.
2. Write a mission statement that includes three or four of your top brand attributes. Include ones you already possess and those you're still working on. Keep in mind you're not defined by a company or a title. The only organization you belong to for life is yours. Create a mission statement that promotes who you are and who you are becoming.
3. Create a personal logo, like Tiger Woods did. People remember pictures and color (a logo) before they remember text (a name). Adding a logo to your personal business cards makes you stand out in a crowd. The symbol in your logo can serve in other capacities, including an embellishment to personal stationery or as a favicon for your website. (Try creating your own logo for free at LogoYes.com)
4. Broadcast your brand. Use personal business cards, create a personal website and network with colleagues to promote your attributes. Everything you say and do--from how you greet others and answer the phone to how you dress and carry yourself--sends a message about your brand. Strive for consistency.
5. Establish credibility. Join professional and community organizations, take or teach a class, give a lecture, start a blog or contribute to an e-newsletter. Constantly search for ways to get your name out there. Equally as importantly, hone your skills whenever possible.
6. Be your own brand manager. Don't be afraid to tweak your brand based on feedback from these forays. The success of any branding campaign depends on what the market thinks. Equally as important, preserve your brand with pit-bull determination.
The opportunities to brand yourself are endless. Seize the day, You, Inc.