What words and phrases come to your mind when you think of companies such as IBM? Coke? Apple Computers? Whole Foods? Southwest?
Companies invest time, money, and effort to carefully curate what we think of them, differentiate themselves in the market, and target specific customers. They spend millions and have hundreds of people dedicated to branding their product, all in an effort to demonstrate why they are different and valuable through intentional messaging. Simply said, they are deliberate about defining, promoting, protecting, and evolving their brand image so that customers will always think highly of their product or service and, most importantly, choose them.
Every company has a brand image, whether they manufacture products or provide services. Their brand demonstrates their value and is directly linked to the words and phrases that the customers use to describe that company. Like big companies, we too have a brand that demonstrates our value to our managers, colleagues, customers and community.
“Products are made in a factory, but brands are made in the mind”
How does this apply to us? Why does understanding our professional brand essential for professional growth?
In 2008, I was working for a fortune 20 company, earning a great salary, and leading global teams of engineers. I was identified as a top talent and was on the executive track. Externally, I looked accomplished and fulfilled. But, internally, there was something deep down nagging me: I did not feel passionate about my job despite my perceived success. I was always wondering what I could be doing differently. One day, I remember being on back-to-back conference calls, and in the middle of frantically transitioning from one call to the next, I caught myself wondering, “Why am I even doing this job?” After that moment, I couldn’t stop asking myself that question, but I could never give myself a good answer. After months, I decided to search online and looked for an executive coach to help me update my resume and to guide me through the career transition process.
In the first meeting with my new coach, I was excited to get down to business and hit the ground running with my career transition. Eagerly, I gave her my resume and asked her to update it. She smiled knowingly and responded, “We will do that eventually, but first we need to define your brand.”
“Define my brand?,” I said with confusion. “What does that mean?”
Then she started asking me a list of questions:
- What words do people use to describe you?
- What do you bring to work that others do not have?
- How do you differentiate yourself?
- What are you known for?
- How do others perceive you?
- How do you communicate your brand?
I stared at her nervously not knowing how to answer most of these questions with anything but vague responses and “I don’t knows.” I left our first meeting flush with embarrassment and with a deep pit of sadness in my heart, because for the first time, I felt like I didn’t even know who I was. I couldn’t tell her anything that made me unique and I definitely could not articulate why a company should hire me over someone else—much less someone else who knew their worth and uniqueness. For days, I was in shock and disturbed by my inability to express the basic facts of who I was and the value that I offer.