“In this ever-changing society, the most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. They are real and sustainable. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign.” – HOWARD SCHULTZ, CEO & CHAIRMAN, STARBUCKS
In part one of my series “Developing your Professional Brand Image,” I discussed the specific components of developing a professional brand image for yourself. This was intended as a high-level view of aspects you need to be aware of when actually building out your professional brand. To close out this series, I will provide you with the Professional Branding Process and the steps one must take to develop and actually roll out your brand to your “consumers.” Many Fortune 500 companies go to great lengths to protect their brand images. As business professionals, we should want to do the same for ourselves.
THE PROFESSIONAL BRANDING PROCESS
- Discover and Define Yourself and Your Goals
The first step in creating your professional brand image has everything to do with self-awareness and plotting your future career goals. As discussed in part one, your brand image is an external representation of your internal value that you offer others. Your discovery and defining process in this case should include your personal perception on things such as your work ethic, demonstrated skills, personal preferences and style, personal goals, core values, talents and passions. It is important to keep in mind that all these elements should be discovered and defined with your target audience in mind, as this will positively impact the career goals you set out to accomplish.
- Creating Your Brand Image
As you start to create your brand image, awareness of what you want to be known for versus what you are currently known for is extremely important. Self-awareness again plays a key role here. The first step in the brand image process is defining how you think others currently perceive you, i.e., what you are really known for. What are your leading attributes and what value do you offer others? Make a list of the talents, skills, abilities and knowledge others associate you with. When thinking about what you want to be known for, start to define your leading attributes. List the talents, skills, abilities and knowledge that you want others to associate you with. However, be aware of barriers to your success. Make sure you feel confident that you can achieve those talents, skills and abilities and that they are attainable. As you start to complete the first steps in this process, your professional “brand image” will start to take shape and come to life.
- Develop Your Marketing Plan and Deliver
You have now completed the discovery and creation process of your new professional image and feel good about who you are and how you define yourself. The next step is to develop an actual “go to market” strategy for your newly defined “product” (which is you). It is important to keep in mind when rolling out your newly defined brand that it is distinctive, relevant to what others deem important and consistent, meaning that the elements of your brand work together. Using these characteristics, build a professional branding statement for yourself that helps you focus and verbalize your brand image. To assist you in this, it is recommended that you use the following formula:
WHO YOU ARE
WHAT YOU DO
+ TARGET AUDIENCE =
PERSONAL BRANDING STATEMENT
As you begin to deliver your new professional brand image, it is important to keep in mind that the choices you make and actions you take define how others will “brand” you. Understand the expectations of your new brand and outperform them. You must approach each day like it’s an interview and meet it with relentless passion. Ensure that you are extremely focused, honest and believable when delivering your new image. Overall, bring a level of expertise into what you do so that you start to become a valuable commodity to those around you.
- Get Feedback
Now that you have rolled out your new professional brand image to your target audience, it is now time to do what all consumer product companies do when rolling out a new product: Solicit a focus group to get raw feedback as to the perception of your newly developed image. In this exercise, let others help define your new brand image and how they perceive the “new you.” Solicit feedback from individuals such as company leaders, peers, recruiters, professors, managers, friends, relatives and your spouse on how they feel you look, act and speak; ask what is their perception of your ability and future potential; how you work with others on a team; how they feel about your ability to solve problems; what is their perception of your proven ability to perform and deliver results; and how do your objectives fit the long-term organizational goals? In this step, it is important to be open to constructive feedback and start to take action to improve upon your weaknesses. Keep positive feedback in perspective, but leverage your strengths throughout. Armed with all of this valuable feedback, make the appropriate changes to help you better develop your new image. Once you make those changes, you are good to go. But remember, your professional image is an ever-developing product, so be ready to adapt, change and tweak along the way.
Just like company brands, a positive professional brand image can take a relatively long time to establish compared to how quickly it can be destroyed. Make sure your brand not only stands out but also stands for something. It is said that failure comes from arrogance and complacency, so always try to be great, not just good.
“Watch your thoughts. They become words. Watch your words, they become actions. Watch your actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become character. Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.” – FRANK OUTLAW, FOUNDER OF BI-LO SUPERMARKETS
CRAIG W. PETRUS joined the Hough Graduate School of Business in June of 2009. As Director, Craig is responsible for the day-to-day operations of Graduate Business Career Services and ensuring the delivery of quality career development programming and services to students within the Hough Graduate School of Business at the University of Florida.