DEFINING AND DIFFERENTIATING YOUR BRAND
by Greg Fall (2011 version updated for 2012)
Question: When you have been tasked with a run to the supermarket to pick up some items for a social networking event with some senior managers, are you more likely to choose a known brand or do you take a chance on an unknown, less expensive no-brand alternative?
Question: If you had to pick the members of a critical task force or team with significant responsibility, are you more likely to choose co-workers known for their accomplishments, teamwork, and specialty expertise or do you take a chance on lesser known associates?
Question: If your family was in a crisis situation out at sea and needed to be rescued, would you be more likely to entrust the mission to the United States Coast Guard or to a private charter service?
Hopefully your network into other organizations, corporations, and consulting firms is already significant. Your contacts may already know you, respect you, trust you, would consider you for potential positions. You may think that the idea of branding does not apply to you in the context of this career transition. Yet, it most certainly does.
During the course of your transition, your existing contacts will introduce you to many others, some of whom are the decision makers and some of whom you will meet in the form of an interview – either formal or informal. When these decision makers ask you to “describe yourself” as a professional, how will you respond? Hopefully, it will be clear, succinct, powerful, comprised of no more than 2-3 differentiators, consistent with what your existing contacts have already said about you, consistent with what is on your resume, and somewhat related to the potential needs of the market. A lot to keep in mind.
Consider these responses to former clients’ FAQs about developing brand messages:
How succinct does my brand message have to be?
No more than a couple sentences or 10 seconds if verbalized (remember, it will need to be contained within a 30-45 second “elevator” or marketing pitch.
Is a brand message like a motto or tagline?
It can be. Consider the following mottos/taglines. Can you identify the organizations behind them? Do they describe the essence of the brand? Do they differentiate it?
“Just do it.” “I’m lovin’ it.” Explore. Discover. Understand.” “I think. Therefore, I am.” “Human energy.”
Can you give me an example of a company brand statement?
Sure. This one is taken from BIW / Bath Iron Work’s homepage:
“ ’Bath Built Is Best Built.’ Part of General Dynamics Marine Systems, Bath Iron Works is a full service shipyard specializing in the design, building and support of complex surface combatants for the U.S. Navy.”
Why can’t I have more than 2 or 3 brand differentiators?
Given the way the human brain works, more differentiators translates into less clarity and credibility. Because you want your message to be remembered and carry some weight, you need to keep it short and focused on no more than 2 or 3 differentiators. Don’t agree? Ask yourself this question: “Do the people I most respect really have more than 1-3 core strengths or differentiators which are responsible for their success?”
Can you give me an example of how strengths or personal qualities can be brand differentiators?
While there might be some debate among us as to exactly what personal qualities differentiated these people and were responsible for their success, consider these examples:
George Washington: courage, perseverance, unselfishness
Ronald Reagan: communication, hands-off management, peace through strength
Mohandas Gandhi: non-violent resistance/civil disobedience, truth, compassion for all
Now, what are a very few words you would use to describe these people:
Mother Theresa: ?
Albert Einstein: ?
Jack Welch: ?
What do you mean by: “a brand message has to be consistent” – why is it important?
If it isn’t consistently used across all communication platforms, it will not be effective and will instead be viewed as disjointed, inauthentic, poorly constructed. You should be using the same succinct brand message in your: resume, cover letters, emails, verbal conversations, and social media (ex. LinkedIn) profiles.
Doesn’t a brand message pigeon-hole or limit me in my search?
Only in the sense that it helps keep you and others honest about considering only those positions and organizations which will be a good fit. Also, sometimes a person’s 2-3 brand differentiators are rather disparate and, as such, actually paint a picture of versatility.
What factors do I need to keep in mind as I develop my brand differentiators?
Strengths or personal qualities, as noted in the question above, are a good place to start. Try force ranking your top 3. Additional consideration might be given to:
Unique processes or ways you go about doing things (how you lead, communicate, etc.)
What you are most proud of
How others perceive you
Your organization’s or department’s brand
Can you give me some examples of brand differentiators, some of which might demonstrate combinations of the core elements from several of these lists?
Absolutely. Although it may include a short descriptor in resume or other form, a brand differentiator generally should be comprised of 1-3 words maximum.
A few examples from former clients include:
Development of High Potentials
Streamlining Complex Operations
Values Centered Leadership
Managing International Logistics Operations
International Tax and Transfer Pricing
Repositioning Strategic Assets
Financial and Operational Analysis
Remember, you have developed your brand identity through years of service – you are proud of what you stand for and what you have accomplished; you are known for certain traits, accomplishments, and areas of expertise.
You already have a brand.
Now, you just need to take stock of what that brand is and how to communicate it – succinctly and powerfully. Consider your self-perceptions, consider how others perceive you, consider how the market will perceive you, consider what the market wants. Above all, be honest with yourself. And take note – you get one opportunity to define your brand and, once it is defined it must not change too much.
What’s the alternative?
There is none. Not unless you want to try your luck at standing out from a crowd of other no-brand candidates. Such a crowd may be comprised of highly accomplished and desirable professionals … but if none of them gets noticed, does it really matter?
Succinctly define your brand and top 2-3 brand differentiators. Develop/remind yourself of stories to support your brand. Promote it consistently across all forms of communication.
Stand out from the crowd. Give yourself the best chance of finding the best fit – a position and organization where you can leverage your brand differentiators and make a real difference.