WorkWise: Uses and abuses of career branding

09/06/2009 2:09 AM

09/06/2009 2:46 AM

Companies have been branding products for decades, but more recently, marketers and people in high tech have been promoting the concept of career branding. This reputation-builder — a word or phrase that explains what you stand for and helps promote you — is essential on the job.

"A career brand is a career promise someone is making," explains Rajesh Setty, president of Foresight Plus L.L.C., in Sunnyvale, an investor and marketing executive in start-ups worldwide. "It's in the eyes of the person on the receiving end of the promise."

Capturing your essence, "your personal brand must be authentic, of value to your boss and aligned with your (current) company's goals," writes Jennifer Robison in The Gallup Management Journal. A good brand is simple, easy for people to grasp, suggests workplace coach Jean Kelley of Tulsa's Jean Kelley Leadership Consulting

DANGERS

In too many cases, people are marketing with a weak message so that "career branding is (mostly) headed in the wrong direction," says Setty. He doesn’t want the message — the content of your brand — omitted in favor of buzz.

"I'm big on personal branding," he continues, "but people are taking it to an extreme on Twitter or in a blog. They think, 'I have an opinion. It’s easy to set up a blog. I can get family members to write.'" Focusing on the sizzle makes people miss the steak — if there is any. Make certain there is some in yours.

Content with an inaccurate or dated message is also dangerous, according to David Cohen, president of Equation Arts L.L.C., a branding firm in Atlanta. He describes ineffective messaging when someone feels trapped by reputation for one skill but unrecognized for another. The problem is with the identity of the steak. Fine-tune your brand if what you stand for is changing.

SUBSTANCE

Setty indicates that a brand's substance, its "valuable accomplishments," is king, which means that it must be accurate, representative and in-depth. He says that self-promotion requires you to talk about yourself, whereas effective branding encourages others to speak on your behalf, making self-promotion unnecessary.

If you're interested in developing a career brand and already have some solid accomplishments, your brand is working for you, particularly if it relates to the goals of your organization. But it doesn’t hurt to check whether the correct brand is working for you. Kelley indicates that you can gain focus by writing down specific things for which you want your career to be known. Tweak your brand if need be. It can be fluid.

Don't fall prey to social media’s message that you don’t have a brand if you’re not blogging, Tweeting or podcasting. It isn't the most appropriate vehicle for every career. "Hard work, relationships, motivation and the ability to take action" are what count, Setty maintains. This is a long-term modus operandi, not an overnight process. Conversing in social media might get you attention, but he promises that "your personal brand will be an illusion."

Defining your career brand takes effort and personal insight. Encapsulating that in a word or phrase can be tricky. Make certain it relates to your company’s objectives. But before you jump on the branding bandwagon, ask yourself whether your emphasis should fall on reputation rather than brand. Let a brand enhance it once you establish a reputation for excellence, which requires considerable effort. Indeed, I'd like to see people do the outstanding job required to build a career and, when they’re certain about what they stand for, incorporate a brand. That puts career branding in its rightful spot — as an accessory or a rightful afterthought reflecting the essence of a outstanding career.

Dr. Mildred L. Culp welcomes your questions at culp@workwise.net. Copyright 2009 Passage Media.

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