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ELEVATING YOUR PROFESSIONAL BRAND

ELEVATING YOUR PROFESSIONAL BRAND BY DIMA GHAWI

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 abrand 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.

DEFINE YOUR VALUE & DIFFERENTIATE YOURSELF

How I felt during my first meeting with my executive coach is not uncommon, in fact, many people struggle to define themselves, their value and their uniqueness. If you feel that your situation is similar to my story—you have the education and experience, but have not thought about your brand—here are few steps to start to understand yourself and your brand:

1. Complete Personality Assessments

These are great tools to help us understand our strengths, communication styles, the way we think, and how we tend to manage conflict. Once you receive the results, don’t judge them or be critical of yourself. There are no right or wrong answers. Instead, review and highlight the areas that you believe apply to you, and in another color, highlight the words and phrases that do not apply to you. Review with your coach or a friend to discuss deeper. Some of my favorites are: Strengths Finder 2.0Emergenetics, and Thomas Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument.

2. Ask Others Around you what they Think your Strengths and Weaknesses are

It is always uncomfortable to ask for feedback; however, it is extremely important to understand what messages you have been projecting to the world about your brand. A tool that I like is called 360 Reach. This is an anonymous survey that you can send to people you choose (co-workers, family, and friends) to ask them questions about your strengths, weaknesses, and their perception of you. Once you receive the final report, look for patterns and consistent messages that people use to describe you. One important thing to keep in mind is to be selective with the individuals to whom you send the 360 survey. The goal is to get input from people that believe in you and want to support your personal and professional growth.

3. Start Consciously Observing Yourself

Take note of your communication style, how you behave, how you introduce yourself, what words you constantly tend to use, etc. Additionally, observe the activities that you enjoy, the kind of skills that you are good at, and the type of projects that ignite excitement in your heart. Discovering your brand is about being mindful and increasing your self-awareness. Keep note of what you observe and reflect on this.

Now, I will ask you the same questions that my coach asked me. Reflect on these questions, and even if you do not know the answers immediately, they will eventually come to you. What matters is to open the door for personal exploration.

  • 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?

My coach and I worked on the above three steps, and my top strength that kept coming up from my assessments and surveys was that I develop others and coach them to advance in leadership. The area of talent development was very different than what I was working on at that time which explains why I was not happy with my job. By gaining a better understanding of my brand, I gained a clearer view of my strengths and the type of career that aligns with my passion. It is amazing how our brand, our strengths and our passion are all connected.

The process of discovering and developing my own professional brand taught me some important lessons about how to get the process right.  If you are ready to define and elevate yourself as a brand, here are some takeaways that you should being to implement now:

1.     Align Your Brand with Market Demands

It is important that we continue to understand the skills that the market needs, and to continue to align our brands, strengths, and value that we offer to fill these gaps.

2.     Promote Your Brand 

Many women are not comfortable with promoting themselves and worry that they come across as bragging. The challenge is that we end up missing out on opportunities. Demonstrating our value and our uniqueness are definitely not the same as bragging. Bragging is about the ego and showing off, while promoting our brand is about problem-solving, supplying our talents to fulfill a demand, and demonstrating our ability to bring value.

3.     Keep Your Marketing Materials Current

These are things such as our resumes, social media bios, LinkedIn profiles, and websites. These materials are a summary of our brand in words. Many people do not update their marketing materials for years for various reasons. If you are one of these people, an idea for you is to remember to update your information twice a year, and use every day-light savings as a reminder. Block a couple of hours and get your information updated. This way, when an opportunity shows up, you will be ready with a clearly documented brand. 

4.     Protect Your Brand

Our brands are our identities, and it is important to be protective of them. We need to be on-brand all the time and with everything we do - our words, how we present ourselves, our quality of deliverables - everything about us needs to be aligned with our brand. In addition to protecting our physical brand image, the digital brand is just as important. Some of the things that you can do to protect your digital brand include:

o   Google your name periodically and make sure that you are ok with the information that comes up.  Otherwises take action to get any negative information deleted (if possible).

o   Add your name on Google Alerts.  This will notify you via email when your name is being mentioned online.

o   Be careful of what you post on social media. Nothing is private or protected online. Instead, everything is public knowledge. Be selective about the information and the pictures that you post. Also, if someone tags you on a picture that you feel does not align with your brand, then untag yourself.

5.     Continue to Evolve Your Brand 

Just like our interests and goals evolve over time, our brands evolve as well. This is a journey of continuous growth and continuous self-discovery. The foundation to this process is to stay true to ourselves and to stay connected with our authentic self.

It has been a decade since I reached out to my coach and asked her to help me with my resume. The journey of defining and expressing my brand was a life-changing experience. Now, I wake up excited about my work everyday. The clarity that I gained from branding myself and understanding my value and uniqueness fueled me with the desire to work on projects that are aligned with my strengths. It started with volunteering to give leadership training and mentoring anyone that asked me for help. Shortly after, I was offered a Talent Development Manager role within the same company. I loved every moment of it. I loved it so much that a few years later, I decided to resign and start my own company focused on developing leadership skills in others. I take everyone I work with on a journey of brand-discovery, because it is the most powerful, transformative method for professional satisfaction and for tapping into our authentic-self that we bring into business.

It seems like we are not much different than IBM, Coke, Apple, Whole Foods, or Southwest, when it comes to branding after all. Let’s continue to be focused, intentional, and deliberate in discovering, promoting, protecting, and evolving our brand.

https://www.dimaghawi.com/dimas-blog/elevating-your-professional-brand-part-1 

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