Monday, August 8, 2011

Who do you represent: your company or your individual brand?

When we go to work everyday, we don certain attire to achieve a certain look as we become representatives of our company. Some companies have actual uniforms: McDonald’s, service departments within car dealerships, the US Post Office, and many, many more. Professional service firms, such as, accounting firms, law firms, and even banks, have an “unwritten” uniform that features a suit and tie for men and dresses or suits for women. However, do we represent our employer or our own unique brand?

Consider Zappos and the culture that Tony Hsieh has created: all employees strive to create an exceptional experience for customers. Zappos employees will even go above and beyond for potential customers even if the company doesn’t sell a desired product. Consider Southwest Airlines: while it is known as a low cost, no frills airline, the company’s employees understand that they are in “the customer service business and just happen to provide airline transportation,” and most customers encounter a positive experience in their interactions with Southwest.

Southwest Airlines President Emeritus Colleen Barrett explained, “Employees feel like owners because they are owners…How can you expect people to have passion and excitement for what they do if they’re not owners? We give employees the opportunity to criticize and question us. Southwest doesn't often need to conduct surveys or hire consultants to determine what we are doing wrong or well. The employees tell us face-to-face year-round. We're transparent and we're all-inclusive in telling employees what’s happening. Another thing that’s unique about Southwest is its sense of humor. We use words that corporate America doesn’t. Our stock exchange symbol is LUV. We give employees a lot of freedom. We don’t want them to be cookie-cutter copies of each other. When most people go to work, they take off their personal demeanor. Then they go home and act like themselves again. We hire people for their individuality, and we want to share that with the passengers. We test for a sense of humor. We want them to laugh. We watch their interactions with others outside of the formal interview. You can train anyone to move a bag from one place to another. A team mentality is what we're looking for.”

It’s clear that Southwest and Zappos employees represent their brands while on the clock – and it’s easy to see why. But while many of us are representations of our companies and extensions of our brands during business hours, what happens at the close of business? At that point, you represent yourself – your unique strengths, expertise, education, and experience. Your unique brand must be maintained so that you can give 110% each and every day.

Remember, it is due to your having your unique brand that you were hired in the first place, so here are five tips to nurture your individual brand:

[1] Write a mission statement and action plan to clarify your professional goals and list your key strengths

[2] Keep your digital footprint current – create a detailed profile on LinkedIn and update it regularly with project highlights, create a blog, participate in conversations on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+

[3] Attend continuing education courses in your specialty area, either from experts within your business or elsewhere

[4] Request to participate in cross-departmental meetings at your business in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of how all departments work together – and as a result, volunteer for new projects outside of your comfort zone

[5] Share your expertise with others by speaking to chambers of commerce, panel discussions, local businesses, friends’ companies, etc. – and also join professional organizations

In the words of Tom Peters, “Big companies understand the importance of brands. Today, in the Age of the Individual, you have to be your own brand. [You have] to be the CEO of Me Inc. You’re every bit as much a brand as Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop. To start thinking like your own favorite brand manager, ask yourself the same question the brand managers at Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop ask themselves: What is it that my product or service does that makes it different? Give yourself the traditional 15-words-or-less contest challenge. Take the time to write down your answer. And then take the time to read it. Several times. Start by identifying the qualities or characteristics that make you distinctive from your competitors – or your colleagues. What have you done lately – this week – to make yourself stand out?”

To read more, check out Tom Peters’ article, “The Brand Called You,” in Fast Company ( While the article was written in 1997, it is just as current as if it were written today.

So remember, while you represent your company during business hours, you ALWAYS represent your individual brand!

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