After speaking with Dorie Clark on Episode 6, we continued to dig deeper into personal branding. We sat down with Michael Krauss, Co-Founder of Market Strategy Group, to reflect on his 35 years of marketing and branding leadership and get his advice for thinking long-term about our careers and personal brands.
Michael, you’ve had a long career in marketing and branding. What’s a starting point for thinking about our own personal brand?
When I was in business school, people used to ask “Where do you want to be in five years?” and I used to say “I have no clue,” which isn’t a good answer. The question I now ask people when I’m coaching is: “When you think of when you’re 65 years old and everything has gone perfectly, what is it that you have accomplished? Who are you? What role do you have? What impact have you had?”
We have to work consciously on our personal brand in a very thoughtful, gentle, but strategic way. Having self-awareness and actively reflecting is an important place to start. If you do a bit of reflection, and you say “Well I’m the CEO of General Motors,” or “I’m the president of the Ford Foundation,” or “I’m a division president at Microsoft,” ask yourself then: “what is the persona that would get me there?”
You have to find your north star, your ultimate goal. If you aspire to be a public company CEO, what is it that others have been doing that creates that brand and is that a fit for you? Find a couple of role models, and then reflect and ask yourself: what am I fighting to build? Where am I headed? How do I get there? You need to be your most authentic self, and from there, you can mold and improve to be the person you want to be.
How do we find out what our brand is right now?
Your personal brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. It says a lot about your career and future, because it’s how others perceive you and can impact promotions, advancement, and if, how, and when you attain your career goals.
Again, thinking about your brand in terms of your long term career goals requires, first, self-reflection. Think about who you want to be at the end of your career, and stay true to that. Your end-goal or dream position may change, but you should always be thinking about the characteristics that are true to who you want to be on your best day.
Doing personal “brand research” is essential for strengthening your brand and goals. Start having a handful of conversations or informal interviews; you could start out doing 3-5, or as many as 18-20. You want to have a variety of conversations across your network: ask your superiors, the people you manage, and past and present colleagues from different parts of your organization. Get as much feedback from diverse sources as you can. Know who you are, what you want to do, and how you stand out from the crowd, then ask your network if they see what you see.
You don’t want to change who you are to the core, but you also want to make sure you’re coming across in the way you’re intending. By asking people in your network what you’re known for right now, you can realign as necessary if what you’re known as isn’t necessarily serving you. There’s both a rational and emotional component to your personal brand. There are things people think about you and things that they feel about you, and you can figure out how you can influence them in a positive way by seeking feedback.
How do we change or mold our brand?
Think of your personal brand as a trust bank. You always want to be yourself on your very best day, but also remember that sometimes that doesn’t happen. Throughout your life and career, you want to make deposits in your trust bank, because one day you’re going to slip up and need to make a withdrawal. If you always try to give more than you get and build your reputation as a generous person, then people will be more forgiving if and when you do take a turn.
Even if you’ve slipped in some way, you can rebuild bridges. But if slipping up becomes part of your brand, it may be more difficult to come back from that. You can always apologize, but there are some core brand elements like integrity and honesty that you don’t want to compromise. If you are known as someone that lacks those, those are pretty big chasms to bridge. Be thoughtful and values-based in all of your actions. Think for the long term, because there are some things that you can do very wrong that could be damaging to you.
There are times, too, when you can mold your brand through taking control of the messaging. I’ve always been very civically active in Chicago, and sometimes people tell me that I’m the most connected person in the community. While I’m humbled by the compliment, I usually respond by saying that I want to be the most connecting person in the community. I want to be known as someone who is helpful and connecting, so I’ve always tried to act in a way that supports that. While I appreciate when people say that I’m the most connected person, I’m gracious, but try to change that messaging in the moment. You can do the same for your own brand; have a good understanding of who you want to be, hold to it, and confidently but graciously change the messaging of your brand if you need to.
How important is our brand when searching for a job?
Remembering that part of your brand is a trust bank, you’re going to need help from your network while looking for a job. Hopefully when you’re at the point where you’re looking for a job, you’ve already done brand research, taken in feedback, and built up relationships with people who can help you. During a job search, you’ll be making more withdrawals from that bank.
We all need brand advocates. It’s far better to have advocates sharing your story and reinforcing your brand than to be just sharing it yourself. This takes time. You have to build alliances and seek out mentors and career advocates who can help you develop important skills and communicate your brand.
What if our goals change along our career path?
Self-reflection is a long-term process. You have to continuously do it throughout your career, because your goals will change, and that’s okay. Volunteer for things in and out of work, take on projects that are beyond the obvious, work with other departments and teams. Doing this will increase your visibility at work and build your brand as a collaborative person. It will also introduce you to other paths and positions that you may not have thought of before.
While you’re reflecting, recognize what stage you are in in your career. There are certain things that are important five years out, and there are other things that are valued five-ten years out. Think longitudinally, and remember to constantly reassess what your goals are and what skills you need to develop now and into the future.
Knowing what you want in the end can help you figure out a path to get there. But also realize that it’s the journey, not the end point, that is the fun part. Your career is like flowing down a river; you want to get to the end, but there are so many interesting things you can see and do along the way. Constantly learn, change, and grow, and always stay true to who you are on your very best day.