Fair Exchange: The basics of the personal brand building journey
by Erna George (@) Why work in brand management if you don’t have a need to progress — to learn, grow, understand people and have an impact on the world of brands? The allure of a pay cheque, title and sexy brand events might not be enough of the drawcard, especially in the longer term. Progression is a factor of delivery, excelling at your craft and having a positive impact on business and brand growth and, most importantly, mapping these into your brand journey to drive for success.
How many young people and new entrants to the business world understand what gets them the accolades and the forward trajectory in their careers? Do they understand the nuances of interactions and the unwritten rules of engagement? More and more often, I encounter naïve, cocky or entitled individuals floating in and out of interviews and other interactions who’re oblivious to how their attitude and approach impact their credibility and journey towards being great leaders of the future.
What gives your brand credibility is a level of substance that comes from a few elements and the nuance of each — so intellect is great but you need to be savvy to employ book-smarts in the best possible way. And, because so many are too afraid to ask and are more comfortable speaking via technology or too sure they know what’s best, they’re not actively crafting the path to greater heights.
If you’re in it to grow, here are only some of the considerations to giving Brand You credibility and progressing. The critical thing is to tailor these to your own brand and craft your journey for maximum positive impact.
1. Intellect vs savviness or IQ vs E.
This is your brand’s functional and emotional benefits, for want of a comparison. The reality is that many businesses have psychometric tests that may check for mostly intellectual ability, and fit with organisation may be checked with some values measures. However, there is little in the way that may absolutely check EQ or savviness within the business environment and relationships. This is something that you learn not only over time as experience is gained but also within the context of each organisation. You’ll find that navigation of various challenges, projects and day-to-day interactions becomes easier as the tools in your arsenal grows (experience).
The context of the organisation is an element of which you need to be cognisant, as culture impacts responses and approaches. Interaction, conversation and questions are critical. Observe others and you will soon notice patterns in how various approaches deliver different outcomes. Sit at your desk and write emails, and you’ll miss the nuance of tone and culture.
It is a minefield but politics of an organisation will impact your world, how smooth and how you navigate your brand journey. It will teach you when to say what for the greatest impact. This isn’t about changing who you are; it’s knowing how to operate to move forward most efficiently within your ‘marketplace’ — the office.
The other area where savvy is critical is in relationship-building: building connections between your brand and the business (from a selfish perspective, getting what you need and leaving organisations when relevant with relationships still intact).
I remember a conversation with a young ABM about getting a raise outside of review period, as they believed they were earning too little. The naivety of this statement caught me off guard as the person (who’d been working for four years already) truly believed it was just a matter of asking for a salary increase. On other occasions, I’ve observed people leave under less than forthright circumstances, such as just sending a resignation letter over mail or signing on a new role with a different department without a conversation. This shows neither emotional maturity nor indicate good connection between your brand and the business.
Yes, it’s tough to have forthright conversations but if your logic and rationale are strong and the benefits to you are clearly not available in the current team, few people will hold you back and, if they hold a grudge (if they have low EQ), they will get over it and see the factual point of view in time. If you burn bridges, it’s likely that you will encounter that person at some stage and, if they can’t trust you, it’s unlikely that they will give you another opportunity — people divorce brands they don’t trust.
Find a mentor to discuss these things with and practice conversations. You don’t have to give all the details but you do have to address people and circumstances to reflect a savvy and street-smart individual who one day can handle the press or shareholders — just imagine.
2. Depth vs breadth
Whether you work across a number of brands lightly or in depth on one or two, you’ll need depth and breadth to progress.
In my career I started with depth: I learned everything about the cheese brands I worked on — how the factory worked, how costs moved and their impact, how communication and shopper within the dairy and fridge section of supermarkets worked, how consumer research worked, etc. I stayed for a while and then I knew how to apply the rules of the game to my next brand management position.
If you start with breadth, you’re likely to quickly be able to see portfolio thinking and how to employ various strategies to win.
There’s no right or wrong start but, without depth of understanding of value chains and how communication or the trade works, you won’t progress easily. Without breadth of being able to manage portfolios or prioritise multiple resources for great effect, you’ll be lost. You need both. So, be patient as is doesn’t happen overnight, and be considered and methodical in constructing your career to gain this, even if some sections bore you.
This crafting has potentially the most long-lasting impact on Brand You. It may determine the path you travel. A flighty brand person doesn’t leave CMOs feeling safe.
3. Understanding what’s in it for your brand vs the business (your consumer)
Entitlement is a word that we hear especially often in South Africa and I’ve seen many expressions of entitlement across areas I’ve worked in. I enjoy developing people, in particular seeing the penny drop regarding how to manage the politics of place for progression. This was a struggle for me and, selfishly, the faster people get it right, the faster they’re able to own more projects and responsibility.
This is all about a two-way relationship and benefit stream between your brand and the business. I’ve offered various team members time to be coached or to check-in as a sounding board and always I say to them, “It is up to you. Set up time.” Some take the baton while others expect me to drive this interaction. Other delegates request significant salary increases with progression without understanding their abilities or contribution levels. Try selling a 70% price increase to a consumer for a similar or the same product — why should businesses accept this? Is what you’re offering worth it? Whether expectations are driven by a sense of entitlement or naivety, they don’t reflect well on how your brand is experienced over time or remembered.
Mapping your journey through the world of business is the same as mapping the roles of the brands you manage and their journeys within consumers’ worlds.
- Understand the context so you can apply booksmarts within your space — your degree doesn’t win you success in a management position
- Cultivate depth and breadth for better marketability — this requires time
- Be clear on the benefit you’re delivering and what you require from the business if the one outweighs the other, the relationship will crack
Progress of your own brand is in your hands.
After starting at Unilever in a classical marketing role, Erna George (@) explored the agency side of life, first as a partner at Fountainhead Design, followed by the manic and inspiring world of consultancy at Added Value. She has returned to client-side, leading the marketing team in the Cereals, Accompaniments & Baking Division at Pioneer Foods. Her monthly “Fair Exchange” column on MarkLives concerns business relationships and partnerships in marketing and brandland.
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