Companies have a brilliant way of getting employees to selflessly work on their behalf. By the time you wise up, there's another bright-eyed youngster only too eager to carry the corporate torch.
The battle for the consumer now starts in the mind. The horrifying and inevitable conclusion: companies want you to see their brand everywhere. These days, corporations put a higher value on their brand than their physical assets. The smug term for this? “Brand equity.” Brand equity argues that consumers who have seen enough ads for your razors will helplessly reach for them.
Branding can be very irritating, especially to those of us who would rather see a greasy truckstop than a McDonald’s arch (I asked Burger King if they wanted to sponsor this sentence but they declined). But while we might not like being hounded by brands, sadly, we can’t quarrel with their effectiveness.
There is definitely a relationship between how often we see a brand and how often we buy it. Brandidentityguru.com puts it a little diabolically: “Customers factor brands into every purchase. The stronger the brand, meaning the clearer the position it occupies in their minds, the more value it has and the more likely they are to choose it â€” again and again.”
Don’t fight the branding trend; use it for your own purposes. When you work for a brand-conscious company, the first impulse is to devote yourself to their brand so that you can score points. Hopefully those points can be cashed in for promotions and bonuses. But scoring points won’t necessarily save you from the pink slip. Companies have a brilliant way of getting employees to selflessly work on their behalf. By the time you wise up, there’s another bright-eyed youngster only too eager to carry the corporate torch.
Even while you’re an employee, you can use your company to brand yourself. This “personal branding” is a lifesaver when things go south. Your “brand” is essentially an extension of your reputation, a way for you to be visible beyond your present employer to others in your field. Companies want to frame things in terms of themselves, but in the process, they may end up branding you. Look for opportunities to have your name associated with outwardly-visible products and projects.
My biggest ’90s employer spent a lot of money positioning themselves in the SAP market, but they also branded me as an SAP career expert. This visibility led to a book writing opportunity and many future clients. When things turned sour with that employer, I had a market reputation to fall back on. Being known in my field has generally forced people to be nicer to me and exploit me a little less. In reality, I didn’t have that many options, but my public visibility implied that I did, and perception makes all the difference.
There are a lot of things you can do to promote your personal “brand.” You can volunteer your time and expertise to third parties. Your current employer will often approve this outside activity as long as they are getting visibility as well. I write for other SAP web sites as a way of getting more exposure; I make sure my clients benefit from that also. Keeping your own brand alive is one of the smartest things you can do. If you are visible in an important field, the money will follow more often than not.
An extreme example of how corporate branding helps the individual: celebrity book deals. Mike Greenberg of the sports radio show Mike and Mike in the Morning just had a huge bestseller, mostly cute stuff about being a sports broadcasting dad. ESPN spent a lot of money boosting Mike and Mike, and it led “Greenie” to a book deal, which ESPN continues to promote as it benefits their show and their network. Mike Greenburg’s career is on very solid ground, and it’s all because his own brand was inevitably promoted along with that of his employer.
So is a personal brand an asset? Almost. Name recognition can indeed lead directly to income. The catch is that most of those opportunities involve billing time as an expert. And as we noted in the last chapter, the cult of the expert poses its own dangers. But developing your own brand is still one of the best moves you can make. It’s a big step toward changing your economic terms of engagement. And it’s a great way to get a handle on the brass tacks of marketing – all skills that you will need as you develop (and brand) assets of your own.
Becoming your own brand doesn’t necessarily free you from corporate America. It takes savvy to know when to promote your own interests and when to promote your employers’. And you have to be careful what you are known for. Brands can box you in. One thing’s for sure: it’s better to brand yourself than spend all your time branding a company that will escort you to the door with a cardboard box as soon as “things change”.
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