CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly
October 16, 2018
Career Ladder
Career Ladder

Build your professional "brand"

If you want to have a successful career as a supply chain professional, it's important that you focus on building and marketing an exceptional professional brand.

When we think about "brands," we generally think of consumer products and the companies that design and make them. Consider, for example, such well-known companies as Domino's Pizza, Volvo, and Apple. With Domino's, we think "fast," because we know we can be eating pizza 30 minutes after ordering it. When we hear Volvo, we think "safety." Apple we associate with "innovation." These associations—the images that emerge when we think of each company—are brands.

Companies carefully cultivate their brands in an effort to ensure that the impression they make on you is the one they desire you to have. When they are successful in creating a strong, desirable brand, it has "pull"; in other words, it prompts action on the part of the consumer. Apple has been especially successful in this regard, with consumers routinely standing in line to be among the first to buy the company's latest innovation.

People can have a brand, too. As an example, the late television news anchor Walter Cronkite's brand was "trustworthy and honest." If Walter Cronkite said it, you believed it. This doesn't apply only to celebrities. When you think about your co-workers, certain descriptors probably come to mind: the creative one; the analytical one; the organizer. These descriptors are shorthand for their professional brands.

Whether you know it or not, you have a brand. You have made an impression on people, and they have associations when they think of you. Those associations—your brand—should not be left to chance. If you want to have a successful career as a supply chain professional, it's important that you focus on building and marketing an exceptional professional brand.

The elements of a professional brand
What are the elements of an exceptional professional brand? Just as in the case of a corporate brand, the most important aspect of a professional brand is that it be **bold italic{distinctive and compelling.} It must signify capabilities and benefits that are not easily replicated elsewhere. Let's say you have a brand that includes "collaborative leader," and a project arises in your company that requires the accounting and supply chain organizations to work together for six months. Your collaborative leadership skills and supply chain knowledge would make you an ideal candidate for that potentially high-exposure project.

A good brand has a position in the market. That position occupies a space that is unique and easily identifiable, often called the "market niche." This is the area in which you excel.

A good brand has to be relevant. It does you no good to have a brand as "the class clown" when that has no relevance to your career in a logistics firm. On the other hand, if you are a monologue writer for "The Tonight Show," being the class clown would be highly relevant.

Your brand must be consistent. Whatever distinctive and compelling value your brand represents, you must provide that value consistently. For the supply chain professional, if your brand is "superior organization," you must demonstrate superior organizational skills not just when things are easy, but more importantly, during the most trying times: for example, when a key team member is out on family leave, or when your firm is reorganizing or acclimating to a merger.

Finally, brands need to be supported. They need cultivation and investment. When I was a child, I gave my dad Old Spice aftershave on Father's Day. Back then the brand was well-known and highly visible. But it languished until a few years ago when it received the necessary cultivation and investment to reinvigorate it, launching a brand campaign that has won awards and boosted sales with a whole new clientele. Cultivation and investment are necessary for professional brands, too. For example, to maintain a brand of "innovation" in supply chain management, you must invest your time in keeping up with the latest advances by reading relevant periodicals, attending conferences, and cultivating your network of industry peers.

Getting the brand you want
Wwhy does having a professional brand matter? Just as with consumer products, a good professional brand has "pull." It creates more recognition and opportunities. Your unique and compelling professional brand represents your essence as a business executive.

The first step in building your professional brand is to do a situation analysis. What is your current professional brand, and what is your desired brand?

You can start that process by developing a 10- to 15-word brand identity statement that includes the associations you want people to have. This exercise will require introspection and focus. It should concisely describe who you are, what you do, and how you benefit your organization or team. It should look at you from the viewpoint of your customers.

Next, find out what your brand currently is. This can be difficult because we are not objective about ourselves. We see our outward actions through the lens of our inner motivations and thoughts. Getting objective information from co-workers can be problematic as well. Co-workers may downplay your more outstanding qualities, both positive and negative, for a variety of reasons, including competitiveness, fear of hurt feelings, and so forth. Ideally, get someone you trust to be objective and thorough (perhaps someone in human resources, your manager, or an outside consultant) to interview people about your strengths and weaknesses. An anonymous survey is another way to get good input.

Once you have conducted appropriate research, some consensus on your professional qualities should reveal itself, and a profile of your current brand should emerge. Compare that brand profile to the brand identity statement you developed earlier. What do you need to change in order to get the brand you want? A "brand marketing plan" that identifies the tactics required to achieve the brand you desire will help you bridge the gap between your current brand and the one you want. This plan should address the key brand principles: distinctive and compelling; well-positioned; relevant to your audience; consistent; and supported.

Here's an example of how that might play out. Let's say your current profile describes you as "approachable, a good listener, and introverted." Your aspirational brand, however, is "approachable, a good listener, and an effective communicator." You want to be seen less as an introvert and more as someone who has something important to say. This change matches up with two of the key brand principles: it will make you distinctive and compelling, and it is relevant to your career.

Making that part of your brand is important because you know that people who give effective presentations and clearly convey your company's goals and strategies to their teams are given better opportunities sooner than those who do not. However, although you have consistently tried to be a good communicator, maybe that aspect of your brand is not coming across. By supporting this aspect with a development and communication plan, you may achieve your aspirational brand. In this case, your plan could include such simple tactics as summarizing what people say to you and repeating it back to them to ensure understanding ("So you are saying..."). It could include asking, "Was I clear?" "Do you have any questions?" or "Did we cover everything?" Or it could involve taking a course in public speaking or joining a group like Toastmasters International that will help you become a more polished and effective speaker.

A communication plan involves letting others know about your brand dimension. In this case it could include offering to give presentations inside the company or at industry functions. You could also volunteer to take on the role of liaison to other groups within the company, such as accounting or sales.

A well thought-out professional brand is a guidepost pointing in the direction you want to go. Brand building is a process that gets refined over time. The key is to begin that process right away; it will pay dividends today and in the future.

Tim Stratman is founder and president of Stratman Partners Executive Coaching Inc.

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