Coca Cola is one of the most recognizable and valuable brands in the world. According to Forbes’ annual list of the World’s Most Valuable Brands, it is the 6th most valuable brand in 2020.
Interestingly, it is the only non-technology company in the Top 6 with Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook in the Top 5 respectively. And it has been in the Forbes’ Top Ten for a long time. Coca Cola or Coke, as it is more popularly called, has been in existence for almost 130 years; almost as long as the combined years of existence of the Top 5 companies.
The impressive thing about the Coca Cola Company is that it is still going strong, having weathered many recessions including both the Great American Recession and the more recent Financial Crisis despite being a manufacturer with a large cost base. Most people ask for a Coke when they order pop and sometimes, unconsciously ask for it even when they’re thinking of other brands. This is a strong testament to Coca Cola brand’s staying power and why I personally feel that it is the quintessential brand.
Coke is the hallmark of a successful brand and a benchmark to which workplace professionals should aspire. The idea is to similarly build and nurture your personal brand as a strategic tool to advance your career. Of course, a long-lasting personal brand in the workplace takes time and effort to build and, thankfully, you would not spend money on adverts and promotions to achieve that. Far from it!
Just what is a personal brand, though? Depending on the industry, there are many definitions of brand. I personally prefer the one we were taught back in business school: a brand is essentially a promise that tells customers what to expect from a company’s product and services. This brand promise provides a competitive advantage to the business by setting it apart from others.
By extension, a workplace personal brand is the promise you make to work colleagues and other stakeholders, including regulators, that encompasses a holistic package of professional work ethic, attitude and aptitudes and specific human attributes that makes you stand out as a person to depend on to get things done. The brand promise leads others to regard you as the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the team.
Care must be taken though to not equate brand with technical skill although it’s an intrinsic part. In many cases, the most technically skilled person on the team is not the one that gets recognized when a significant project is completed and you may wonder why that distinction went to the colleague that seemed to only talk a lot during meetings.
That technically gifted person may be you and you may feel deeply hurt when your achievements are not recognized in the workplace especially when, over time, you don’t get the promotion that you feel you deserve and most likely do.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to get the desired recognition and deserved promotion that should crown your efforts and dedication to your work. At least the things that are within your control that you can fix as a visible minority. The bar, as we know, is usually set far higher for visible minorities.
First, you have to be ready mentally and physically for the long-haul journey of personal brand building. You must invest the requisite time and effort to build your personal brand no matter the stage you are in your career. It’s never too late to go back to the drawing board and review what you need to do to recalibrate the way you are perceived. In fact, a foundational part of personal brand building is continuous improvement.
Feedback is the biggest weapon you can deploy, particularly, using a 360 degrees approach. You should make conscious effort to always seek instant feedback after each significant engagement with your stakeholders. This could be after developing and delivering a presentation to any level of the organization or after taking part in a team project at work. Proactively ask your manager for meaningful and actionable feedback. Focus on the negative feedback as an improvement opportunity, especially from those who are not your fans.
Above all, never take feedback personal. I know it’s hard not to but those are your detractors, the people that are holding your career back when conversations are had in your absence. You can approach it as a form of reverse evangelism. By seeking their feedback as needed, you not only give them an opportunity to air their grievance with you, it also allows you to have a non-confrontational discussion with your detractors who, over time, will begin to realize that, perhaps, that they had been wrong about you all this time. Such people become your advocates in the work place. This is another important plank on the scaffolding of building your personal brand.
Dress for success. Your appearance is also an important part of your personal branding strategy. Coke is an appealing product because the manufacturer has kept it fresh and current and adapted it to the market. Due to prejudice and racism, visible minorities start behind the eight ball on appearance. Dress professionally at all times even if other non-visible minority colleagues are slouches in their dressing.
Another plank is communication which is going to be your biggest challenge. Canadian accent with verbal and non-verbal idiomatic expressions are the hallmarks of what employers call effective communication.
There you are at a distinct disadvantage because once you open your mouth to speak the walls of prejudice descend and effectively block you from reaching through to your audience. One thing I did that worked for me earlier in my career is that I listened attentively when colleagues speak at meetings. I listened to the way they pronounced the same words I had learned in school. I also kept a journal of expressions I heard in meetings and researched on their meanings and the ways they are used in conversations. Two of my favorite expressions are “low hanging fruit” and “quick and dirty”. These help to reduce the barrier of prejudice when you speak at meetings. This is also the reason why you may be the most technically savvy person on your team who gets overlooked for your other colleague who “communicates” more effectively. If you feel comfortable with adapting your accent you can also seek professional help in that regard. It’s always about what works for you.
Related to communication is the need to let the right people know about your accomplishments. The North American culture encourages self-promotion, sometimes to an egregious level. Canadians are said to eschew self-promotion but that is not true in the workplace. Visible minorities usually come from cultural backgrounds that insist on modesty and frown upon self-promotion. This presents a frustratingly challenging conundrum where you have been brought up to let your work speak for you in a culture that encourages self-promotion. You will need to get comfortable with telling others, in a very respectful manner, about your accomplishments. After all, you cannot expect others to see your light if you hide your lamp under a bushel.
Unfortunately, if you do not let the right people know about your achievements, no-one will hear about it. It’s a harsh but true fact.
Seek out relevant opportunities, take on different roles and collaborate with colleagues on special projects, with your manager’s permission. These provide you opportunities to cement a positive reputation among your colleagues and further help build your personal brand.
Personal integrity is imperative when building your personal brand. Always ensure that you meet commitments that you sign up for and manage expectations about what you can deliver. As a visible minority, you are always one mistake or failure away from being written off by everyone.
It is very important to manage your social media presence to ensure that it is aligned with and represents your personal brand. Current and future employers often check your social media activities to ensure that you’re a good fit for the organization. One careless post can destroy all that you have built with sweat and time.
As I had mentioned in my article in March 2020, your personal brand is reflected in your legacy which is what people will remember you by when you leave the organization. Ensure that it is the right memory as your personal brand will follow you to the next organization and either open doors at a new organization or effectively shut you out. It is indeed a small world in Corporate Canada.