Building a Strong Brand for Career Success

Three questions to see if your standards make you stand out from the crowd.

For companies smart enough—and lucky enough—to sustain a strong brand, that brand is a gold mine. For a great brand, customers will drive the extra mile, pay the extra dollar, and refuse to consider lower-priced “me too” offers from competitors.

But what is it that commands this kind of loyalty? The answer is simple: Customers are loyal to great brands because those brands deliver great experiences. As it gets harder and harder for companies to stand out through unique product features or technology, strong brands consistently provide distinctive, high-quality customer interactions that low-cost competitors cannot easily duplicate.

How do they do it? By engaging employees in a continuous strategy to maintain high standards across every area of the enterprise—sales, customer service, marketing, and operations—right down to the fork lift drivers in the warehouse. Those employees are the ones who shape perceptions, by creating the experiences customers value enough to return to the brand time after time.

As a professional, you are also in a “competitive market,” competing with others who may have qualifications similar to yours—all vying for the recognition and rewards that come with outstanding performance. If you interact with your company’s customers, you are also part of the team that is competing to deliver customer experiences that can strengthen—or weaken— your company’s brand and your own.

Though you may not have thought of yourself as having a “brand,” the fact is that people have perceptions of you based on their experiences with you over time. As your customers, co-workers, and managers interact with you, they form impressions that together make up your personal and professional brand. By our actions, we are “branded”; we can’t really avoid it. And opportunities for career growth and recognition come to those with strong brands—the ones who have credibility, who are trusted, and who are seen as the “go-to” people.

So what’s your brand today? A brand is formed on the basis of impressions over time shaped by observations of what you do (your role) and, even more importantly, by how you do it (your standards). Because standards are so visible to others through actions and behaviors, they represent the best opportunity to consciously shape perceptions and strengthen your professional brand.

To better understand standards, think about the people you know in your work environment, and even whole teams of people. What are they known for? Perhaps you can think of an individual who has a reputation for delivering work that is always accurate and on time. Maybe you know someone who consistently offers unusually creative answers to problems, while someone else has a reputation for being exceptionally customer focused and persistent in meeting customer needs.

There might be a member of your work team who insists on getting to the root of a problem and is never satisfied with an easy fix or the “good enough” answer.

Terms such as “accurate,” “responsive,” “focused on the customer,” “prompt,” and “reliable” describe the standards that play a critical role in defining the quality of experiences people expect from their interactions with others. Standards represent the means of making a unique impression that is exclusive to you. They are an important key to the “competitive advantage” of your brand.

To examine your current brand and look for opportunities to strengthen it, take a closer look at your standards.

Discovering the standards you are known for— and those you want to be known for—involves holding up a useful, but not always flattering, mirror. The process is to see yourself as others see you, and to ask yourself some critical questions about your current and ideal standards:

  1. What am I best known for now by my peers, manager, and internal and external customers? What are your current standards? Are you known for doing what you say you will do? Is your work known for high quality? Do you show up to help when others need you?
  2. Do the current standards I’m known for represent the best quality of performance I am capable of delivering? Are there gaps between your “ideal” standards and the ones you demonstrate now? Where are those gaps? Think about specific tasks and responsibilities you have and consider how you go about performing those tasks. Does the image that comes to mind represent your own highest standards? How do those standards stack up with what you observe in others?
  3. What could I do differently to better demonstrate my ideal standards—and strengthen my brand? Think about specific actions and behaviors that would influence others’ perceptions of your standards, or actions that would help you reach the standard of performance you want. For example, if you want to be seen as a person who listens to customers’ perspectives and understands their needs, you might hone your ability to ask good questions and be an outstanding listener.

Even though you can’t control what others think, you can guide people to perceive you as you want to be seen, based on your day-to-day actions and willingness to continually “raise the bar” on how you do what you do—your standards.

Having high standards is not about trying to please everyone. It is, however, about being aware that the strength of your brand in both your professional and personal relationships will be determined by the impressions you make every day on the people who matter and are important to you.

To the extent that your brand stands out because of your high standards, you will find increasing opportunities to grow your career, while helping your company grow its business.

David McNally, CPAE, is chief encouragement officer of TransForm Corporation and a member of the Speakers Hall of Fame. McNally is the author of two best-selling books, “Even Eagles Need a Push—Learning to Soar in a Changing World” and “The Eagle’s Secret—Success Strategies for Thriving at Work and in Life.” His co-authored book, “Be Your Own Brand,” is used by many business schools throughout the world. For information, visit