Upon hearing the news yesterday that Steve Jobs was stepping down as CEO of Apple, I can't say I was surprised but certainly in awe of not only success but how he built the company and brand of Apple. Funny thing is, I've been wanting to write about this topic for a while and thus, the inspiration was born.
At a recent press event I met another successful officer, no, not at Apple but rather, an interview with Anthony Bertone, the Chief Marketing Officer of PUMA. He seems to be synonymous with branding oneself as well. That is, as you make your mark on your career and drive it further, you are ultimately responsible for your own brand, your message, yourself.
Equally impressive was chatting with the PUMA Ocean Racing Crew as they search for monster waves during the Volvo Ocean Race this fall. The skipper and each crew member were not only passionate about their vocation, they were in essence branding themselves for what they felt they were born to do: Race.
Anyway, back to Anthony. He launched his career as a teen by selling Doc Martens to customers in Boston. He recalled, "I think retail is probably the best education you can get, especially if you’re going to be in a consumer goods company you listen to people’s most intimate opinions and you understand what it takes for people to make a purchase ("Does this make me feel fat? Is this too big?") so one thing led to another, a happenstance conversation with PUMA and I thought my services of being a bit of a hustler would benefit them and try to bring their brand into a more popular tradition in the U.S."
Considering that was 18 years ago, he referred to the art of branding in particular as it relates to paying homage to his employer. "PUMA is the greatest company in the world. They give you enough rope in the world to hang yourself. Your job is to not hang yourself."
I checked in with Steven Balzac, psychology professor and president of 7 Steps Ahead, an organizational development and management consulting firm. Since we know what branding is in its purest form, I wanted to check in with him regarding his insight or as Anthony puts it, not to hang yourself. Moreover, I really like how Anthony referenced himself as a "hustler." Technically, when we're branding ourselves whether it's a Chief Marketing Officer, skipper in a race crew or journalist, we need to brand ourselves.
Balzac suggested focusing around personal attributes and what your brand will mean to others. What can you bring to the table? He stated, "For an employee, this usually means branding yourself as someone who produces results for the company. Specific details will vary according to the industry: a software engineer might build a brand as someone who writes bug-free code or who always delivers ahead of deadlines, etc. A salesman might build a brand around closing the most difficult clients, around rapid closure, around rescuing faltering deals, etc."
So, how exactly can you stand out? One way is to go above and beyond after you land the job. One area in which people fall short, Balzac said, is that "they saw the interview and landing the job as the goal instead of as a stepping stone."
In order to excel, especially in a new job, he recommended asking the interviewer a simple question: "If you hired me and in six months thought I'd done an excellent job, what would I have done to make you feel that way?"
By taking notes during the interview you're punctuating the concept as a reminder to hit the ground running. Plus, he said once you're actually on the job and operating at full speed, "Once you've established that brand, not only do better assignments come your way, you are also more likely to be forgiven if something does go wrong (and the fact is, sooner or later something always goes wrong)."