It is September and the year is starting to rush away again. One minute it was high summer, and the heat and humidity were soaring. Now the days are shortening very noticeably, and someone dared to mention Christmas to me the other day!
I love this time of year. For so many years it was the beginning for me as I inducted management trainees, bright and shiny new graduates into my firm. Now there are always young friends moving into the sixth form, going off to college or university or joining apprenticeships. All making fresh starts as they move into the next phase of life. It is all very exciting for them but also scary. Yesterday I met one of them just off into a uni house with four others; she is just hoping they are clean and tidy!
So, what am I thinking about?
With all this change around me I find my thoughts going to branding. I am working with a couple of clients on their business brands. What is this business all about and what does it stand for. I am a Simon Sinek fan (Start With Why – Simon Sinek) so we start with WHY? What are we here for? Let’s take your accountant as an example. Why are they here? They are part of your tribe, your support group; to keep you legal but so much more;; to guide you; to debate with you; to be a sounding board; and to add some helicopter vision. They are not bean counters.
After that it is about values and ethics: what do we think they are? What draws us to work for this organisation? What does it stand for? How do we do things? And how do we live these values? What do we care about in our work and our transactions with our clients? It all sounds relatively easy but how we deliver transparency say, day to day is harder.
I love the fun bits: who is my brand friends with? Where does she shop? Which car does she drive and all that? People sometimes miss this out, but it can be so important to get the context just right.
So, I am doing all this at a professional business level. I am also doing it with a client newly appointed to her first management role. What does she stand for? Why did her firm promote her? Does she know? Competence? Potential? Personal branding is fascinating stuff. People react to how we look and sound, so I send most people off to have their colours and styles done to make the most of themselves as a visual aid. We build on that as we get to know the deeper and meaningful stuff of who we actually are, what we are good at and interested in. Our work life is important but so is our hinterland. We know people buy people so if they do not like your brand forget it, no sale and people will not follow you their leader.
It reminds me of when I took over my first transport depot. It had only been open three months and the manager dropped dead of a heart attack on the Wednesday. The company went into panic mode, and someone had the inspired (?) idea of putting a management trainee in there because it could be done quickly. On the following Monday I set off to Silvertown! Now it is the Greenwich Peninsula and fashionable. Then it was Call the Midwife territory. I had no idea about branding I was just excited and terrified in equal measure. However, the powers that be had not bitten the bullet and had simply sent the message the new governor, this guy Toogood would arrive on Monday. No one had told 40 grizzled lorry drivers and warehouse staff that I was a girl! Imagine the shock for them and for me!
I had to start to build my brand fast but that is another story. The one thing I would say that when you lead others you need a strong brand. You need a legend.
I was reminded of this last week. I was off to a family wedding of a distant relative who I hardly know. We won’t why that is or how I was persuaded to go – very complicated story. I had to think about who I was: what exactly was the relationship? Why was I there? Who was I?
Now I admit to finding this really difficult. I am used to being me – not someone else’s great aunt. I am accustomed to being known in the circles in which I move. I have a distinctive dress style; however, I also use a wheelchair which people I work with and socialise with never think about. I forget for new people this is what they see; so, the visual aid that is me can present a mixed message.
In classic networking fashion I prepared my social elevator pitch knowing there would be no one in the room to give me a “referral”.
I turned up to this gorgeous jamboree: a hundred miles from home and knowing five people in a room of over a hundred. The groomsmen were deliciously attentive, so I was well looked after in practical ways. After about an hour I realised that I was brandless. No one knew what I was or what I stood for, no one gave me an opportunity to make my pitch.
I love people, so I had lots of fun asking people their stories. How they arrived at where they are, who is in their family, what do they do? All the things that make them who they are and give me an idea of their brand. Not all the brands were to my taste. There was a lady who asked me about the only other person she knows from my part of the country. It happened to be a notorious public figure with whom I would not be seen dead! Awkward! But it let me know that I wanted to speak with someone else! By your friends you shall know them.
It was an interesting experience of being a new brand rather than an established one. Have you ever been in this position? What did it teach you about pitching your brand?
All of this stuff is important in my role as a mentor. You need personal and business brands. If as you read this you realise this applies to you or someone you might know; if you like my ideas and values especially my passion; if you would like to speak about your brand and other business issues, about how to enjoy and develop your business life, then perhaps we should talk. Please give me a call. I love speaking with people, off the meter, to help them explore possibilities and whether/how to take them forward. I hope you will be one of them.