Your Brand Is What You Have. Always.
In a world of infinite products, a core driver for success of a product is the concept of brand. John Vester examines the effect building your brand has on your career in IT.
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As part of the recruiting effort for a position I accepted a few years ago, the initial phone screen I participated in was with the Chief Information Officer (CIO) at the perspective employer. One might have thought that I was interviewing for a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) or some other high-level position. This was not the case, however, but was a decision the CIO held to as he screened close to 1,000 candidates focused on filling ~100 technology-based positions that made up the core group of his brand-new division.
While an article could be written solely around the CIO's mindset and rationale for performing the interviews, I wanted to focus on a key aspect that the CIO taught me during the time we worked together. That key aspect is the importance of the technologist's brand, regardless of the path their career will take.
The ABC network has maintained the popular reality television program the Shark Tank since 2009. According to Wikipedia, Shark Tank shows aspiring entrepreneur-contestants as they make business presentations to a panel of "shark" investors, who then choose whether to invest.
In the times I have viewed various episodes, one big distinction that the sharks often focus on during the sales pitch by the presenters is the differentiation between a product and a brand. More times than not, it appears that the contestant has created a product that meets a need where a competing product does not exist. Without knowing the official statistics, those purely product-focused presentations tend to gain an investor equally as often as they walk away without a deal. The one aspect that adds favor to the product-based pitch, is if there is a potential to license their idea for use by larger corporations that already cover that particular market space.
Where the sharks tend to get excited and even bid against each other, is when the sales pitch includes something that is more of a brand than a singular product. If they see the potential for a brand to emerge out of the sales pitch, they are much eager to partner with the contestants - with both their money and their time investments.
This same brand-based approach should be something every technology professional should be keeping in mind.
Skills & Technologies vs. Experiences
If someone were to ask you to describe yourself, as a career professional with a limited amount of space, how would you approach the question?
When I have asked this question to fellow attendees at a trade show, conference or user group, I am surprised by the number of times I hear an answer that includes skills and technologies over experiences. Here are some examples:
"I am a Java developer building applications using Spring Boot."
"I am a Salesforce Administrator using SalesCloud and MarketingCloud."
"I am a full-stack developer using .NET and ReactJS to build responsive web applications."
My experience within Information Technology allowed me to understand the current skills being utilized by the individual, but I felt like I was getting the sales pitch for a particular product and not an established brand.
The Elevator Sales Pitch
I wrote about the idea of an elevator-style sales pitch in my "Innovation Days (v2): Creating an Elevator Pitch Before the Product" in February 2016. When reflecting back to my original question, how does your answer change when I tell you that you have a limited amount of time and the goal is to sell yourself on the listener in the elevator — with no distractions to get in your way?
This time, you cannot be certain that your target audience has any knowledge on technologies. To the other person, Spring Boot could be something that is worn after the wintery temperatures have subsided, but the warmth of summer has not yet arrived. That SalesCloud and MarketingCloud terms may appear to be levels of clouds above the common cumulus and stratus clouds which can be viewed on a beautiful day. The idea of a full-stack may better represent the type of sandwich that they typically enjoy during their lunch hour.
Keys to Establishing Your Brand
Since your brand is something that is 100% up to you to maintain, below are some items to keep in mind:
Focus on your experience, especially differentiators that set you apart from others with similar technical skills. Instead of focusing on what technologies you have utilized, talk more about the need that was being addressed — at a level that most will understand and see the benefit from your efforts.
Gain an understanding of how others can relate to you. You may be a brilliant person, but if people don't comprehend what drives you, your brand will become lost.
Examine your credibility. It is important that your views are credible and reliable, which is often supplemented with experience.
The ability to motivate and lead provides a solid window into your brand. This builds upon your credibility, taking your brand to a higher level.
The philanthropical angle is important as well. This ties to how often and the manner in which you take time to help others.
I have often heard, if there is no differentiation to your brand, you have no brand.
With the Information Technology (IT) industry constantly in a state of change, it is important that your brand always be tuned and focused on meeting the needs of the industry. If you maintain a solid brand, it becomes much easier for you to represent and sell yourself for whatever challenges you seek to embrace.
Technologies will come and go, but your experience will open future doors for you. The key is to understand how to build and refine your brand — with an awareness to constantly re-evaluate and re-build as necessary.
Have a really great day!
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