There’s an episode of HBO’s Entourage my wife and I sometimes reference whenever we come up against a particularly over-zealous bit of marketing. The lead character, movie star Vince Chase, is searching for a new agent. At each of the potential agencies he visits, he’s greeted with the same presentation.
“You’re not just an actor,” he’s told. “You, sir, are a brand.” Then the Powerpoint shows a swirl of logos alongside the actor’s picture. “McDonald’s . . . Microsoft . . . Vincent Chase.” In each case, he leaves the room angrily. I can think of IT managers who would probably have a similar reaction.
This week’s Ignite Your Career Webcast event with Microsoft was focused on “Selling Yourself – Are You Using All Your Resources?” and personal branding became the main point of discussion. We had experts from the recruiting side, the staffing side and beyond, and it was probably our healthiest audience yet. Many of the questions were about job hunting – IT pros wanted to know if they should hire a resume coach, if they should be out public speaking and if what they wear is really important.
In hindsight, maybe we should have spent a little more time talking about what the term “personal brand” really means. The best definition I’ve read went as follows: Your total perceived value, relative to competitors, as viewed by your audience. For IT managers, the order of terms is important here. Value comes before competitors. Yes, by building up contacts and demonstrating expertise you are making yourself more attractive to potential employers, but first and foremost you’re contributing something unique to your current organization, your users or your firm’s customers. The best brands, personal or otherwise, are not merely about self-interest but achieving greatness.
The other word to notice in that definition is “perceived.” As many our panellists pointed out, technology professionals are notorious for under-selling themselves, or being completely ignored next to their counterparts in sales, marketing or other functions. The value is there but no one is noticing. I think when we start talking about branding, and especially personal branding, we can place too much emphasis on appearances, because we want to make sure that IT’s value (and the value of those managing IT) is properly perceived. But it has to be genuine. The point of all this isn’t to make IT managers talk like Seth Godin. It’s to help them share the passion they put into their work of helping business people become more productive, collaborative and information-rich.
The most successful people I know put far more time into the end results of their work than they do towards personal branding. They also communicate well, and communicating is ultimately more vital to a job, a career and a life than mere marketing. We’re not products, we’re human beings, so perhaps branding isn’t the most appropriate metaphor. This is why IT professionals find it so hard: they’re trying to find a way to sell themselves without selling out.