Career Guide Thought Leadership

9 Strategies for Building a Winning Professional Brand

Group of workers look to grow their professional careers.

For more insights on professional growth, check out the April issue of PRSA’s award-winning publication, Strategies & Tactics.

Our professional brands are not dissimilar from the brands of companies or products. Like brand managers, time, thought and energy must be carefully invested in establishing a professional brand that reflects the career path we have chosen to walk. Therefore, we can take lessons and best practices from real-life brand managers to develop our unique professional brands. Call it a professional brand strategy if you will.

First, a word about brands. A brand is not what the owner of the brand says it is. A brand is the overall perception and identity of a person, product or organization in the minds of those interacting with it. Even Coca-Cola, perhaps one of the world’s most recognizable and well-established brands, doesn’t control its brand. You do. When you interact with it — or associate it with past interactions you’ve had with it — you ultimately determine the brand.

That said, Coca-Cola spends huge sums of money every year to nurture and build its brand, creating new experiences and interactions that introduce or reinforce certain brand attributes with its audiences. Similarly, we can identify, qualify, shape and position our professional brands, and take steps to influence how we are perceived by our peers and employers — present and future.

Also, a strong brand is believable and credible because it is built on a solid and true foundation. In other words, you probably shouldn’t brand yourself an astronaut if you’ve never been to space. If you want to build a professional brand in communications, then you should probably be already in the field of communications and find ways of expressing that experience.

With these ground rules understood, here is a step-by-step strategy for building one’s professional brand through deliberate planning, self-reflection, skill development and networking.

  1. Define your goals. C’mon. You knew goal setting was going to be the first step, right? I mean, how do you know which winds are favorable if you don’t know what port you’re sailing to? Start by clarifying your long-term (or at least mid-term) career goals. Consider where you want to be professionally in five to 10 years. Your goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timed (SMART).
  2. Do your SWOT. Next, assess your strengths and weaknesses, identify your areas for improvement, and determine the opportunities and threats to realizing your goals. Reflect on how and where your skills, experiences and accomplishments align with your goals and help tell a story around your professional brand.
  3. Where to grow next. Looking at the SWOT, find the key areas where you need to develop further through life, work or educational experiences. Some of these opportunities might be found within your current role or organization through training, professional development, mentorship opportunities or leadership roles. Develop a list of specific areas in which you want to improve, such as presentation skills, leadership abilities, technical expertise or project management. Create actionable steps to achieve these goals, such as enrolling in a course, seeking feedback from colleagues or practicing new skills in your daily work.
  4. Always be learning. Never expect your job to teach you everything. You will have to seek knowledge and experience elsewhere to accelerate and diversify your growth. For Pete’s sake, crack a few books. Seek out relevant courses, workshops, seminars and webinars. LinkedIn has a huge number of courses and certifications.
  5. Build your network. I cannot over-stress the importance of networking. Who you know (and sometimes who they know) can be as important as what you know. It can get you in the room. It can give you an introduction. It can get your foot in the door. Cultivate relationships with colleagues, mentors, industry professionals and leaders in your field. Engage with peers on professional social media platforms like LinkedIn. Go meet people and get out of your shell. Just remember to pay it forward someday. Relationship karma is a real thing.
  6. Create your code. For you to realize that five-10-year goal, you need to determine what your brand stands for. What are your brand attributes? Do you need to be perceived as a strategist? Or a connector of people and ideas? As a creative or technical wunderkind? Or leader of others? Your professional (and personal) code should reflect who you are and who you strive to be in your career. This is something that you must believe in your heart of hearts and practice every day, so think carefully about it, write it down and revisit it often.
  7. Project your brand. Any good brand needs exposure. These days, many places and platforms are available to share your professional brand. You can pitch your ideas to podcasts and conferences. You can share your original content on LinkedIn and other social media channels. You can even start your own publishing platforms, such as podcasts or blogs. However, before you do any of this, be sure to have your code and strategy set, and have refreshing content to share with your audiences that aligns with your professional brand. The last thing the world needs is another podcast echo chamber about cats littering the internet.
  8. Adapt to change. The only constant in this world is change, so you must remain flexible. There will be times when you surge forward in your career and other times when the headwinds will make you pivot. It’s OK to pivot but don’t stray from your course. If you must take a role or project that is not aligned with your professional brand, then that is OK for a period. It might even introduce you to new ideas or experiences you can tap into but be critical and honest with yourself about whether it is serving your long-term strategy. Stay agile, resilient and proactive in navigating your career journey.
  9. Track your progress and adjust your professional brand strategy. Regularly assess your progress toward your professional growth goals. Keep track of your accomplishments, milestones and areas where you’ve improved. Celebrate your successes and use setbacks as learning opportunities to refine your approach. Periodically review and adjust your professional brand strategy based on changes in your goals, interests or circumstances. For instance, you may reach a point where mentoring, teaching, inspiring and leading others take a higher priority in your professional story. These will require subtle and not-so-subtle changes in the skills, experience and thought patterns you will need to acquire and express to others.

Maintaining a proactive approach to your professional development is the backbone of your brand, but how you share and express your brand to others will determine whether others see your progress on your journey to achieving your goals. Over time, your brand may come to speak for you and, as they say, your reputation will precede you.

Erik Clausen is a managing partner at CG Life, an integrated marketing communications agency for the life sciences, pharma and health care. He is a marketing and communications executive who has spent the past 25 years building biopharma and life science brands.

[Illustration credit: metamorworks]

About the author

Erik Clausen

Leave a Comment