The brands we choose define us, set us apart and give everyone a glimpse of who we are. What brands do you choose to define you? If you are a runner, are you Nike, New Balance or Asics? If you are a cook, are you Rachel Ray, Emeril Lagasse or Wolfgang Puck? Are you a Mac or a PC? Are you Coke, Pepsi or Dr. Pepper? Are you a Starbuckian or do you prefer a local coffeehouse?

At the basic level, branding is about a promise. It’s a promise the product makes to the marketplace. It’s a promise the product makes to its stakeholders. It’s a promise about value and the experience one can expect. Companies develop brands for the marketplace, and each of us develops a personal brand in the workplace. Throughout the course of our careers, our actions, choices, behaviors and declarations have branded us to our colleagues, as well as our clients and customers. Our personal brand projects a promise about the experience the people around us should expect—our strengths (and weaknesses), skills (and inabilities), passions and values.

Perhaps the brands we love can teach us a few lessons for our careers. Many years ago, a teacher explained to me “Who you are speaks louder than who you say you are.” My adolescent mind struggled with the concept. Now, as an adult, I know my teacher couldn’t have been more right.

So what promises does your brand make? There are five core areas to consider in how career brands are built, and ultimately, what they say about each of us.

  • Do you have relevance?
  • How is your rapport?
  • What is your reputation?
  • What have you done to refresh your skills?
  • Do you have reach?


Are you maintaining a high level of relevance to the people you engage? Do you have impact? Do you have importance? Do you have influence? Take a brand like Gillette that established not only relevance but dominance by gaining 70 percent market share in a $3 billion category. Is the brand relevant? You bet. Men spend 3,350 hours over a lifetime removing 27.5 feet of whiskers. They are willing to spend right at $25 for eight fusion blades. I won’t shave with anything else. What can Gillette teach us?

What can you do to increase your relevance within your organization?


Rapport can be defined as a relationship of mutual understanding and trust. Take a brand like Nike, whose revenue was $19 billion in 2009. Nike spent between 11 and 13 percent of its 2009 revenue marketing to build their relationship with you, the consumer. Nike has achieved a level of intimacy and identity with its products and consumers that few other companies have; using successful athletes as a way for consumers to identify with their products. In fact, one of the biggest questions amidst the Tiger Woods marital fiasco, was, “Will Nike drop him?” Ultimately, Nike stood by their man and just as Tiger was ready to re-enter the world of golf, Nike recognized the need to acknowledge the scandal in order to maintain credibility. Plus, like the banks on Wall Street, for Nike Tiger was too big to fail. So, in classic Nike style, they offered absolution to a not-so-crouching Tiger in the form of an eerie black and white ad, showing a motionless athlete listening to his departed and beloved father ask, “What were you thinking?” In essence, Nike got personal and did what it could do to act as an intermediary to help mend the relationship between its highest profile athlete and millions of disillusioned fans and consumers.

In fact, Nike sponsors more than 500 athletes who play everything from futsal to field hockey, all included on the Nike roster, in an effort to build rapport with the people who buy their shoes. What lessons can we reapply from Nike?

What can you do to improve your rapport with those important to your success—customers, co-workers and stakeholders?


Reputation is about character, contribution and believing in the cause. If I ask an audience to think of a brand with a strong service reputation, and then ask them to finish this sentence, “When it absolutely, positively…,” most everyone would finish with, “…has to be there overnight.” This slogan embodies FedEx’s promise to the marketplace and importantly, they continue to deliver on that promise. They pioneered overnight shipping and earned more than $35 billion in revenue last year, averaging more than 3 million packages a day. And when anyone needs to get it there—guaranteed—they use FedEx. Where can FedEx bring us?

Under which circumstances are you a go-to person in your group? When would you like to be the go-to person? What areas of your work ethic, skill set or demeanor do you need to address to build the reputation you want?


Are you staying current, growing your skills, expanding your knowledge? Are you keeping your point of view fresh? A great example of a company that has redefined refresh is Google. They didn’t invent the search engine; they redefined and improved it. Eight out of 10 people choose Google over all other search engines. Their brand value has grown to more than $100 billion with new tools like Google Voice, the Android operating system and droves of free applications. Google encourages idea and information sharing and builds innovation into each of its products. What can we learn from Google?

What steps can you take to facilitate open communication? How will you leverage this information to refresh your brand?


Your ability to reach your audience is important. Coca-Cola’s reach may be second to none; over 1 billion servings are consumed each day (that’s more than 13,000 per second). They topped Interbrand’s 2010 survey of global brands for the 11th year in a row with over 500 beverage products in over 200 countries. Coca-Cola has clearly linked its vision to its values and has been validated in the marketplace; their famous red and white logo is recognized by over 94% of the world’s population. Additionally, Coca-Cola has adapted an effective social media strategy and now has over 11 million fans on Facebook. What lessons can you learn from our friends at Coca-Cola?

How are currently reaching out to expand your reach? But don’t forget your strong suits/foundations that formed your brand in the first place.

Most people’s personal brands are not built by big events. They are developed over time by the small things each of us consistently does every day. So take a lesson from the big brands: make yourself relevant; build rapport; value your reputation; refresh your skills and expand your reach. Deliver your promise.