[Dept. of Bad Advice] Your Brand is Not – Repeat Not – Your Elevator Pitch

Gertrude Stein, photographed by Carl Van Vecht...

Gertrude Stein

I could blame my grumpy reaction to this last set of rainy days in San Francisco, but I won’t. Instead I’ll attribute to the type of “nice graphics first, let’s think about what it means later” approach that pops up every once and a while. And a case of bad career advice.

PriceWaterhouseCoopers is running something called Personal Brand Week. Their web page has a cute set of five name tags, conveniently corresponding to the five days of a traditional workweek and arranged in ascending order, foundations first.

PWC states “Let everyone know that there’s more to you than meets the eye. Each day during Personal Brand Week, PwC will provide insightful tools, recommendations and tips that will help you prepare for what’s next. Start shaping your professional brand and building your career today!”

The 5 name tags read:

  • “Your Elevator Speech: The foundation of your brand
  • Your Passion: The power of people
  • Your Network: Relationships and mentoring
  • Your Online Brand: Social media and your career
  • Open to Change: Career momentum”

As an executive coach who splits time between working with individuals (and their careers) and coaching teams, I can have a field day with most of these points: sort of like shooting fish in barrel. I’ll stick with the first – the elevator speech as the foundation of your brand.

Tom Peters pioneered the phrase “The Brand Called You” in an article for Fast Company in 1997. It’s a good piece, and highly relevant today. A piece titled (More) Time to be Greedy: Why You Need a Brand Called “Youthat I wrote captures similar points.

Here’s what Tom said about getting a handle on your personal brand:

“Start by identifying the qualities or characteristics that make you distinctive from your competitors — or your colleagues. What have you done lately — this week — to make yourself stand out? What would your colleagues or your customers say is your greatest and clearest strength? Your most noteworthy (as in, worthy of note) personal trait?”

I wrote:

A personal brand is another way to say “professional reputation.” It’s what we’re known for, or known as. Even though in our Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Twitter world, personal and professional are quickly smooshing into each other, you have the opportunity to cultivate and nuture a personal brand this is authentically yours.

Condensing your brand into a distilled set of points – the elevator pitch as it were – is important to effectively communicating to people who you are and the value you bring.

But an elevator pitch is not your brand. It’s just a vehicle to communicate the brand. I know a number of people who have that elevator pitch part down pat: the problem is that when you peel back the proverbial onion to talk about how they got there, what their skills and experience really bring, and how they think – to crib Gertrude Stein’s line – there is no there there. And everything falls apart.

They have the slogan, but no substance.

Take Tom’s (or my) advice and start by figuring out the distilled essence of the brand called YOU first.

The elevator pitch can come later.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive and team coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above.

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