A couple of weeks ago there was an article published on 2015’s top ten words over used in LinkedIn profiles (it’s here if you missed it). Following quickly on its tail came a bunch of posts and articles profiling the words (among them was motivated, creative, and my pet dislike, passionate). And while there was an element of tongue in cheek with the advice given, there is a strong message worth heeding. Whether your current status is gainful employee, new opportunity seeker, entrepreneur, or very important business person: it’s you you’re marketing and vanilla doesn’t cut it.
Brand Me….or is it You?
Since then, my reticula activating system has been in overdrive. I’ve come across more material that profiles the concept of Brand Me. In The Week-end Australian recently, it was referred to as Me Ltd. Catriona Pollard from CP Communications blogged recently about personal branding and has done for some time. Zahrina Robertson, an international visual branding expert has captured the market with her trademark personal brand imagery. It’s everywhere you look and resist it you may, but at the risk of appearing oh so last century.
With our market and marketing now predominantly online, Brand Me (or You) is a permanent fixture, at least for as long as we’re in business. All well and good, but where do you start? If I’m an engineer with “extensive experience” and a demonstrated “track record” in engineering, but never had to get creative about marketing anything, let alone myself, where do I start? It may be easy for the sales type to spruik his upside, but for most it can be a real struggle. Add to that the complexity of communicating in your market’s values and the engineers I know are going to look at you like you’re speaking another language.
Years of preparing proposals for engineering professional services firms left me in no doubt this issue is alive and well; thriving even. Together with my comms colleagues, we would revise and resuscitate innumerable personal bios (or should I say impersonal) that started in the same uninspired way: <Insert name here> is a <type of> engineer with <number> years experience. He / she has extensive (!) experience in <long list of skills>. And it’s not just something specific to the engineering profession, although unlike accountants and lawyers, they appear to have been more resistant when it comes to upping the ante on market facing presentation.
Almost completely devoid of flavour, these bios screamed zero imagination. The owner (person whose skills and experience being marketed) couldn’t be bothered to work out what to communicate what was most valuable about themselves to the audience, in meaningful and relevant language. Worse still, they completely undersold their value, either from a lack of confidence or interest.
One colleague I worked with used to joke that it didn’t matter how many years experience the engineer had. For all we knew it could be the same year, just twenty times over. A cynical view, but legitimate given that the same starting line is used for hundreds of thousands of bios and profiles around the world.
If Brand Me / You is the way of the future, it’s time now to build a bridge (something engineers love doing) and get over the lack of courage or care and tell our story walking.
What’s your story?
Alex Pirouz from Linkfluencer raises the issue that 99% of peeps on LinkedIn are facing. They have plastered their experience into the LinkedIn format and left it there to do the talking. The only thing is, profiles like this are the equivalent of dry toast. They don’t inspire anyone, least of all you (or me). Be honest with yourself, it’s hard to be enthusiastic if your profile photo is a lame selfie that makes you look like you’ve got an oversize forehead. If your profile reads like a CV, you’re wasting your time and it’s time to change it.
Step one is to get clear about your story. Think about it in detail. Anyone can write a list of their last half dozen projects or their last three places of employment, but it takes more effort and imagination to craft a story that compels the reader to want to know more.
In her book, Body of Work: finding the threads that tie your story together, Pamela Slim writes, “The quality of your life, and business, is directly related to the quality of your stories. Tell them well.”
It’s hard to ignore this advice, especially when you are marketing you. Pushed onto the ring ropes of redundancy and corporate cutbacks, Brand You / Me Limited simply cannot afford not to become more story savvy. Tired excuses absolving you from taking responsibility for your personal brand marketing are the hallmark of someone who doesn’t care enough to sell their very best.
One of the exercises I love in Pamela’s book is where she suggests writing down all your experiences and expanding this to include your non-vocational as well as vocational experience. Apart from being a reminder of all you’ve done (and not a re-run of Horrible Histories), the value in this activity is it helps integrate work and life, a pair that so often become conflicted and out of wack. This integration helps make you more interesting and invariably you find some nuggets of story gold emerge for retelling in your marketing pitch. You become human, and humans love relating to other humans and they enjoy doing business with people who are multi not uni dimensional.
What’s important to your potential employer / biz or JV partner?
It’s not you; it’s them.
As hard as it may be to fathom not everyone’s as in love with your story as you are. Crazy, right! I am reminded of that wonderful skit by English comedy act Harry & Paul who take off the “very important man” syndrome. The first time I watched this I thought somebody must have web cam going in some of my client meetings. At once both cringe worthy and funny, the absence of EQ in the room was staggering.
The problem is that when it comes to marketing (regardless of whether it’s you, a commodity or service), selling the idea that our value (our experience and what we know) is worth investing in, we still have trouble presenting it in terms of other people’s values (what’s important to them). It’s equally challenging to communicate this in language that means something to the audience. I marvelled at meetings when discussions would immediately drop down into the technical detail, rather than take a “warmer” approach, which revealed more about the person / challenge / company. Presenting your commodity technical fix is a necessary step in the pathway to solutions, but it’s not the first step. Listening to your market’s language and challenges – on social media, in client meetings, in interviews – and translating that into your value is.
For your LinkedIn profile this means getting serious, not selfish. It means ditching the selfie for a professional brand image; it means preparing great stories about your experience that speak to your audience. It means caring enough about your market (businesses, employers, JV partners, colleagues) to communicate about what they value, and doing it in ways that are meaningful to them.
This is the true art of storytelling and at the heart of all communication. With 330 million plus people using LinkedIn as their personal (professional) brand marketing channel, it pays to get it right.