Bruce Springsteen just announced dates for the 2016 River Tour. My first Bruce concert was the 1980 version of the River Tour, when I was in 11th grade. 35 short years and 60 heart-thumping – fist-pumping, singing-and-dancing marathons later – it is now time to reflect on what I have learned from these experiences.
There is the obvious stuff – my 11th grade son will be standing shoulder to shoulder with me at the 2016 version of the River Tour (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree), my 501 Levi jeans have been replaced by daddy khakis, and my singing has gotten worse, but my Dancing in the Dark dance moves haven’t changed a bit. Then, there is the enduring brand of Springsteen – his ability to speak to me personally and connect with tens of thousands of people at the same time, his ability to change and remain relevant across four very diverse decades and three generations of fans, and finally, his deep appreciation for those that show up to his concerts night after night…after night.
What I do for a living and what I enjoy in life are integrated into a sometimes messy mix of marketing consulting and brand coaching (what I do) for companies and people who need help figuring out what makes them special, unique, valuable, and in demand (why I do what I do). So here is my effort to connect my passions to something that can help you show up differently (every day is a concert appearance) and manage your career more effectively.
Know your target audience.
Bruce branding: I don’t want to see a Bruce concert; I want to participate in a 4-hour Bruce happening.
It pains me to say, but I’m not valuable to every company looking for a marketing consultant…I’m just not. If I truly believe that every company is a potential customer, then I have to assume that every marketing consultant is my competitor…they just aren’t. How can Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, and Wawa survive and thrive selling the same commoditized product…coffee? They do this by understanding, serving and aligning their value (beyond a quality cup of coffee) to the full needs of a very specific audience. Starbucks customers seek specialized drinks in a social environment; Wawa customers crave speed of service; Dunkin is a coffee leader disguised as a donut maker.
Who are you best positioned to serve and why? Maybe you’re great at bringing process to a company that wants to get to the next level. Maybe you are great at making sense of messy family-run businesses. Maybe you are great at helping a company tell its story in a compelling way to engage employees and customers.
Reflect on your past work experiences. What common thread runs through the companies that have attracted you? It’s not easy, but push yourself to think beyond industry and size of company.
Define and own the right narrative.
Bruce branding: It’s not about girls and cars, but about the struggles to participate in and reach for the American dream.
Elevate your conversations to elevate your brand. As an HR leader, you may manage compensation and benefits, but talent-driven innovation is the top determinant of success for your company. As a marketing leader, you are responsible for promotional plans, but millennials are shaping the industry in terms of how and what they buy. As an IT leader, you are pressed to deliver value on current technology investments, but digital disruption is reshaping business models and the rules of competition across every industry.
What conversations define your brand? Most people will default to simple and functional descriptors of you. It is up to you to manage brand perceptions by what you say and what you do. Shape conversations by connecting what you do to the opportunities and challenges on your CEO’s or customers’ growth agenda. Once you make this connection, share your insights on available communication channels, including LinkedIn, Facebook, blogs and internal meetings.
Move beyond functional quality.
Bruce branding: There are many great songwriters, but there are only a few compelling and authentic 3-minute storytellers.
Quality products eventually become a commodity in every industry. I feel that I’m a really good marketing consultant and coach, but there are over 1,000 consultants and coaches in this area as good as me. I choose not to compete with this group on functional attributes alone. I have extended my brand value to include services that my target audience values. I focus on what I solve for my clients in terms of business results that I deliver and the impact that I have in making my clients better. Finally, the experience that I try to create is one of healthy challenge, intense learning, and loads of fun.
You have invested in the skills to excel within your function, but functional excellence isn’t enough. How do you move beyond the functional quality trap to unmatched value along the service, solution, and experience continuum? Begin by defining your strengths (the “S” in SWOT analysis). How do your strengths become valuable to others (clients, boss, or husband/wife) in terms of helping to meet their goals and objectives? Strengths are about you and value is about others. Great brands create great value for others.
Show up and bring it every time.
Bruce branding: The best concert was the last one that I went to…and the next one that I will go to.
The greatest advice I received in personal branding was quite simple, but so powerful – be interesting and be interested. To be interesting means to show up in every conversation and add value. To be interested involves a deep sense of care and curiosity for another person’s business, career or life’s pursuits. When I’m in a selling or networking situation, I authentically show up to help the other person. Asking genuine questions to understand them and their business opens the conversation to great possibilities. Giving value in the conversation demonstrates my ability to solve something of importance. This is my way of building mutually beneficial relationships.
The value exchange
To me, life and business is one big value exchange. The more value you give, the more value you will receive in return. I don’t think this is Karma, but I do think it’s a great way to differentiate yourself. Most people aren’t thinking of other’s needs because they are too busy thinking of their own. Knowing that you have something of value to offer will liberate you to show up confidently, to engage more deeply, to network beyond your comfort zone, to lead important conversations, to share insights, and to expect more of yourself and those around you.
Building a brand is a lifelong process of growing and evolving to new opportunities and new challenges. As a music critic recently reported, Bruce Springsteen is a performer who could easily coast on his catalog at live shows, but instead, he challenges his band, crew and audience every night – as if he still has something to prove.