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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What IS a Brand?

Quick - what words come to mind when I ask, "What is a brand?"
(I'll give you a minute)

Chances are, you thought of a product like Nike. Or a company like McDonald's. Or a cereal manufacturer like Kellogg's. Or perhaps a logo or a brand name popped into your head.

And now - quick - what comes to mind when I ask you "what is your company's brand position?" 
Need some help with this question? You're not alone. Chances are, unless you work in the field of marketing, you struggled with the second question. And even if you do work in marketing, from time to time you'll struggle with this question, too.

I've heard it said (and I would credit the source if I knew it...) that your brand is what other people think of you -- or your company.

This is NOT a brand.
It's a branding iron that is custom made to put your name on steaks that you BBQ at home. Granted, it is a really, really cool brand and one that I'll consider as a gift for anyone who loves to grill steaks. And/or who loves seeing their name on things. Especially things they cook.

You can't create a brand - but rather you can help to formulate a brand strategy to help to shape opinions and steer the direction of your company. Done right, it helps to solidify what makes your company and products unique, and it will bring together your internal and external audiences who will embrace and celebrate the brand message.

If you think that a brand strategy is akin to a branding iron, in that you "create" the brand by making your mark on things - you're going to have some struggles.

How do you start creating a brand strategy? 
Talk to your employees. Talk to your customers. Figure out what you are and what you're not, and how you are unique in your industry. Find out what your current communications - web, social, digital, ads - are saying about your company and figure out if they are lining up with what your internal and external audiences have shared.

How do you manage your brand strategy over time?
Keep tabs on how your company and industry is changing. Keep talking to those internal and external folks. Identify your brand champions or ambassadors, and embrace them. Not literally. Well, maybe occasionally, if a hug is warranted and you're close. But rather, embrace them by asking their opinions, their input, and for their support.

What do YOU think?
What are some of the best branding campaigns you've seen?
What makes a brand memorable?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Would YOU Invest in You?

As I was reading, or rather listening to a book on CD this week entitled, "Persuasion IQ: The 10 Skills You Need to Get Exactly What You Want," the author makes a statement related to my love of professional development: "Would YOU invest in you?"

In other words: if you were an employer or customer, how attractive of a candidate (or purchase) would you be? He then goes on to explain the value of continually developing your skills to keep yourself current.

As working professionals, whether you work in marketing, retail, technology, accounting, building maintenance, horticulture, or marine biology, it's important to continually educate and improve yourself. In effect, this means it is essential that we continue to invest in ourselves to make ourselves marketable. Regardless where you are in your career, the time you reach a point and you no longer seek to learn and improve your skills might be a tipping point in the time when you start to become obsolete.

I love to learn. I remember growing up loving the school library. I was such a big reader that I recall my elementary teacher at Marie C. Graham schools in the L'Anse Creuse Public School District letting me go to the library to read once I had completed all my schoolwork. At the end of the school year, I was allowed to go to the library to help the librarians clean the books. I remember the smell of the books and the sense of excitement to this day.

My mom was also a book lover. She would take us to the library and let us pick out any book we wanted. But I digress.

There was a period of time where I didn't want to learn anymore, or rather, I was just tired of going to school and wanted to be done. It was the last few years of my undergrad and luckily by then I had decided to major in marketing, which came easy to me. Over time, I eventually returned to the libraries and used bookstores and even started a few fiction books during my first job. They are on a disk somewhere in the house.

After a few job changes early in my career, I had landed a position with a 1-hour commute both ways. I decided to make the most of it and started listening to books on CD. I began with fiction, and eventually moved into professional development books, including Covey's "7 Habits of Highly Effective People."

While at that job, I recall mentioning to my manager how I wanted to move into management in marketing, and he suggested Toastmasters International to help me develop my public speaking skills. It took me a few years, but I eventually did join and I'm so glad I did. I found it to be a great support group to help me overcome my introvertedness (is that even a word?) and I still consider myself an introvert at heart these days. Probably all that time in the library when I was a kid!

I completed my Competent Communicator achievement in Toastmasters within the first few years, and have recently completed my Competent Leader achievement as well. By staying active in Toastmasters, it helps to keep the edge off my nerves. Plus, over time I've found that all the practice has made me actually enjoy the act of speaking in public. Well, most of the time... my nerves still act up from time to time.

Not too long after joining Toastmasters, I also started to seek out networking organizations. I wanted to find more women like me. At the time, I worked for a male-dominated company with very few women in management or leadership positions, and I knew there had to be other women like me out there. I was embarrassed at my first meeting to announce this, but many of the other women in the room nodded their heads in agreement and gave me a kind smile of support. I joined Inforum Michigan back in 2008 thanks to a birthday gift from my husband, and have found it to be a worthwhile organization.

When I changed jobs and joined Walsh College in 2008, there was no Inforum Michigan networking group in the area. So I did what any smart career-loving, busy woman would do, I started a group at Walsh so I could benefit from a convenient location. (I've found over time that my mom's mantra of "you always make time for the things you really want to do" is very true. Sometimes you just have to think creatively about how you spend your time and what optional items come off your daily list.)

Michigan Supreme Court
Justice Bridget Mary McCormack
I've been chairing the Inforum Troy networking breakfast since early 2009, and have great co-chairs to help make it more management. (side note: Connect with Laura Rolands and Bailey Bynum if you get a chance. They are both rock stars.) Info In addition to the networking breakfasts, I've found events like these are great educational and networking opportunities. I'm always impressed by the caliber of the Inforum speakers and events.
rum recently asked me to share an upcoming event featuring Justice McCormack, a rising star in Michigan politics. The event is in Grand Rapids next week on November 13. (note: You can read more about the event at

Do I stop there? No, of course not. About a year ago, I finally (FINALLY) started my MBA at Walsh College. I'm doing it a class at a time and you know
"Yes, I'm proud to say
I continue to invest in myself,"
shares Brenda Meller.
what? I love being a student again. I was debating taking two classes per semester to finish sooner, but decided against it. It will take me five years, but I'll take one class at a time, enjoy one class at a time, and at the end of it all, five years will go by and I'll have an MBA that I can appreciate. Incidentally, that Covey book I listened to over 10 years ago was in my second class in the MBA program. And I'm kicking myself a bit for not starting the MBA years ago! :)

What's next after that? I'm not sure, but I know I'll continue to find ways to invest in myself. How about you?