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Tuning Up Your Personal Brand

This week Sears reported more troubles, and the CEO announced a plan of action to hopefully renew the chain to its former glory. During the holidays I visited a Sears store for the first time in several years, and I was shocked to see how far the legendary retailer had fallen.

My first real job was working for Sears, so I have a bit of a soft spot for them. In the 70’s when I was an employee, Sears was a powerhouse. The stores were squeaky clean, well-stocked with the latest merchandise, and the sales associates were professionals; well-trained and versed in their product lines. But the Sears I visited a few weeks ago was a mess; a dirty, disorganized, and smelly store that looked more like a third-world discount warehouse than one of America’s greatest retailers.

Certainly Sears has faced unprecedented competition and pressure from all kinds of sources, but it is also a lesson in how fast and far a brand can fall. And just like Sears, I am often reminded of how fast individuals can allow their personal brands to falter in the workplace. It is easy to let little things slide, without realizing the combined impact it has on how you are projecting yourself. A couple common examples of “personal brand erosion” I often see in the workplace:

  • Lazy e mails. There was a time when it was acceptable to use a kind of “email shorthand” – but given the fact that e mails are now our primary business communication tool, and considering the easy access of spell and grammar check, it is a bad idea to send out e mails that appear to have been written by someone for whom English is a third language. Yesterday I received an e mail from a realtor soliciting my business. It was so riddled with misspellings and grammatical errors that I had to read it several times to figure out what he was saying. But unfortunately the real message he unwittingly sent was “I am unprofessional – don’t deal with me”. I often receive e mails from employees with the same kind of issues. If the e mail I receive from the former secretary to the Prime Minister of Nairobi promising me ten million dollars is better written than the one I receive from you – we have a problem. Another hint – unless your name is e.e. cummings you should use upper case occasionally. Your e mail is often the only representation of “you” that people see – so use the tool accordingly.
  • Giving up in the battle for personal hygiene. Working at a company is not like moving into a dorm. Once you have the job you are not supposed to get all “comfy”, and show up for work in your tattered pajamas and bunny slippers. OK – I am exaggerating. I have never had anyone show up for work in bunny slippers. But, I frequently see employees take definite downward slides in the appearance department. Certainly every work environment has a different dress code – but I know of few companies where unwashed and sloppy is the desired appearance. My advice to employees is dress with pride – and in a manner that best fits the company culture. And you shouldn’t fear “overdressing” – especially where clients are concerned. Dressing professionally shows honor to your clients – even if their work culture is much less formal. Your dress and hygiene is your first indication to most people of your personal brand. Are you professional? Creative? Buttoned-up? Or are you wearing yesterday’s lunch on the front of your shirt?
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