How to Ruin a Brand in Less Than 60 Seconds

John Follett

by Phyllis Shabad

Your mastery of marketing strategy is enviable. Wide-ranging knowledge of how to align “old-school” insight with current social media marketing tools has stamped you as a trusted thought leader within and without. To your company, you are the solid partner who builds a culture of marketing execution for all channels, and to your external clients, you’ve earned a reputation as the practical and creative idea generator who always finds the needle in the marketing haystack when no one else can or does.

You visualize, craft and grow brands with sustainability. But are you on a collision course to destroy the one brand nearest and dearest to you personally—and professionally? In less than 60 seconds?

Ask yourself why, then, you have avoided applying all the core concepts of branding to yourself? Put another way, what would it take to help you transfer your knowledge and expertise of marketing to personal brand growth? You know: you’ve heard a lot of buzz about personal branding in the last decade. Politicians hire big-deal consultants to help brand themselves before their opponents do. Executives at the very top navigate the choppy waters of brand reputation on a regular basis. For all strivers, a polished personal brand can be the most important arrow in your career quiver. Don’t worry about any disconnect, however, because you—especially you—have the appropriate mindset to recalculate and express a vibrant personal brand. The natural barriers to the personal brand solution are somewhat subjective by nature, and no one is at fault here. So let’s take a look at the first step in your new personal marketing plan.

Personal-BrandPhoto Source

Avoid Abundant Mythologies 

The Theory of the Case:
Everyone needs a résumé, correct? The short answer is an obvious “yes” if you’re in the market to explore career opportunities and pursue access to high-end recruiters, or penetrate the senior executive management tier of companies that you target. The longer answer is “no” if you want to do anything more in the way of solving the personal brand + career satisfaction = success equation. By that I mean having a product in your hand that is much more elastic and incorporates multiple components for a broad spectrum of marketing applications.

Two Career Stories That Resonate: The Rising Star & The Senior Executive

You would be right to ask, “Who uses a branded portfolio?” especially in place of the traditional résumé most people think of as the “door-opening” tool that you expect to move the career needle. With a broad brush, I’m going to paint the picture of two careerists on the move. Both may seem more than familiar to you. In fact, one was a former writing client of mine, and the other was a network colleague who I coached to make the leap into entrepreneurship. Names are fictionalized (of course) and their stories are real.

The Rising Star

Let me tell you about Emma, a rising marketing star in a commercial real estate organization. Her company recruited her to start and grow a digital media platform for an express purpose—to set the context for a midsized real estate brand with a mission to expand their footprint in key domestic urban markets. Older, larger competitors in commercial real estate used only traditional, more familiar marketing strategies. Emma’s company wanted something fresh that would attract younger investors ready to embrace more innovative technology, planning, architectural fit with environment and new business development. So, Emma not only established a new media platform with a full set of tools but also executed the marketing mission in a way that began to shake up a saturated, conservative commercial real estate market. Her organization became the “brand to watch” and Emma was promoted from Marketing Analyst to VP of Marketing within 18 months. This all worked to a point because a turbulent market made it increasingly difficult for her to increase her department budget, recruit savvy talent and try out newer technologies that she was sure would help her company scale values-based marketing communications.

For the C-Suiters—including the CMO and board directors—a personal risk-aversion to new technology made them warier of the cost impacts of newer marketing methodologies on bottom-line revenues. Although Emma had reinvigorated a stodgy brand and contributed to triple-digit revenue growth, her creative marketing solutions were put on hold. Pitches became less persuasive. Her work was no longer fun, and her role was reduced even as the company grew. Time to test the job market, right? But job search is hard, takes a timeline twice as long as you anticipate and becomes a full-time job in addition to your day job. Fueled with momentum and self-confidence, Emma did what many of her peers did: she unbranded herself. She wanted to tell an exciting story about marketing, branding and change management, but sadly became trapped by some of the biggest mythologies of job search.

RUIN YOUR BRAND: Step 1: get a recruiter, if you can; Step 2: write a page-and-a-half or two-page reverse chronological résumé; Step 3: “cold-call market” the résumé over the door to recruiters and online databases serving as job boards with listed opportunities; Step 4: navigate HR functions to try and land interviews in targeted companies: Step 5: continuously call friends to see who and what they kn0w where. But the truth is that even in a very robust job economy this would be a slow-go process with a résumé at once banal, unrelentingly amorphous and blah-blah brand-less. Also bruised with a whole lot of bullets and dates for content. With limited knowledge of better career marketing tools, Emma remained with the real estate firm for nearly one more year. Not her fault.

This is NOT Emma’s personal brand targeted to the most sensible, next meaningful step in her career. I agreed that Emma the Rising Star would be an excellent fit in companies that were natural, true believers in the power of social, mobile, digital and video marketing. I coached Emma to focus on organizations ready to invest in less mature marketing strategies; by design, that involves risk as a pathway to reward. To position herself as a creative, dexterous marketing executive who had already rethought the business model, Emma needed a portfolio to showcase her talent and secure a great result. A standard résumé is not a friendly home for big stories that are relevant to a firm’s needs—especially stories that are anchored with a clear, distinctive personal brand. In Emma’s specific case, it was imperative to pitch the best of her accomplishments without muddying a great personal brand already diminished by the last year or so of the company’s record. Hint: don’t make an employer’s story necessarily your story if it contributes to brand opacity. Personal brands are best communicated in career portfolios.

One portfolio later, Emma was the Director of Digital Marketing at a growing, midsized consumer products firm.

A Veteran Senior Executive

Next, let’s talk about Bill, a former Chief Marketing Officer at a payment-processing firm. Headquartered on the East Coast, his company had a broad client base of consumers and leading businesses worldwide. Bill’s 22+-year tenure and steady rise at the company was a glorious story of how his marketing savvy had provided competitive, reliable solutions to large marquee clients across multiple industries. Creative and personable, Bill had integrated some trailblazing strategies into the marketing mix, cementing business relationships that were lucrative for the firm. None of that matters, however, in an economic downturn, as the marketing function may no longer be viewed as an essential asset to a firm’s bottom line. Facing the prospect of a smaller mission, reduced workforce and a less-than-optimal management role, Bill took the offer of an early package out of the company and began his job search almost immediately. He sought another CMO position with the same geographic target on the East Coast because his family of five did not want to be uprooted, and he had a comfortable suburban life with a large, local network.

Over a period of eight or nine months, Bill worked at his job search with assertiveness and discipline, and, using old network relationships, he scored more than a half-dozen interviews for opportunities with serious potential. Close, but not quite. Interest, but no offers. As the timeline grew closer to one year without another position, Bill had a meeting with several friends who, like him, were also tired of looking to land deals that failed to materialize. As an eclectic group of deeply experienced executives, they concluded what many former “Chiefs” accept—practicality rules. The next steps were typical for a start-up consulting company.

With a detailed business plan in place, they needed funding and a fully developed description of the management team that would attract and persuade the right investors. Bill and his friends turned to their standard résumés that they had used in their current job search. Not only did they come to realize that what they had been using was less than desirable, none of the career marketing collateral integrated well into the business plan at all. There is little functionality in the kind of résumé that a mid-careerist would typically use in searching for a salaried position at a company. Entrepreneurship demands a different approach, organization, components, language and story content to fit all start-up needs.

Instead of résumés, they created short-form management portfolios that could expand as they grew their company. Bill’s portfolio became the start-up’s template for a distinctive story told well across old and new marketing platforms, and all of the partners were relieved that this new marketing communications tool did not have to be continually reworked for every business need. Bill became a CMO and Managing Partner in a firm that offered more sophisticated and scalable payment processing products to SMEs with related clients in financial services and advisory. Revenues, profits and customer base all grew rapidly in the first two years, and forecasts are currently on target for years three – five.

Bill transitioned from salaried executive to very busy entrepreneur without any regrets.

Emma now works for a larger firm as a CMO, and Bill still manages marketing efforts as his firm’s CMO. There will be more about Bill and his portfolio later. In fact, I know you may be wondering about the structure, elements and creative content ideas that populate career portfolios, and I will be glad to share some fundamentals with you.

What is the takeaway here? The most crucial aspect of career management for executives—especially for those in marketing functions—is to tell relevant stories and to tell them well. For everyone, that means you pitch not only accomplishments but also ideas, value, insight and forward motion embedded in stories that are animated with your personal brand. To do that, you cannot begin a great brand strategy with a marketing communications piece that reads like this: “Results-driven, strategic decision-maker and visionary marketing executive with 18 years of experience for a global healthcare company.” Assuming that the description is true, the reader will understand that the claims are from your perspective. Most of all, you have ruined your brand in less than 60 seconds. 

Why? You can probably guess that your prose opener is a door closer. You have left an impression that is without passion, clarity and interest, not to mention any emotional pull. A résumé filled with hackneyed phrases and key word ambiguity will deliver all other brands instead of your own. A portfolio is more innovative and effective.


Phyllis ShabadPhyllis Shabad, Chief Branding Officer at Executive Brand Coach

Veteran executive coach, career strategist and “magician with words” to CEOs, CMOs and rising-stars, Phyllis helps you discover your personal brand nerve center, frames a robust marketing blueprint, and creates a communications portfolio that raises your visibility and breaks through to hypercompetitive markets. Phyllis is also a member of Demand Metric's Senior Analyst Network.


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