When you think about brands, what comes to mind? Many of you will instantly think of places you shop, foods you consume, or logos you wear. Some of you may think of Coca-Cola, Microsoft, or perhaps IBM (which are listed in order of the world’s most recognizable brands according to Business Week) but regardless of the company itself, all branding shares the fundamental reason of why it works: Trust.
Think about it, what drives you to purchase the same products from the same brands repeatedly as a consumer? Whether it’s clothing, food, entertainment, or electronics, we as consumers tend to prefer one brand over their competitors. Apple vs. Microsoft, Roberts vs AE Dairy, Target vs Walmart…these are just some examples of the powerful drive behind marketing and branding. Our choices are strongly dictated by the loyalty we feel towards the company due to our trust in their consistency. Starbucks has been a company that, even today, is heralded as one of the biggest success stories for branding. A few decades ago, coffee was simply coffee. You could go to a diner and get a bottomless cup of coffee for under a dollar until one day, Starbucks arrived on scene in java centric Seattle. And all of a sudden an industry was born. Celebrities were photographed carrying Starbucks cups branded with its green mermaid image and suddenly, people were willing to pay over four times what they used to for a cup of coffee. When you break down the success of Starbucks, it’s much more complex than simply delivering a great product at a higher price point…Starbucks revolutionized the way coffee was made. They trained their staff and gave them a fancy title: instead of calling their employees’ waitresses or waiters, they titled them “Baristas.” Starbucks gave them pride in what they did, and trained them in consistency. If you went to a Starbucks in Seattle, and months later went to one in New York, you knew that ordering the same thing would result in a coffee that had an identical taste. The lesson here is that consistency in branding begets consumer trust.
Now, what does any of this have to do with consulting? In consulting, personal branding is based on consistency and trust both on an individual and company level. Why do clients hire consultants with billable hourly rates and pay for expenses? It’s for the same reason why you may choose to shop at Target or purchase a Macbook: it’s for the consistency of the brand and for the quality or knowledge consultants possess. They are choosing to pay for experience and knowledge based on the trust that they’ve developed with the consulting firm. Often times, as a consultant at a new assignment (beyond what the clients see on paper or may hear during an interview) the clients don’t know details such as your work ethic, level of professionalism, or knowledge base. What they do know is that the company you work for often already has a pre-established relationship with them, which in turn allows them to place faith in you as a consultant before you ever signed a contract. In short, they have faith in the consulting company’s brand.
That’s not to say that personal branding is something that consultants can ignore. In fact, personal branding can reflect highly both on the individual consultant as well as the company they work for. Personal branding as a consultant is everywhere and is in everything you do. It’s in fulfilled promises you make, or projects you flawlessly execute, it’s in the way you speak in interviews and in meetings, and it’s in the way you carry yourself and in the way you conduct yourself with clients.
So, think about your personal branding and what it reflects now, is it in line with what you would like? Does your company work to support and strengthen your brand and theirs? Fortunately mine does – for example, Mark Scherling spoke about valuable consultants who do what they say they will in a previous blog entry (Hiring Remarkable Employees – What to Really Look For) and Carter Groome reminded us all on a company wide call that training is available. That’s because consulting is truly a team effort and is mutually beneficial. Our success and personal branding is not ours alone as it affects the company’s success and vice versa, because in the end, it simply comes down to knowledge, consistency, and trust.