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‘What’ and ‘How’ will define your Project Management Brand!

When we think about brand, we usually think of the companies which have left indelible marks on our psyche due to the either positive or negative outcomes we have experienced with their products and services. Apple provides a great example of the power of positive branding – just thinking about that organization and its products brings a smile to the faces of many people.

How does brand help?

It provides marketing support to enable companies to distance themselves from their competition, especially when the products or services they offer cannot be easily differentiated based solely on price or features.
While this is important during prosperous times, it is crucial during economic downturns. Southwest Airlines was one of the few North American air carriers to survive and even thrive through the crippling fallout which impacted most of its competitors after 9/11.

When we think of brand in a phrase, a common word which follows it is loyalty. Brand loyalty is priceless – when customers become advocates, they become part of your marketing team.

But brand is not constant.

Companies which are viewed in a very positive light at one time, can lose their positive brand over time. Walmart is a good example of this. Under Sam Walton’s leadership, the company prospered nurtured by strong support from communities, employees and customers. However, in recent years, stories of sketchy labor practices and the impacts it has created on small business have tarnished its brand.

Ford suffered the double whammy of the oil crisis of the ‘70s and numerous quality issues which resulted in a number of creative but negative phrases based on the four letters comprising its name, and yet it has seen a resurgence in brand opinion resulting from innovative and strategic product development.

What are the implications for you as a project manager?

During good times, you might assure yourself of steady employment without any discernible brand so long as you are meeting expectations. However, when financial constraints force companies to downsize, they are less likely to cull staff who while having a track record of solid delivery have strong positive brands.

You can’t neglect your brand.

Take the time to pat yourself on the back after you’ve successfully delivered a particularly challenging project, but remember that “What have you done for me lately?” is the siren song which plays for those who rest on their laurels. Whether it’s reinforcing your brand through consistent performance or evolving your brand to remain competitive, you need to continue to invest in yourself.

A side effect of this is that if you suffer a failure but are able to recover gracefully, those loyal to your brand are more likely to forgive you in light of this loyalty than if haven’t taken the time to develop your brand.

Two key characteristics make up a project manager’s brand – the “what” and the “how”.

“What” includes the industry you operate in, the types of projects you have managed, and the nature of the project management work you do. One project manager might choose to focus on being a trouble-shooter – someone who can be brought in to rescue troubled projects the way “Red” Adair used to specialize in capping highly challenging oil well fires. Specialization helps to define brand. But you could gain a reputation for being highly versatile – being the “MacGyver” who can be thrown in to any project and still be able to achieve project success.

But “what” goes beyond the context of your projects to also include the outcomes.

If you have never experienced a failure in spite of having managed significant depth and breadth of project complexity, you will be perceived as a super-hero. However, if you have a track record of avoiding challenging projects or requesting transfers from such projects when the going gets tough, Clark Kent might be more apt.

“How” focuses on your methods.

If your project management philosophy is that the end justifies the means then your brand is likely to make it difficult for you to receive good team members. Resource managers are not going to want to subject their staff to your “winning at any cost” ways. But if you have developed a track record of taking the Bad News Bears and turning them into winning teams through team building, coaching and servant-leadership you are likely to be in high demand.

Your brand as a project manager is not just about what and how you’ve managed your projects but also about your commitment to project management. Active contribution to supporting and evolving the profession is another method of differentiating yourself and will help to boost your brand.

You will cultivate sponsors and advocates over time, but create a brand for them to rally around. Be the Chief Marketing Officer of Yourself, Inc. – no one else is vying for that job!

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