You, The Product: Personal Branding for Product Managers
Branding might be the domain of the marketing department, but when it comes to personal branding, everyone is on their own. So while a product management professional is supposed to be spending all their time worrying about the wellbeing of the products they manage, who’s looking out for You: The Product?The right answer isn’t “your over-supportive mother” or “your boss”; your mom might be able to make you extremely popular among her circle of friends, but they’re unlikely to hire you. Your boss is worried about their own personal brand and frankly, they'd probably be happy if no one outside the company knew about you. They want to remain their own secret weapon and not worry about you being poached because of your awesomeness.So that means you have yet another job to do… and this one is unpaid in the short-term. But investing in your personal brand will pay dividends down the line in the form of promotions, raises and being a generally upwardly-mobile product professional.
Why your brand matters
Your career is more than one product, and usually spans multiple companies. But unless you somehow managed to get your name ON that product, your identity will likely remain hidden and no one will associate your product’s awesomeness with your own.But if you want to advance your career, you’ll need to shine beyond your immediate sphere of co-workers and the limited number of customers and partners you interact with professionally. That’s why you need to burnish your reputation and increase your visibility.If you think doing a great job and being a fantastic colleague is enough to foster a great internal brand, you’d be surprised how little that knowledge spreads in your organization organically. And while it should be part of your manager’s job to increase the profile of their team, the ugly reality is that most executives lack the time and in some cases the interest in boosting your career.But as your insights are shared to a wider circle, some strategic seeds are planted that will pay off down the line. Internally, being seen as more than just your job description and transforming into a thought leader increases the odds you’ll be tapped for larger opportunities. It also means you’re more likely to get poached by another company (or at least approached by recruiters) so your current firm might be more proactive with the raises and promotions.And when the time comes to look for your next gig, it’s far easier to open doors when your prominence precedes you. If you spend all your time and energy focused on your current job and not your entire career, you may find yourself with limited options in a crowded market full of other product people with similar resumes.“You will have a personal brand, whether you want one or not,” says Dipti Salopek, Director of Human Resources of Criteo. “So ultimately, you have to decide if you want to play a mindful and proactive role in shaping it.”
How to build your brand
Branding doesn’t happen overnight; you can’t just say “today I’m going to build my personal brand.” Realistically, it requires time and an ongoing commitment to cultivating your image. That’s why the product managers who are successful at creating a high profile are continually working at it by being active on social media, frequently speaking and writing about their craft, and attending events to build and maintain their network.And since your brand is being built every day, you must ensure you’re broadcasting the qualities you want to be associated with yourself.“Make sure your message is consistent,” says human resources executive Greg Reynolds. “Remember that everything you do or choose not to do contributes to your personal brand, from the way you speak to someone on the phone, to the way you conduct yourself at meetings, or how you compose your emails.”Of course, it’s helpful for YOU to know what your personal brand actually should be before you start trying to communicate it to others. Keeping your target audience in mind, figure out what separates you from the pack and makes you unique.“Your value proposition might be about you but it's not for you,” says Emma Brudner of HubSpot. “If you're not sure what makes you different, spend some time researching your peers and reflecting on your individual beliefs and passions.”Ideally you can even boil this down to a single word that sets the tone for who you are and what you bring to the table. “If you can find yours, it can have a profound impact on your person brand, and hence your career,” says HubSpot founder Dharmesh Shah. “Make a list of the adjectives you want people to repeat after they meet you, talk to you, see or read about you... what do you want other people to think of when they think of you?”
So let’s get down to brass tacks and action items for the never-ending project that is building and maintaining your personal brand:
The starter pretty obvious: you need an up-to-date LinkedIn profile, so you the Rolodex of the Internet age has the latest and greatest information on your and your career, and so you’ll show up in searches when someone is looking for someone like you. This goes beyond just making sure your work history is accurate; it’s also paying attention to the little things and making sure the keywords you want to be associated with are showing up in there early and often. You’ll also want to use it as a hub for everything else about you online since this is where many people will start when learning more about you, so include links to things you’ve written, post SlideShares of your public presentations, and get recommendations from folks that have some clout in your industry.Beyond LinkedIn, your branding efforts require an ongoing commitment and effort, so you want to be sure you’re not spreading yourself too thin. A Twitter account that regularly chimes in on important topics or shares interesting links can turn you into a somebody on social media, but if you’re not interested in tweeting on a regular basis, it may not be worth it.Do you have a great eye for design and work in an industry that has a lot of great visual elements? Then using your Instagram account could be part of your brand image. But if it’s just for pictures of your avocado toast and cute puppies, it’s probably best to limit its exposure to friends and family.Blogging is an excellent tool for showing the world just what an insightful smartypants you are, and unlike social media you’re not rushed or confined to a format and you can dive deep on the topic of your choosing. It’s an opportunity to show how you took a problem and solved it with an elegant or crafty solution. However, if your blog isn’t updated very often you’re building an inconsistent brand element. So if you’re not really committed to blogging regularly, turn to guest posts on well-respected industry blogs or contributing to your corporate blog instead. You’ll still get your thoughts out there but won’t have to worry about how long it’s been since your last post.Giving presentations that share your knowledge - and aren’t just glorified sales pitches - is another great way to build your brand. It shows you’re giving back to the larger community and presents a great springboard for networking, plus you can reuse that content for other branding channels. Whether it’s an industry-specific event, a local ProductCamp, or a slot in a panel discussion, being on stage builds your credibility as someone in the know and with the passion and confidence to talk about it.
What about internally?
Not everyone is focused on raising their profile outside their own company. Those same presentation skills can be put to work internally to help build your brand among your coworkers. Get a slot in the agenda at the company sales meeting, schedule learning lunches, provide customer visit recaps… anything to put the focus on you and your insights. The world doesn’t always shine the spotlight on you, sometimes you need to make it happen for yourself.And finally, as a product manager you have a unique opportunity to insert yourself into case studies for your products and solutions. Explain how you looked at the market, listened to customer demands, and came up with a winning solution that satisfied their needs and made everyone happy. You’re the storyteller AND part of the story, so make the most of it, especially when there’s a video element to the case study.
That's a lot...
If this all sounds overwhelming, you’re not wrong. Your reputation is crucial to your career path and what will lead to professional success or disappointment, so acknowledge its importance and incorporate the elements that work for you into your to-do lists. Start with one thing - say a regularly updated Twitter feed or a blog post on Medium - and build from there. With a little practice, your brand building activities will just be another regular item in your regular routine.