Build a Brand – Not Just a Career

Guest Post by Laura Ries (learn more about Laura at the end of this article):

Talk about “having it all.” How about the 37-year-old woman, pregnant with her first child, named the new CEO of a $5 billion company that last year had net profits of $1 billion.

With Marissa Mayer’s Yahoo appointment, there are now 20 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.

So how do you get to be CEO of a Fortune 500 company? Conventional wisdom suggests that if you are exceptionally smart and work hard, you will make it to the top.

Unlikely. Suppose you work for General Electric, a company with 301,000 employees. Your chances of reaching the top are infinitesimal. No matter how smart you are and how hard you work.

What did Marissa Mayer have that most people don’t? As Google’s 20th employee and first woman engineer, she is a “brand.”

What is a brand anyway? It’s a name that stands for something in prospects’ minds. Nordstrom stands for “shoes.” Zappos stands for “internet shoes.” Google stands for “search.”

Marissa Mayer is “the woman that made Google successful.”

See the difference. You could work for General Electric for 50 years and never be “the woman that made GE successful.

I studied marketing at Northwestern. After graduation, when I was looking for a job, I approached the man who wrote the marketing bible, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind.

A book that readers of Advertising Age recently selected as “the best book they’ve ever read on marketing.” A book that was chosen by the Harvard Business School Press for a volume entitled “The 100 Best Business Books of All Time.”

“Dad,” I said, “how about a job?”

That was 18 years ago and together we have built the Ries & Ries “marketing” brand, including the publication of five books on the subject.

Before you accept any position at any company at any salary level, just reverse the famous line of John F. Kennedy. Ask not what you can do for the company, ask what the company can do for your brand.

Too many women executives (and men, too) assume that talent will out. That success depends on ability and long hours. I wish that were all it took.

Even better is being in the right place at the right time. With the right company or the right boss.

Take Microsoft, a company with $70 billion in annual revenues and $23 billion in net profits. To rise to the top of a company like that must take an unusual amount of talent.

Perhaps so, but the CEO is Steve Ballmer, a Harvard classmate of Bill Gates and a person who lived down the hall in the same dormitory.

Ballmer did a pretty good job of building the Ballmer brand in the mind of Bill Gates.

Life is like that. You can’t make yourself famous. Only other people can do that for you. So if you want to have a successful career, don’t focus all your efforts on yourself.

Think about other people. Think about the impressions you are making on friends, neighbors, business associates. Think about your brand.

What are you? Can you define yourself in a single word or concept? Are you “safe” like a Volvo? Or a “driving machine” like a BMW? Or “prestigious” like a Mercedes-Benz?

Don’t just build a career. Build a brand.

About the Author

laura riesLaura Ries is a leading brand strategist, bestselling author, sought-after speaker and popular television personality. She is President of Ries & Ries based in Atlanta, GA. Along with her partner and father Al Ries, the legendary Positioning pioneer, Ries & Ries consults with companies around the world on brand strategy.

Laura and Al have written five books including: The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding and The Fall of Advertising & the Rise of PR. Laura’s first solo book Visual Hammer was recently released and is available now at or Apple’s iTunes.

You can connect with Laura on Twitter @lauraries , email at [email protected] or visit

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  1. says

    Nice article, Laura, on such an important topic. I see the role of social media playing a huge role today from a branding perspective. Since everyone has pretty much equal opportunity to participate on the web (some have a few more resources to help them with the execution), there is a tendency to check out a person’s social authority to understand their brand.

    Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and blogs are not just for your personal entertainment. How you use and engage on them is fast becoming a major tool in establishing your personal brand.