Episode 20: Branding

October 22, 2019
Branding to Stand Out - Personal Branding
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Angie Chang: Welcome to Girl Geek X podcast, connecting you with insights for women in tech. This is Angie, founder of Girl Geek X and Women 2.0.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And this is Sukrutha. By day I’m an engineering manager.

Gretchen DeKnikker: This is Gretchen. I’ve been working in tech for over 20 years.

Rachel Jones: This is Rachel, the producer of this podcast, and we’re the team behind Girl Geek X. This podcast brings you the best of Girl Geek X events, dinners, and conferences. Where we’ve been elevating women in tech for over 10 years.

Angie Chang: Today we’ll be discussing branding.

Rachel Jones: Why is it important for women in the tech world to think about their brand?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: It’s really hard to set yourself apart and stand out in the sea of other people working in tech and, especially, with whichever company you’re at. There are so many other people doing similar jobs as you. As the company that you might be working at gets larger and larger or so, it’s really, really important to be cognizant of what it is that you want to be known for.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Part of it is just understanding yourself and your own identity and what you care about. It’s the self reflection that’s actually the important part of the branding, not necessarily the, I’m so on brand in all my Insta posts, or something. Of understanding who you are at the core. What you believe in and what you want to associate your name with.

Angie Chang: I feel like as, when I was earlier in my career as a Girl Geek, I would run from the idea the topic of branding. Because I’m like, “That’s just marketing.” I didn’t want to deal with that. As you get more experienced in your career, you start to see what Sukrutha talked about which is the bigger picture and how your manager or other people need to be able to pick you out from a crowd. And then the branding issue becomes something that you actually pay attention to. What you want to be known for, and then tying it to, as Gretchen said, your authentic self and making sure it’s aligned.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, I think you see companies that have inauthentic brands. They’re trying to be something that they aren’t and it just comes across and it works in such a negative way. There was so much talk this year around Pride of all these companies that were changing their logos to rainbows, who had literally never done anything else and how inauthentic that was.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I see a lot of it now with a lot of fashion designers who are trying to get on this size inclusive bandwagon and talk about it. But they don’t change the way that they present their clothing and they don’t change anything else, they just add a few more sizes and they’re like, “We’re inclusive.” It really smacks of inauthenticity.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Is that a word?

Rachel Jones: Yes.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Okay, good.

Rachel Jones: I think about that idea of inauthenticity a lot with branding. Just for me personally, I’ve struggled with this. Just doing podcasts and just being not great at self promotion in general. It’s so rare for me to post on Instagram or on Twitter, here’s a thing that I made. Just wanting to avoid… I just want to do the thing. I don’t need to be out in the world as the person who does the thing. But I think branding and having a personal brand doesn’t just have to mean, oh, I’m using this to get Insta famous. It’s also how you announce who you are just to the people who are around you.

Rachel Jones: When I first moved to the Bay, about a year ago, I was really putting myself out there as a podcaster. Just believing that and claiming it, even if I wasn’t putting it out publicly online, that really helped me just find a lot of opportunities. Because everyone that I was interacting with, anytime that anyone they knew just mentioned the word podcast, then they’re like, “Oh, Rachel knows about this. I should connect you.”

Rachel Jones: So I think knowing your brand and putting that out there, it really helps to unlock your career transition and your career trajectory.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right. And I think– Sorry.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Go ahead.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think, also, not to conflate self promotion with brand. That they’re two distinct things.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. I found that, when I was very deliberate about what brand I wanted for myself or what I wanted to be known for, I then was very clear about what opportunities I wanted to seek out for myself, in addition to what I was already doing. That helped me.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I was thinking about this last night as I was thinking about we’re going to record this episode today. This mentor I have told us about this three word exercise that you do for your own company brand. The company that I founded, we did it. I was looking at it last night to be like, “What were our three words?” It was irreverent, soulful, and effortless. And I was like, “Oh, two of those three are actually my personal brand of being irreverent and soulful.” But we can talk some other time about how you run that exercise.

Gretchen DeKnikker: But it’s really cool. What I really loved about my mentor is she even has her three word exercise for her marriage. So they have three words that are their marriage. Thinking about it in the context of the company, there would be marketing copy and I could just send it back and be like, “It’s not irreverent enough. It’s too corporate, it’s too whatever.” Or, when we’re debating a product feature and it’s like, “Is that effortless?” Or, something about it being soulful. That humans were behind this thing. That humans are part of every interaction and how that really guided the company and I could totally see how it could guide your marriage.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I was thinking maybe I should take at least two of those words that I feel like apply to me and I’ll find my third word and then I have my brand. But I’ve never thought about it so explicitly before.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: For me, I wanted to be known for… You know, when someone asks for something, or there’s work to be done and I sign up for it that it’ll get done. That people can trust for sure if I’ve signed up to say I would do anything or execute on something, it will happen. I don’t know how to phrase that in one word.

Rachel Jones: Dependable?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Dependable?

Angie Chang: What’s a better word?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah, we can punch that up a little bit. We can thesaurus this later. We need a way more exciting–

Rachel Jones: Set aside more time for wordsmithing.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah. You know I’ll play this exercise with you for hours, Sukrutha. I love this stuff.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I definitely want to do it. Angie, what about you?

Angie Chang: I haven’t had the problem of working in a bigger workplace for a decade and needing to distinguish myself. I think, as someone who is in very small companies most of the time, my brand is more about the women in tech aspect of creating communities of women. First, in entrepreneurship and then in the Girl Geekdom. And just amplifying voices and creating this place where women are doing great, interesting things and just making sure that people know about it, as well. Since day to day, a lot of workplaces are very male dominated. I think that became my brand.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Your hobby became your brand.

Angie Chang: If you had to ask me, when I graduated college would I wanted to have done this? No, I didn’t even know about this. It’s just a really interesting pathway to get here. I found feminism in my first job after college because that was the moment I realized the world is the way it is. I was like, “Oh, this is different than UC Berkeley” and then realizing that we needed to have places, in the evenings at big tech companies here in the Silicon Valley in San Francisco Bay Area, where we can feel empowered and see others like ourselves who are also really excited to build new technologies and fast forward our careers together.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Do you think that it’s mostly at a big company that you need a personal brand, or do you feel like one would need it regardless?

Angie Chang: I think you’ll need it regardless. It just happens differently.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I agree.

Angie Chang: I didn’t get to build a brand around a job per se because I’ve done so many one year, two year stints. I feel like more now that it’s been 15 years in this Silicon Valley life, then you’re like, “Okay, I guess my brand is women in tech.”

Angie Chang: And then, is that really something you want to be known for and as your core competency? I’m like, “I don’t know.” It feels like a really fun side hobby so I’m still negotiating my brand.

Rachel Jones: I think, following that, your brand goes so much farther beyond the one specific company that you’re working in. It really exists in your whole network. It’s how you represent yourself to your whole network. Within your job, outside of your job.

Rachel Jones: I think it’s similar with you having your entrepreneurial projects and me having podcasting. I think what’s tied all the things that I do together is definitely storytelling and social impact. With everything that I’ve done in my career and all the outside of work things that I’ve been doing, those are the threads that tie them together. That’s how people view me. Regardless of what aspect of my career I’m showing up in.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Khobi Brooklyn moderated a conversation on personal branding during our dinner with Aurora. Here’s the story of how she found her own brand.

Khobi Brooklyn: We’re going to talk a little bit about brand and building a personal brand. And what that means and how that can have an impact on your career. I think what’s interesting is, a lot of us have a brand but maybe we don’t think about it. Because what is a brand? We often think about companies and what a brand is in a company but the reality is that we all show up in some way. Really, when it comes down to it, it’s how you show up.

Khobi Brooklyn: Part of what a brand is, is an emotional connection. It’s how you’re perceived. It’s how we’re perceived in the workplace. And I would say, as a woman in business, and as a woman in often at tech companies, you’re either too nice or too aggressive. Or, you’re too mean. Or, you’re too sloppy. Or you’re too proper, or whatever. The list can go on and on.

Khobi Brooklyn: I think, for me at least, and I think for a lot of us up here, throughout our career we’ve found a way to find that balance of, how can we show up at work in a way to be super effective and so that people listen and we can do really good work? And how do we stay true to who we are?

Khobi Brooklyn: I’ll give you one personal example. I spent the first part of my life being an athlete. Every coach I ever had said, “You need to be really serious. You’re here to win. Put your head down and win.” And I literally was told not to smile because it would waste too much energy and I needed to be putting that energy into winning the race. So that’s how I shaped my brand in the beginning. I was very serious. I never smiled. I was heads down. I was there to win.

Khobi Brooklyn: Then, I got into communications and I ended up in meetings with other people. I got feedback that I was way too serious and that I needed to smile. In fact, I was literally told I needed to be a ray of sunshine in every meeting. I thought to myself, “I’m not a ray of sunshine. That’s not who I am.” Of course, I don’t want to be bitchy, but I’m also not the sunshine at the table. It was conflicting. It was super challenging for me to find out how can I be true to who I am? But clearly, I need to smile more if I’m going to be effective in the workplace. I think that’s just one example.

Khobi Brooklyn: I’m sure everybody in this room has some anecdote of a time when they felt they got conflicting messages or they weren’t quite sure how do I show up in this meeting? Everybody else in this meeting is in sweatshirts but I love to wear floral prints. Or, you know, like seriously. Or, everybody else in this meeting is super serious and I like to crack a joke every so often. Is that okay? I think that’s something that we all think about.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I just felt like when I was listening to it, like, girl, same.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, me, too.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I just really think being told… I’ve definitely had to soften up a lot to be heard. I was just really relating to the like, “Oh, these are the amount of things I have to do to get along.” But I think, at some point, in your career, you come in as who you are and then your environment gives you feedback and shapes you to a certain extent.

Gretchen DeKnikker: But at some point you also have enough authority, or enough experience, or whatever it is, that you get to be more of yourself. And you get to bring that back in. I’m just not a person who’s going to take anything too seriously. I’m going to make inappropriate jokes. I’m going to curse all the time. That’s just sort of me and if it’s not a cool thing for you, we’re probably not going to get along so let’s not work together anyway, kind of a thing? But, for a long time, you don’t get to define that.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I felt like she was talking about me. I’ve got the, you’re too nice, and you’re too serious. I’ve got the, you don’t seem… You come across like you don’t know what you’re talking about. And then I’ve also got the opposite, where I come across like I think I know too much. Finding that balance has been so hard.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: And then I’ve realized, I can’t overthink it too much because then I start to become this really totally different person. Sometimes, you know, people just get more comfortable when they don’t know you they jump to conclusions and they brand you a certain way. But once they become more familiar with your working style, they then realize what your true working style is.

Gretchen DeKnikker: It’s what we were saying earlier, right? If you’re trying to be someone that you’re not, it comes across as so inauthentic. If I was going around and I was being very prim and proper and professional all the time, you guys would all I think that I had a fever or something. Right?

Rachel Jones: I know we’ve had similar conversations in our episode about personality and how that can be shaped just by the people around you and their expectations. I think it’s really interesting to think about your brand as negotiation between being true to yourself and being effective and showing up effectively in a workplace. Because we talked about branding being a way to announce your career intentions and have people support you in that. But sometimes, things about your brand that rub people the wrong way can keep you from effectiveness.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I can’t even list all of the ways that I’ve got in my own way.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Oh yeah, it’s still happening to me.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I haven’t stopped. I’ve just slowed down a little bit.

Rachel Jones: I was going to ask how to navigate that and not do that? But, yeah, it sounds like we’re all kind of struggling.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I mean, I’m struggling less. But I’m still struggling. You get better at it but you’re not… You may or may not meet that ideal, perfect state because you’re constantly trying to reinvent and improve yourself.

Gretchen DeKnikker: And you’re a human. Who has a life. It’s just not all perfect all the time.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: You don’t ever want to get to where it’s all good feedback. You want something that’s an area of improvement so you can focus on something else.

Gretchen DeKnikker: A little bit, but I don’t know. I think maybe that’s the advice of the feedback that really feels like it’s asking you to be someone other than who you are. Why I never worked for a really big company was that I just didn’t think I could fit into that mold. That I need to be better behaved all the time, and that that would feel very stifling for me.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Feedback about your brand, in my opinion, or how you’re perceived, specifically, is just a wish list. I don’t think you should take everything super seriously. Especially, if, like you said Gretchen, it’s like disingenuous. I just look at it and I’m like, “Hey, who is this feedback coming from and do I really need to be too smiley today? Or too serious today? Do I really, really need to follow that feedback?”

Angie Chang: I think the most memorable feedback I got was to smile more when I was working a front desk at an event. But I don’t know… When you’re working and you’re very stressed, and you’re trying to be effective, oftentimes sometimes your face may not be the happy, shining person people want you to be. That’s just a point for improvement.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Also, do you guys just bristle whenever smile and woman are in the same sentence? I just have such an issue with that at this point.

Rachel Jones: There are women who have been super successful and branded themselves as colder, harder, not as a warm. So, it works for some people. Not having to feed into these expectations and that can even build a stronger brand for yourself. It just depends on how that helps or hurts your career.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I looked at it, also, who do I want to be working for or working with people who always look angry or look serious? No, I don’t want that, either. I want it to be a comfortable environment. But that does not mean that the perception that you’ve created is the true one.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: For example, when I was pregnant, I was really going through a difficult pregnancy and I was sick all the time. I was told that there was a lot of feedback that I was looking angry. Constantly. So one day, I just turned around and I said, “Well, I am angry because I’m really tired. So, people just need to be more patient with me.” I think that made it easier for people to be more sensitive. Sometimes somebody is going through something difficult. You don’t know what they’re going through.

Angie Chang: That’s interesting that you got that feedback.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.

Angie Chang: So, on top of what Khobi said, in response to feedback that we get, I think there’s also so much that we can do in the modern day of Twitter and LinkedIn, being able to control our own authentic brand with social networks.

Rachel Jones: It’s interesting that you bring up the point of social media giving people more control over how they express themselves. I think it’s definitely a really powerful tool for that. But at the same time, sometimes maintaining a brand on social media just necessitates so much performance that it can lead to more inauthenticity at the time.

Angie Chang: That is true. I feel like I see on LinkedIn, a lot of LinkedIn employees going, “Here is my picture of the week.” And it’s very consistent and almost inauthentic, but it is… I’m sure Google employees would be using Google Plus or Wave if it still existed. And Twitter employees are the ones who use Twitter a lot. That performance is kind of normal for the job.

Angie Chang: For example, Sukrutha’s at Salesforce. A lot of Salesforce employees are really excellent at Twitter. I think it’s part of working in this day and age that we are always on the social networks asserting our “loving our job” hashtag “love your job” or something, that people do almost feels like performance art sometimes.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think, on the topic of social media, if it’s not authentic to you to use it, then it doesn’t really make… It’s not very on brand to post things because you feel like you should.

Angie Chang: Leah McGowen-Hare, VP of Trailhead Evangelism at Salesforce, shared her own thoughts on this during our 2018 Elevate conference.

Leah McGowen-Hare: I often tell people, “You see my glory.” People be like, ‘Oh, you know, you just sashay up there. You just get up there and you do this.” And I go, “But, what you don’t know is my story.” And everybody has a story. I think, while it’s wonderful and it’s amazing to be on these stages and sharing and inspiring, really knowing sort of a piece of the story behind the scenes, has a lot more power. From my perspective. So, I’m going to share with you very little bit about my story.

Leah McGowen-Hare: I share this because people often go, “Well, Leah, I have questions about branding and my branding.” And I’m often like, “Don’t focus on your branding. Focus on the value you add and everything else will begin to fall in place.” It’s really easy to get caught up in that branding piece, particularly with social media and all this good stuff. And I’m always like, “Well, let’s take step back. What is your story? What are you trying to build? What is the story you’re trying to create?”

Leah McGowen-Hare: With my story, I moved from Anderson. I moved out from New York offices to San Fran. I started working for a company called PeopleSoft as a developer. I did a lot of development there. After doing development for a while, I realized, “You know, I’m good at this. I’m okay. I’m good.” But there was a piece missing for me. And that was the interaction with other people. I really liked interacting with people. Even talking about technology. So, my manager, who was really nice, at the time said, “You know, Leah, when you’re in the office, morale goes up but productivity goes down.” And I was like, “What!” She goes, “You get this but I think there’s something more you could do. I think there’s something different, a different path, that you should look at.”

Leah McGowen-Hare: While she wasn’t saying I didn’t want you in my group, she was just saying, “I don’t think this is serving your innate talents well.” So she said, “What about, there’s this position to be a trainer. Training developers how to code using the PeopleSoft tools.” And I was like, “Trainer? Mmmm, no way, that’s too close to my parents. My father’s a professor. My mother’s a teacher. I’m not trying to become my parents.” She was like, “Just give it a go and see what it’s like. Just go ahead and try it.”

Leah McGowen-Hare: So, I went in and tried out. Well, tried out, because you actually had to do a test teach for this position. A little begrudgingly. I did it and I then soon quickly realized I actually loved it. It mixed the two things that I loved, which was technology and talking to people. I really stepped out on faith and was like, “Okay, I’m going to try something that I didn’t think was for me.” And it turned out it was.

Leah McGowen-Hare: My story is lots of curves and turns and downward turns, upward turns. It’s just been amazing and it’s been lots of learning that I’ve truly embraced. And I’ve just learned to be open to opportunities that I may not initially seek for myself but allowing myself to at least try and go out and take a risk.

Rachel Jones: I think people think about brands, like what you said with the exercise to choose three words, it’s just like, oh here’s this little thing that I’m going to present. But that misses how, even behind the three words that you would choose in that exercise, it’s a whole lifetime of experiences that help you get to that point. When we get so focused on just putting up one little Instagram story, or one LinkedIn update, people can miss that whole narrative over just one moment that exists just to get a little attention.

Angie Chang: Yeah, I really like Leah’s talk, which was titled, Focus on the Story and Not the Glory. That definitely is a reminder to ourselves as we live our lives, what do we want our story to be at the end of our lives? Not necessarily what’s going to be on our tombstones, but what do we want to be known for and focus on that – not necessarily the times we get to give a TED talk or have nice Instagram story, but in the long run – what are our goals?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think also not being so focused over like, this is my brand and so these other things don’t make sense. I follow Ijeoma Oluo on Instagram, and she’s an author that I love who wrote a book that everyone should be reading called, So You Want to Talk about Race? But half of her posts, she does amazing makeup every day. She posts something and then she posts a picture of which palette she used and whatever. And those are both her. It’s very authentic.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So, I followed her because I love what she has to say on topics of racial discussions. But I keep following her because I’m like, “Oh, wow! You’re making me care about makeup all of a sudden.” I think bringing whatever pieces of yourself, even if they don’t make sense, or you think that they don’t tell this cohesive story, they do make sense in the story of you.

Angie Chang: That makes sense. Giving people more data points and that’s actually really interesting.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: No one is uni dimensional. There are so many ways to represent yourself.

Rachel Jones: Following that, there was a point in Leah’s story where she first got presented with the opportunity to do the training role, and even just by the sound of the role, the name of the role, she automatically was like, “No, that’s not for me.” But, yeah, just being able to actually try it out and do the work, it was tapping into skills she already had and interests that she already had. Just being able to widen her idea of her brand a little bit really unlocked a huge part of what she seemed to have been meant to do.

Angie Chang: And now she’s a VP at Salesforce, which is really impressive.

Rachel Jones: So, our conversation so far has been focused a lot on personal branding. But company branding is also a really big part of this topic. Does anyone have thoughts on why it’s important to think about how companies brand themselves or advice?

Gretchen DeKnikker: When we wrote the copy, and particularly job descriptions, at my company, trying to keep that irreverent voice. But it also helped people who wanted a more regimented type company from… They would look at that and just be like, “These people don’t take themselves seriously enough. I don’t want to work there.” Which would be great because you want the people who are going to fit your brand and your culture.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, the brand that the company has is directly related to the people that they attract to come work there. That’s really important to have a brand that matches the people that you want to come work at your company.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I don’t know if you guys remember, but we did the three word exercise for Girl Geek in the beginning. I had to go back and look at what our words were. It will be interesting, two years later, to decide if they still made sense.

Gretchen DeKnikker: One was transcend, meaning creating a future where being a female isn’t notable, and going above and beyond. One was belonging, and one was empowerment. We were never totally happy with transcend as the word. It didn’t quite match. The concept is right but maybe the word isn’t. The other two, I feel like, are very much–

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, it’s still relevant.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Woven in. But I thought that was really interesting because I was like, “Wait, we did do this for Girl Geek early on.”

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, and it was so difficult for me to do it. I remember now. I must have been difficult to work with at that time because it was so new for me. I never had to do it for anyone but myself. When you are coming up with your company’s brand or your company’s vision, be patient and definitely work through it.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Don’t be afraid. It’s just a bunch of words. It just has to be a word that means all of the other words to you. It doesn’t really have to make sense to other people as much.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: You’re not setting it in stone, too.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Right. Well, I don’t know. It’s in a PowerPoint.

Angie Chang: When I think about companies and brands, these days you always hear about which companies have taken on defense contracts that are being protested by their employees.

Gretchen DeKnikker: We see you, Chef.

Angie Chang: We see companies that are supplying software to ICE, as well. As I think the next generation of young people very much care. As we’ve seen in this climate strike that has affected millions of young people. That they strongly believe in doing the right thing. And I think Google was one of the few companies, maybe the only company, that explicitly had a motto of Don’t Be Evil. Which they changed.

Angie Chang: And now every company is really trying to keep their employees because they’re starting to do things for a profit and not really listening to their employees. I’m sure there’s a lot to be done there, and sometimes it just feels like you have… There’s always compromises to be made to work at a big company.

Angie Chang: I remember I was in an inter- Yeah, this is also the point- I was thinking about this. I know this isn’t really relevant. But I was at an interview with a company that had a really good reputation as an employer. And someone, a white man, literally asked me, across the table, and says something about, “Open the kimono.” I was like, “This is really off brand for this company.” And I gave this feedback to the recruiter. But I felt really surprised that for an employer that has such a good reputation, they still manage to have that happen in an interview.

Rachel Jones: I think that’s where you get into the authenticity of brands. Obviously, right now, a lot of companies are trying to brand themselves as super eco friendly, or like they have a really positive social impact. At the same that they’re doing a lot of contracts or making decisions that don’t look so great. Then it’s on us, as consumers, to see the extent to which people are authentic to their brands because anyone can perform this level of social caring. But, at the same time, the decisions that they’re making behind closed doors don’t support it at all.

Gretchen DeKnikker: So, we actually have an extra segment from our interview with Aline Lerner, founder and CEO of interviewing.io. She gives us some advice for how companies can brand themselves better to attract employees.

Aline Lerner: When we were earlier in our growth, we spent some time trying to identify who the right customers are for interviewing.io. The companies that tend to have the hardest time hiring are also ones that don’t really have a brand. We were trying to figure out, can we serve smaller companies or are we just going to be like we’ll just help Uber hire? Both have their merits.

Aline Lerner: One thing that we discovered is that there are some traits among companies that do well on our platform. And a lot of that has to do with branding. That doesn’t mean you have to be a household name. But, on our platform, when you’re a candidate… Everything is candidate driven. We don’t have recruiters that call you and try to match you with companies. We just say, “If you’re an engineer, here are all the companies we work with. Book interviews with any of them. We’re not going to pressure you. It’s self serve. You do what you need to do and we will just get out of the way and empower you to run your own life.”

Aline Lerner: But that means that you’re looking at this long list of employers. Some names, like an Uber, you might recognize, but then there are smaller companies that you may never have heard of. Those companies just have a few seconds to capture your attention. Some of them do very well and some don’t. We’ve tried to see what engagement looks like on smaller companies and what makes people click stuff and not click stuff.

Aline Lerner: The reality is that it’s really important to be authentic and to own the things that make you special. So many companies that are smaller are like, “Ooh, we are a startup which means you can have impact.” And maybe that was cool before there were a lot of startups, but that’s not a differentiator anymore. A lot of the time, companies are scared to say something polarizing about themselves because they don’t want to miss out on talent.

Gretchen DeKnikker: There is such a lack of–

Aline Lerner: Conviction?

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yeah.

Aline Lerner: Yeah. That’s actually in your interest. The companies that just own whatever their culture is, own their flaws, own… Yeah, we use a shitty stack. And what? You know? Or, yeah we do advertising but it’s awesome for this reason. We’re not going to change the world through hyper targeted, Silicon Valley… No, but we have shit ton of data and it’s awesome and maybe you don’t care about mission and that, maybe, you’re one of those people. It doesn’t matter, right? Not everybody has to have a social impact into their company but everyone’s kind of trying.

Aline Lerner: Just own who you are. Figure out what that is. When you describe it, describe it the way you’d describe it to a friend that doesn’t know what your company does. Instead of trying to write a bunch of weird bullet points. All this is obvious, but for some reason, it’s so hard to do it at work. To just get out of that corporate mindset and just be like, “Yeah, we do this!” But that’s the kind of tone and writing that has helped our customers craft the brand that gets attention.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: I feel like Aline, when she talked about smaller companies needing to have their message go through in just a few seconds, that was really something that I’d been thinking about. How do you make sure that your brand is clear in just a few seconds without it sounding fake? Because that’s all the amount of time you have to attract a potential employee.

Rachel Jones: I thought that one thing that she said that was interesting was, try to describe your company as you would describe it to a friend. I think that’s an interesting challenge when you’re thinking about how to communicate it so quickly. A lot of people, when you have to communicate about yourself in a short amount of time, you default to zippy, fun kind of words. But just coming back to a simple this is what we do as you describe it to a friend can really stand out.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Yeah, and you can practice it to a… Oftentimes when you meet people, they’re going to be like, “What do you do? Where do you work?” And you just try it there and you practice it. You see the reactions and modify it along the way based on that.

Rachel Jones: So one thing that I really like about this quote is Aline talking about this fear of alienating. Where people don’t create a strong brand because they just don’t want to exclude people. That’s not what a brand is. When you’re making a product, your product is for someone. You can’t just say, “We don’t want our brand to be polarizing because we might miss out on customers.” But I think, yeah, if you do that you end up with such general messaging that you’re missing the customer that you actually are going after. Because they don’t see themselves in what you’re putting out there.

Gretchen DeKnikker: When you’re trying to be all things to all people and you just sort of end up with this word salad and you can go to, especially newer start ups, and you just go one after the other after the other and you read a paragraph and you’re like, “I have no idea what this company does.” I read a paragraph, over and over again, and I’m like, “I still don’t know what they do.”

Gretchen DeKnikker: But being like, “We do this for these people.” But I think at an early stage start up, they’re so afraid of like, “But we want to sell the salespeople but we also want to sell the marketing people and we also want to sell HR people, and so, we don’t want to hone in on any one message for fear we’ll miss out on something.” Instead, you become nothing to no one.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think there’s the companies that go in hard, right? Like, Expensify. It’s just like expense reports that don’t suck. There were probably a lot of discussions of like, “But we do reporting! But we do blah blah!” There’s all these other features but just honing in on that one thing has really worked well for them. And then, they were really early in this more… Less corporate marketing style, too? Now there’s a lot that are trying to be clever or controversial or something and it comes across a little bit disingenuous. But also trying to go down that route.

Angie Chang: So, having a very good, edgy tagline.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Well, if you are edgy, then it makes sense. If you are not edgy… Angie, you should not have an edgy tagline. I should not have a nice tagline. These are not things that go.

Angie Chang: Yeah, right now in the BART, there is nothing but advertising for Facebook. I think at Power Montgomery there’s a ton of advertising for the Facebook Groups product. Their tagline, apparently, is More Together. As I’ve noticed on this advertising. And I was like, interesting. Marketing’s definitely thought hard about this.

Angie Chang: In Aline’s talk, when she talks about writing a very colloquial company brand, I’m sure that marketing fights with product and everyone else about what that tagline, or that brand, should be. Hopefully, the best one. And it can always switch every season or another campaign. Or not.

Rachel Jones: Does anyone have final thoughts on branding?

Sukrutha Bhadouria: To summarize, I think I’m learning that it’s super important to continually, not just create your brand but, keep it up to date. Constantly reevaluate what it is that it says about you because you are going to continue to build your skills as you grow in your career so that will automatically evolve your brand, as well. Don’t just stick to the one that you created when you were straight out of college. Then, yeah, it’s not just the personal brand that’s important. It’s the company’s brand that’s important, as well, and staying true to your brand without being fake about it is super important.

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think it’s a work in progress and you should always think of it that way and don’t be afraid to… Have an idea and try to stay on brand with your idea. But if something starts feeling off, then you need to go back through and think about, is it the brand that’s off or have I changed or what’s going on?

Gretchen DeKnikker: I think it’s definitely something worth reexamining every now and then. I think Sukuthra mentioned that. Your brand in college is not the brand you had in your 20s, and is not the brand you had in your 30s, in your 40s, in your 50s and 60s. It’s going to continually be a work in progress.

Rachel Jones: I think this conversation is really challenging me to think about branding outside of the social media space. It’s really about just how you move through the world and how that allows people to come alongside you and support you in what you’re trying to do.

Angie Chang: That’s a really good way of putting that.

Gretchen DeKnikker: Yes. Well said.

Rachel Jones: Thank you.

Angie Chang: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Girl Geek X podcast. Please rate and review us on your favorite podcasting app and we’ll be back soon with more advice from women in tech.

Rachel Jones: This podcast is produced by me, Rachel Jones, with event recording by Eric Brown, and music by Diana Chow. To learn more about Girl Geek X, or buy tickets to our next dinner, visit girlgeek.io. Where you can also find videos and transcripts from all our events.

Angie Chang: This podcast was sponsored by Aurora. Aurora works at the intersection of rigorous engineering and applied machine learning to address one of the most challenging, important, and interesting opportunities of our generation. Transforming the way people and goods move. This podcast is also sponsored by interviewing.io. Interviewing.io lets software engineers practice technical interviewing anonymously and land great jobs in the process. Become awesome at technical interviews, get fast tracked at amazing companies, and find your next job all in one place.

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