Cities can be brands. Paris is the city of Romance. Rome, the Eternal City. Milan, the powerhouse of Italian fashion. London, financial and fashion centre of Europe.
I've been spending a few days over the other side of the Atlantic, in Toronto. Toronto is a strange city. If you Google it, you'll find that it seems to be known primarily for being 'Big'. Montreal is known for comedy, Quebec for its 'frenchness', Vancouver for its climate and landscape, as well as the growing biotech, film and IT industry there. But Toronto seems to lack a brand of its own - about the strongest reference I could find to it online was that it is 'Canada's biggest city' (according to Wikipedia).
Which is a shame, because the city has a whole lot going for it. But as I wandered around the city centre, or drove through the different neighbourhoods and suburbs, it was obvious what makes Toronto stand out. Even in a multi-cultural country like Canada, Toronto is a cultural melting pot like no other. Out of the 190-odd nationalities recognised by the UN, over 140 are present in Toronto, most of them with their own neighbourhoods, yet somehow integrated into the social fabric of the city in a way that most other major cities can only envy. I saw none of the ethnic tensions you find in other places, none of the simmering resentment from 'locals'. Instead I saw sheesha bars cheek-by-jowl with thai restaurants, jamaican diners next to jazz bars, irish pubs next to 'olde worlde' english pubs. Each shop assistant or server I spoke to had a different accent from the next.
And THAT is Toronto's brand. Or at least it should be, if the people of Toronto weren't so busy getting on with their lives that they've missed the obvious.
Which brings me to the point (in a very roundabout way). Very often we are so busy doing 'the day job' and getting on with our lives that we miss what is obvious to other people about our brand. That's where some form of 'polling' or feedback collection (like the Reach 360) can open our eyes to what we've been missing. Even if you don't take a 360 though, you can still do a little introspection.
Think about the 4 or 5 pieces of work you did that were most applauded by your clients or superiors. What stands out most in your mind about how you did them? How did you feel atthe start, in the middle of the piece of work, and at the end? What were people saying to you afterwards? What feedback did you get. both during and after the work? Write this all down and now start looking for the common themes. Don't go with what you THINK are your strengths - read what you have written with an open mind.
I remember once being very surprised by a manager who told me that I was seen around the office as a great organiser. Personally i'd never thought of that as one of my strengths (in fact I found the idea quite funny - see my earlier post about the state of my office!), but then I thought back to various pieces of work where I'd been managing three or four tasks simultaneously, yet kept the facts on all of it simultaneously. The abiding image in my mind was one particular project, where my entire team sat in a small room, surrounded by white boards each dedicated to a particular piece of work. Looking back I can see how, to an outsider, it would have looked very organised, even though it didn't feel it to me at the time.
So don't take for granted what you think are your strengths and weaknesses - often we can't see what others think is obvious, and conversely, remember that what we think is obvious might not be picked up on by other people.