Defining Your Personal Brand
In the commercial world, a brand is a recognizable product from a specific company; it is also a promise of value. When we make a purchase we expect that the product or service will satisfy the value we expect. Companies work hard to build their brands − and sell their products − on this promise of value, and consumers seek out brands we recognize and trust.
Personal branding extends this concept to people in the workplace. Like a good corporate brand, your personal brand is a perception of who you are and what you do, and this perception represents you in the world of employment. A good personal brand encompasses not only your job skills but your interests, activities, dreams and passions as well. The more effectively you are branded, the more visible you will be, and the more clearly you will express your value.
The concept of personal branding has been around for nearly two decades. In 1997, business author Tom Peters wrote an article entitled “The Brand Called You” in Fast Company magazine. The topic was that you, as a person selling your skills and services in the marketplace, are the CEO of a company called Me Inc. And, like any CEO who is building a company, you can shape the perception of what you offer to the world. You can market your knowledge, experience, skills, services and personality − your personal brand − in the same way a corporation markets breakfast cereal, deodorant or golf balls.
Here’s a useful definition: Your personal brand is a clear, consistent, coherent communication of who you are, what you do, and what you bring to the world of work. It distinguishes you from the crowd.
The words “clear, consistent, coherent” are extremely important here. Without a brand, or with an ambiguous brand, you are indistinguishable from others. You are like one penguin among thousands of penguins. Who can recognize what you have to offer? With a clearly defined personal brand you stand out and are noticed.
So how do you build a personal brand? Let’s start with the brand you already have. It’s called your reputation. This brand reflects how others perceive you, and it distinguishes you in the social world and in the marketplace. There are two important differences, however, between a personal brand and your reputation. First, your personal brand is not an accident, or the result of behind-the-back gossip. It is something that you carefully construct and nurture. Second, a personal brand extends your reputation outside the social world and into the much larger space of social media and the Internet.
To build your personal brand you must start by asking yourself two important questions. First, is your current brand working? Are you achieving the life goals and career results you want? Second, if not, what can you do to enhance, transform or recreate your brand?
At its simplest your personal brand is the answer to the question “What do you do?” A clear, concise, one-sentence answer is your branding statement. It’s what you communicate to others about who you are and what you do. Give some time and thought to what this branding statement should be for you, and use it wherever you go. Keep it short, simple and memorable. Ideally, it should encompass your passions and interests as well as your career focus. For example, “I’m a biomechanical engineer,” or “I write young-adult novels about teenage vampires.”
In building your personal brand pay attention to two separate components: First, an interpersonal dimension created in face-to-face networking and, second, an online dimension created by your presence on the Web and in social media.
The fundamental elements of a face-to-face personal brand are the same as in face-to-face networking: (1) excellent business cards, (2) a professional email address, (3) an effective personal name tag for events (avoid the dreaded “Hello My Name is …” stick-on tags), (4) good grooming and high-quality clothing, (5) an engaging social manner, (6) a willingness to participate and contribute, and (7) awesome communication skills. Everything you can do to enhance these important details of face-to-face networking, and how you present yourself in public, will enhance and build your personal brand.
If you are meeting people for the first time, do everything you can to make a solid first impression. Pay attention to the people you meet and the conversations you have. Be graceful and engaging. Remember names! Always be aware that a brand is a fragile perception, and it can be damaged in seconds. Here are some of the top interpersonal brand killers that you’ll want to avoid: lateness, arrogance, lack of focus, self-centeredness, broken agreements, dishonesty, gossip, inconsistency, needing to be right and poor personal hygiene, among many others.
The fundamental components of the online dimension of your personal brand must also be managed carefully. These components are: (1) a clearly defined profile on LinkedIn, (2) intelligent use of Facebook and Twitter, (3) appealing and appropriate photographs, (4) positive participation in online discussion groups, (5) a good website or a blog, and (6) promotional or instructional videos on YouTube. All these elements, if they are thoughtfully developed, will contribute to a solid and well-defined personal brand.
Remember that building a personal brand is an ongoing process of promotion and reinvention. You are defining new possibilities for yourself and communicating them to others. As you build your personal brand, make sure you ask for clear and honest feedback from friends and colleagues. Their honest perceptions and good advice can be invaluable as you make adjustments along the way.
Finally, here is the ultimate goal of personal branding: You’ll be recognized for who you are and what you do, and you’ll never need a resume again. Exciting!
Randall Warniers, a freelance editor and book publisher, is a member of the leadership team at Acton Networkers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.