Personal brands are having a moment. But what actually is a personal brand and why you should care about building one? We're not just talking about an online presence, either — we're talking about the personal brand that exists in the real world as well.
Let’s start with a definition of a brand. Jeff Bezos, CEO of one of the well-known and well-regarded brands in the world (if you're drawing a blank, Bezos is the CEO of Amazon) famously said, “your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Bezos is spot on. His definition doesn’t just apply to corporate brands and household names like Amazon. Your personal brand the same way. It's how and what people think about you when you’re both right in front of them and not in the room. In its most basic form, your brand is your reputation.
Since one's personal brand is, well, "personal," it goes even deeper — your brand is also what you stand for. The objective of a strong personal brand is to align what you stand for with the perception others have of you so that what you stand for is what others think of you. For example, if you're introverted and only speak up in meetings when you have something valuable to say, wouldn't you want your co-workers to think that instead of assuming that you're "just shy"?
We want to be mindful of our personal brands so that we show up (and are thought of and talked about) in the best light possible. Crafting and managing a personal brand in its purest form is reputation management.
Still not convinced?
Think about a time when you met someone who you were just enamored by. Later, you may have gushed to your friend, “I met the most amazing woman today! She hiked in the Andes a few months ago, by the time she was 30 she was managing a global team at a Fortune 100 company and she’s just so fun-loving and down-to-earth. I can't wait to get to work with her again!”
Now, think about a time when you met someone who was just, well, dull or maybe worse. You may have later told that same friend, “I sat down with this woman who was a real pill today. She complained constantly, refused to work beyond the scope of her current role and she just has a really negative attitude. I really hope I don’t have to work much with her.”
These examples are pretty different. Which would you prefer someone say about you? Even if you haven’t hiked in the Andes and have no interest in working at a Fortune 100 company, you most likely said the first. The short summary of the time you spent with someone, even if limited, is a version of his or her personal brand.
While we can’t always control how people perceive us, it’s important to have a vision for who we are and what we stand for. Only then can we work hard to make this come to life in our words and actions so that others perceive us this way. By making sure people see you the way you want to be seen, you're bettering your career for the long-term.
But how can you tactically do this? How can you take the reins of your personal brand to ensure that when people meet you, they run home to tell their friends how great you are? Here are five things you must do in order to build your personal brand.
1. Decide what you stand for.
From the get-go, this may be too broad of a topic, so start with these three questions: who do you want to be? What do you stand for? When someone talks about you (go back and think on our scenario) how do they describe you? This is the first step in personal branding; you don't need to be a brand expert to answer these questions. For now, focus on simple answers that feel true to you. In order to build your personal brand (whether it's your business brand or just for social media), you need to have a strong foundation. These questions provide that foundation.
Pro Tip: I encourage individual clients and groups I run personal branding workshops for to put this to paper — there’s tremendous power in writing something out!
2. Be very clear and specific as to what your brand is.
Jump start your brand process by determining what qualities define you — both as a job seeker and as a human being. Start with a few adjectives (ideally three to five) that you want to be associated with. Not sure where to start? Go back to the earlier scenario; what are the words you’d want someone to use to describe you?
Now, think of how to put that into a short sentence or two. Let’s say you choose authentic, results-driven, people-focused and fun. If you want to make this into a short statement it might read: I am an authentic, data-driven people champion who values fun and humor.
Pro Tip: This can also be handy when you’re asked to describe yourself! It can serve as the basis for an elevator pitch when you need one in a pinch.
3. Commit to living your personal brand on a daily basis.
The point of clarifying your brand statement and how other people see you is so that you can show up this way as much of the time as possible. Once you decide what you stand for, you actually need to stand for these things!
Make it a game; each time you show up within your personal brand, make a note of it. Set a weekly goal of showing up in each brand tenant as much as possible. It’s also important to note when you don’t show up this way. Don’t get down on yourself, but do explore what was going on and why you didn’t prioritize people, authenticity, results or fun. Then, commit to avoiding falling into that trap again.
4. Do a social media audit.
Your personal brand has huge relevance IRL, but how you show up in social media has increasing importance as well. Since you laid out what you stand for already, you’re a step ahead. Confirm that these same tenants are what you want to stand for and be perceived as by your audience online.
After you know what you want to stand for online, the next step is to do an audit — are your social media posts or original content aligned or in conflict with what you stand for? If they're aligned, great. If your posts are in conflict, your social media profile may need a bit of cleaning. Don't hesitate to delete old posts that don't align with your social brand; our social media profiles aren't meant to document everything in people's lives. Think of it as a scrapbook — it should only show the best of you, not the worst.
5. Have patience!
Whether refining your brand statement or building your personal brand online or IRL, it takes time. Amazon’s brand wasn’t built in a day, nor was it refined by one social media audit. Yours won’t be either, so it's okay to witness small victories over a long period of time as opposed to immediate results tomorrow. Your personal brand is always going to be a work in progress, and that's okay.
So whether you want to be the most considerate people developer, a take-no-prisoners negotiator, or the hire manager who loves her job but loves her family more, decide who you want to be. Then, go be it!
Jane Scudder is a certified coach, facilitator, and workplace & leadership consultant based in Chicago, IL. She helps individuals and group navigate their careers, teams, and personal lives. Find out more at janescudder.com
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