The Why and How of Personal Branding
Resources about why you need to market yourself and how to do so successfully
In other words, the only reason to create a personal brand is to help people who HAVE the things you want, enjoy the privilege and pleasure of giving those things to you.
Of course, the transaction must be good for them, and you must be qualified to deliver what they need.
What you have for your audience
That "thing" you want could be a job in a new industry, a promotion in the company you're currently in, a consulting gig, new clients who pay their bills on time, orders for your products, or investors who are enthusiastic but not overbearing. Your personal brand might be geared to your getting media coverage, a reality show, a steady flow of referrals, or recommendations from people in high places: whatever it is you want to attract and leverage.
But most important, the goal of your personal brand is to IGNITE THE FEELING in your audience that they are LUCKY to connect with you. For people to feel DELIGHTED that they got you on board. To feel that by supporting you, promoting you, investing in you, hiring you, or buying from you, that they are truly making the best possible use of their resources.
Those resources might be their money, time, a prime position in their company, and MOST OF ALL the TRUST that you and what you produce or provide will be a tremendous asset to their endeavor or life. It must be true that you would truly contribute to these people achieving their goals and aspirations. And, how great for them that they found you!
As a former marketing executive with the number one most recognized brand in the world: The Coca-Cola Company. I speak to audiences all around the world on personal branding and why people buy. Among my proudest affiliation is that I teach at UCLA Extension, where I enjoy sharing what I find most personally and intellectually challenging as well as what I believe is the greatest service to people who want to transform their careers and business. This is what I do for students at UCLA Extension in my Personal Branding Bootcamp, coming up this November 17-18, daily with my clients at ShoutBrand, and what I did on CNBC - where I was named America's Job Coach.
I am sharing my bonifides with you because I came from nowhere, the daughter of a milkman and a homemaker, living on $400 a month. If the art of personal branding did NOT really work, I would not enjoy an amazing career that includes the opportunity for me to talk with you today.
By the time you have finished our post today, you will learn the purpose of personal branding and the three most important questions to get you started on creating - or revising - your goals for your personal brand.Consider these three questions right now:
- How many people who have what you want, KNOW you right now?
- How many of those people FEEL LUCKY they know you? and
- How many people know HOW THEY can help you achieve YOUR goals?
These three questions are the foundation of setting realistic and attainable outcomes, as they relate to your success with an audience. Audience? Are you thinking: what on earth is an audience when it comes to you and your business or career goals?
Well, I use the term audience to mean those people who have what you want. If you were a movie star, you'd need an audience to pay for movie tickets and the DVDs or digital downloads that pay your salary.
YOUR audience might be recruiters who are the gatekeepers to the job you want, or people who can refer you to hiring managers. Your audience might be potential clients, or people who might be referral sources to those clients. Perhaps you have a venture, and so your audience is investors and other types of funders. Your audience might include a whole host of people who need to see you, hear from you, learn from you, get good advice from you and to whom you show your stuff on social networks and social media. Your audience might be the broadcast media, online media sites or bloggers.And, your audience is any one person or thousands of people with whom you come into contact in your daily life, at networking events, even at family gatherings like weddings, reunions, and holiday dinners.
Yes, you may have figured it out by now. You have an audience everywhere you appear - even when these other people don't think they're your audience. That is a fundamental principle of successful personal branding. You must think of everyone and anyone as an audience, and you've got to think of yourself as the star of your own life, business and career.
Now you know WHY you need to appear on - and represent yourself - to the one billion plus people who are on Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google Plus, Twitter, blogs, your YouTube channel, Foursquare, AND any other social networking site or physical event where your audience is.
You've got to present a crisp, clear and compelling - as well as authentic - image about who you are , which is what we now call your personal brand.
And so, I promised when we started you would know the purpose of creating a personal brand, and the three most fundamental questions to help you set goals for it.
Now take a piece of paper and write down the answer to these three questions.
- How many people who have what you want, KNOW you right now?
- How many of those people FEEL LUCKY they know you?
- How many people know HOW they can help you achieve your goals?
Take your time with these three key questions, and see if they help you develop a winning personal brand. And, if you want to fly in, drive in or otherwise join us at the UCLA Personal Branding Bootcamp, sign up by Nov 15 and get a special bonus branding kit from me! See you there!Author:Nance Rosen is the author of Speak Up! & Succeed. She speaks to business audiences around the world and is a resource for press, including print, broadcast and online journalists and bloggers covering social media and careers. Read more at NanceRosenBlog. Twitter name: nancerosen
Personal branding keeps growing in importance, you can barely go online without reading about it. We are now at a stage where most professionals and business owners really need to dedicate time and effort to strengthen their own brands as a part of their daily routine.
With business being ever more competitive, your best way of staying ahead of the pack is to stand out and have a unique brand amongst peers. In the end, it's all about what you are known for. Others should be able to say what your unique promise of value is once they see you or your name.
Here are 5 great reasons for creating and building your personal brand:
1. Grow your network
Expanding your network is hugely important to business success, it opens up avenues you never thought of. When you have a strong brand you will notice that people want to know you and help out any way they can. Your personal brand works like a magnet and it attracts like minded people which can be very useful for your business or career, just like you can be useful to them. Networking is all about karma, help others and they will help you.
2. Attract opportunities
As a result of your expanded network and you having a strong presence online, not only will people help you but some will actually have relevant opportunities for you. This could be a customer referral, a joint venture, co-writing a book, a new job or an investment in your business. Your personal brand demonstrates success and that is what others will be looking to tap in to.
3. Establish credibility
Your personal brand is your unique promise of value and as long as you add this value to others on a consistent basis, you are gaining trust and credibility. This trust will be your best and cheapest promotional activity, as word travels fast when you do great work. Let your customers be your fans and become your brand ambassadors.
4. Increase your online clout
As you build your personal brand, you will notice that you get a loyal following online. This following will put you in a position of influence, as others listen to what you have to say. You can turn your clout into business as long as you do it in an authentic and trustworthy manner.
5. Securing work
A magnetic brand will ensure that you keep busy. You and your services will always be in demand, as long as you live up to your personal brand. This is a good comfort in case your workplace is facing downsizing, or one of your biggest clients are in financial distress. There is little you can do about external factors but you can rest assured that your strong brand will help you attract other opportunities instead.
Your name is your greatest asset and will stay with you for the rest of your life. Transforming it into a personal brand that others will recognize and appreciate is your best strategy for long-term success in business. By standing out from the crowd and showing the world how unique you are, you will be equipped to tell your customers why they should choose you instead of the competition. Remember, the stronger your personal brand, the more likely you will be to have a great demand for your services and you will be in a position to charge a premium for it.
Developing your personal brand is essential for the advancement of your career and development as a leader. Unfortunately, personal branding has become a "commoditized" term that has lost its intention as people have irresponsibly used social media as a platform to build their personal brand and increase their relevancy. They believe social media can immediately increase their market value for their personal brand rather than recognizing that the process of developing their personal brand is a much bigger responsibility; a never-ending journey that extends well beyond social media.
This is why I always advise those who want to have a social media presence to think carefully about their intentions and objectives before opening an account. Why? Because the moment you start - you must not allow yourself to stop. Challenge yourself to think about what your intentions are and what you are capable of delivering to the communities you are serving - both in and outside of the workplace.
Personal branding, much like social media, is about making a full-time commitment to the journey of defining yourself as a leader and how this will shape the manner in which you will serve others.
Your personal brand should represent the value you are able to consistently deliver to those whom you are serving. This doesn't mean self-promotion - that you should be creating awareness for your brand by showcasing your achievements and success stories. Managing your personal brand requires you to be a great role model, mentor, and / or a voice that others can depend upon. For example, when I write a blog or an article - I am extremely mindful that my community of readers expects a specific "experience of thought" from me.
More than that, I aim to attract new readers by offering something of value that will hopefully engage them enough to continue reading my work. Sounds like a lot of pressure and a tremendous responsibility to your audience, doesn't it? Well - it is at first - but over time the responsibility becomes a natural and instinctual part of who you are. This is the mindset you must develop and the level of accountability you must assume when deciding to define, live and manage your personal brand. Every day you know you must deliver to a standard of expectation that you have set-forth for both yourself and those whom you serve.
View your personal brand as a trademark; an asset that you must protect while continuously molding and shaping it. Your personal brand is an asset that must be managed with the intention of helping others benefit from having a relationship with you and / or by being associated with your work and the industry you serve.
Have you defined your personal brand? Are you consistently living your personal brand every day?
If you're like most, your answer to both is "no". Based on a survey conducted by my organization, less than 15% of people have truly defined their personal brand and less than 5% are living it consistently at work - each and every day. Why? It can be extremely challenging and it requires a tremendous amount of self-awareness, action and accountability.
What I didn't tell you is that 70% of professionals believe they have defined their personal brand and 50% believe they are living it. But when you "peel-back-the-onion," you realize that their focus was centered on self-promotion rather than a commitment to advance themselves by serving others.
So what is a personal brand? A personal brand is the total experience of someone having a relationship with who you are and what you represent as an individual; as a leader. Think about what that means to you. Let it simmer. Ask yourself and then ask a close friend - what is the total experience of having a relationship with you like? Write down the top 5 things you would expect others to experience and have your close friend do the same. Are the answers the same or similar in meaning? If they are, good for you! If not, you have some work to do.
Every time you are in a meeting, at a conference, networking reception or other event, you should be mindful of what others are experiencing about you and what you want others to experience about you. Each of these engagements is similar to a job interview - expect in these cases you are being evaluated by your peers. Those who know how to live and manage their personal brand will earn their respect in any situation.
At first, this is a bit of a challenge. However, when you start to see yourself living through the "lens of a brand," your perspective will change and you will become more mindful about how you approach the personal brand you are trying to define and aiming to live.
Don't confuse this with "acting a part." To the contrary, you should focus on being more of who you naturally are and want to be so that you can perform and serve at your optimal levels. Keep in mind that we have been conditioned to want to be more like others. As such, we are more likely to be accountable to others and what they want us to be rather than being true to ourselves.
If your teammates and/or colleagues don't know what your personal brand is, the fault is yours and not theirs. Having a personal brand is a leadership requirement. It enables you to be a better leader, a more authentic leader that can create greater overall impact. In fact, those who have defined and live their personal brand will more naturally demonstrate executive presence and as such may find themselves advancing more quickly at work.Personal branding is no longer an option; it's a powerful leadership enabler.
Sure, everyone knows what a brand is. Coke, Pepsi, McDonald's. But that buzzword is getting thrown around a whole lot in career and job search conversations these days, too. And you might be thinking to yourself, "why do I really have to care about this?"
Here's why: Whether you're on the job hunt, a student, or gainfully employed, you must think, act, and plan like a business leader. With the surge of social media, you have not only the ability, but you now have the need to manage your own reputation, both online and in real life.
Employers will Google you before they even invite you to an interview. (Your current employer probably has an eye on what you're doing, too.) And when you interact with people, both online and offline, they'll build up an image of who you are over time.
And here's where you come in: You want to be in control of all of those impressions. Why leave your professional reputation to chance, when you can be your own PR guru and manage your image?
Your personal brand is all about who you are and what you want to be known for. And while that's a pretty broad concept, I'm going to break down the process for building your brand into a few easy steps, which we'll cover over the next few weeks.
Your first task: Developing your "brand mantra." Basically, this is the "heart and soul" of your brand, according to branding expert Kevin Keller. It's the foundation of all of your branding efforts.
It's not a mission statement (check out Guy Kawasaki's blog post for the difference)-rather, it's a quick, simple, and memorable statement describing who you are and what you have to offer. Ivanka Trump is "an American wife, mother, and entrepreneur." FedEx is "peace of mind." Disney is "fun family entertainment." Rick Ross feat. T-Pain is "I'm a BOSS."
And yes, those are all famous options, but the same basic principles apply for your own brand. Ready for your turn? Here are four simple steps to creating your mantra:
1. Determine Your Emotional Appeal
For starters, think broadly about your personality and how it affects the experience someone will have with you. Are you insanely organized? Do people love working with you for your killer sense of humor?
Make a list of words that best describe these features of your personality. These words are known as emotional modifiers. Hint: They can be as simple as Disney's "fun."
Questions to Consider:
- How do I make people feel?
- How do people benefit by working with me?
- What words do others use to describe me?
2. Determine Your Description
Your next step is coming up with a descriptive modifier that brings clarity to the emotional modifier, identifying what or who your brand is for. In Disney's case, it's "family." In Nike's mantra, "authentic athletic performance," "authentic" is the emotional appeal, while "athletic" tells you what the brand is for. As an individual, yours might be an industry ("healthcare" or "education"), or it might be a tangible skill ("creative" or "strategic").
Questions to Consider:
- What field or industry am I in (or do I want to be in)?
- What are the words I would use to describe my work?
- Who is my target audience?
There are many facets in the developmental process of your personal brand. How you choose to manage your personal brand will influence your daily leadership decisions and career management plans. Most leaders are not mindful of how to manage their personal brands - thus they lose career momentum, focus and impact along the way. Managing your personal brand means knowing how to make the right decisions that strengthen your leadership skills, capabilities and influence. Ultimately, it allows you to more effectively lead others, build your career path and shape the legacy you will be leaving behind.
Leaders are faced with a multitude of unforeseen situations at work and throughout their careers. If you are leading in ways that come most naturally to you, and making decisions before circumstances force your hand - you're allowing your personal brand to organically evolve, grow and flourish. This means that you are proactively managing your brand, rather than allowing those around you to define who you are and what you stand for as a leader.
Yet too many leaders lose focus and find themselves juggling problems rather than delivering solutions. Why? According to my organization's research, 65% of leaders (director level and below) are unqualified to be effective leaders. They lack the required people skills (78%), self-awareness (81%), teambuilding skills (69%), coaching aptitude (72%), trustworthiness (77%) critical thinking (66%), problem solving acumen (62%), patience (70%), communication skills (59%) and overall executive presence that employees expect from their leaders. This research was conducted based on a survey of the 15 things that the most successful leaders must do automatically, every day.
Those who are unqualified to lead often create an environment of confusion to make themselves look relevant. Because they don't trust themselves enough to share their momentum with others, they complicate things for everybody and keep the organization and its people from growing. These types of leaders eventually get exposed and find themselves faced with a difficult career path. They have chosen not to develop and manage a personal brand that inspires others. In fact, their career path is littered with inherent risks created by their own identity crisis and negative reputation.You know that you are managing your personal brand rightly when your executive presence begins to reverberate; its sphere of influence magnifies.
Leaders that have developed and are managing their personal brand are focused on simplification, creating a workplace culture where every employee is given the opportunity to advance; where teamwork is valued and the goal is to strengthen the organization and its position in the marketplace and the industry they serve. They are able to simplify because they know themselves (their personal brand) so well. These are leaders that are extremely in tune with their behavior and its impact on others, and they are focused on how to share this ability with others. Leaders that manage their personal brands are those who continually cultivate innovation and initiative. They know how to earn serendipity - their own good fortune. They are able to see, sow, grow and share opportunity in their work and throughout their careers. You can measure your own proficiency by taking this quiz.Innovation is only possible when people are empowered and encouraged to be themselves (live their personal brand). It thrives in an environment that celebrates differences, where everyone works together for the betterment of a healthier whole.
Managing your personal brand is a never-ending journey of trial and error. Committing to managing your personal brand is a leap of faith. You must begin to think like an entrepreneur who is constantly in search of their leadership impact and influence. By remaining honest and true to yourself about who you are and what you represent as a leader, you will eventually discover your leadership style, the workplace culture that "best fits" your style, and the type of people that allows your leadership to flourish.
When you stop managing your personal brand, you begin to lose touch with your leadership formula for workplace and career success. You quickly become irresponsible to those whom you currently lead and serve.
To most effectively and efficiently manage your personal brand, here are the ultimate five steps you must take to assure you stay focused and maximize the results of your leadership and career journey.1. Value Your Distinction; Trust Yourself
Most leaders are not aware of what makes them unique; the natural qualities that give their personal brand (leadership) distinction. Discovering your leadership impact and influence is being able to know your unique qualities, characteristics and skill-sets. Managing your personal brand requires you to put your ideas and ideals to the test; learning to know what works and what doesn't work. Pay close attention to how others react to you and how you can refine and build upon your thinking and approach. This requires focus and tremendous patience.
Others will not value your leadership distinction until you can trust yourself to enough to put it into practice each and every day. Trusting yourself is about sharing your knowledge, your wisdom, and your secrets. It's about allowing those around you to experience the real you, not your title. When you trust yourself, you do not hesitate to share the harvest of the momentum that you are building with others.
Managing your personal brand is like being a scientist that fails 85% of the time in their quest to discover the right formula and breakthrough. This is why less than 15% of leaders have a personal brand. Perhaps this explains why great leadership is so rare.2. Be Responsible; Hold Yourself Accountable
Personal brand management is about continually elevating the valuation of your leadership talent to align with the marketplace. If they are out of alignment, you have work to do.
We pay more for a branded product. The reason why you chose a particular mobile and not the other had to do with the perception you have about the brand. When asked to search for any information on the web, most people say, "let me Google it" because that brand has become synonymous with search.
Every company likes to describe its brands in superlative terms, but the users have their own opinion. It is the user's opinion that matters about a brand. People make purchase decisions based on user reviews. The brands that are "perceived" as innovative, aesthetically appealing or customer friendly, command a premium over their competitors.
Brands are adjectives. If someone had to think of you as a brand, what adjectives would they use to describe you? If you had to describe yourself using five adjectives would these be the same as the ones others had used for you? Would these be the adjectives that would want to be known for in the eyes of others? Would these adjectives help you achieve your dreams?
Your personal brand is not what you say about yourself but what others say about you. You are the CEO of Brand You. You can take lessons from what big brands do to make sure they are always seen as top of the mind for the buyers. They have marketing experts to help them craft the brand. You can apply the same techniques to build a powerful personal brand.
Seek Feedback: In marketing terms this is called consumer research. You need to know exactly what others think of you. Start with your friends and family, but don't stop there. Real opportunities for improvement will come from people who may not know you but still have an opinion about you. You may not have met Mahatma Gandhi, but you still have an opinion about him. It is the same for Brand You.
People are wary about sharing feedback, which is not positive, or they couch it in polite terms. Build a few relationships where people can give you unfiltered feedback. Look at all the strengths and areas of improvement you have heard from them and identify those that come up most often. Then ask yourself which of these you would like to be associated with your brand and which ones dilute your brand.
Build Your Expertise: The world is changing fast. Make sure you are constantly learning and reinventing yourself. Identify an area where you will be better than others. If you wish to pursue your career as an engineer, then make sure you are an expert in engineering. That means knowing about your area of specialization in depth - say civil engineering. Then learn about other adjacent areas of engineering as well. In this case you may wish to know more about metallurgy, electrical and mechanical engineering as well so that you have a holistic view of your profession.
Read professional magazines, blogs and follow discussion groups to know what is the latest development in your field. Each time you come across a new idea, try and make your own notes about how you could use this new piece of knowledge. Better still; help others to apply it in their areas too. This is one of the fastest ways of building a personal brand - help others. If you are a better writer than a speaker, then write a blog. If you are better as a speaker, then try speaking in professional forums. Communicating your personal brand is an important step in brand building.
Watch Your Digital Reputation: There is no delete button on the Internet. What you have posted on your Facebook page or your status updates on Twitter are like tattoos. They are permanent. So think before you post or comment. Your online reputation travels very fast.
Don't post disparaging comments about others, especially your colleagues or even previous employers. Your digital reputation is far more complicated to maintain. It is a powerful tool that can build your personal brand, but a wrong move can also destroy Brand You very easily. It is not what you say about yourself - it is what others think and say behind your back.
Beyond Work: Your hobbies are not just great stress busters, they can actually be an integral differentiator of Brand You. There can be many engineers, but you could be the only engineer who blogs about magic, engineering and music. Your musical talent or acting ability can be great hobbies to pursue and they in turn can make your personal brand special.
Marketing gurus tell us that brands are not built by advertising. Great advertising not backed by a matching product or service is a recipe for disaster. Building a brand requires careful thought and sustained effort. So today is a good day to start.
What are other ways to build a personal brand? Share your ideas in the comments.
Join me on twitter @AbhijitBhaduri
One of the most popular features at Platform University is our "Member Makeover." Each month, Megan Miller, our dean, and I review the platform of one of our members, including their blog and social media presence. Then, in a screencast, we share our overall evaluation and specific recommendations.
Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/focusstock
After doing this now for several months, we find ourselves returning to the same basic framework. I thought it might be helpful to share this with you as you think about launching or taking your personal brand to the next level.
A strong personal brand has five elements:
A defined audience. When I first started blogging, it took me four years to attract more than one thousand unique visitors a month. Then in 2008, I hit an inflection point. My traffic exploded. I averaged twenty thousand visitors a month.
There were several reasons for this, but one of the main ones is that I shifted the focus from myself to my readers. This was subtle but conscious. I started deliberately thinking about them, their needs, and how I could serve them well.
Initially, I guessed. Then I decided to conduct a survey. I asked them specific demographic and psychographic questions and used SurveyMonkey to compile the results.
I boiled the results down to a reader profile. It looked like this:My typical reader is a male (62%) between the ages of 31-50 (56%). He has at least a college degree (78%) and household income of $70,000 or more (53%). He lives in the U.S. (84%), most likely in the southeastern part of the country (35%). His faith is very important to him (92%).
This profile enabled me to write more laser-focused posts that had a higher probability of resonating with my readers.
As you are working to establish your brand, I suggest you start with your audience. Take the guesswork out of it. Use a tool like SurveyMonkey or PollDaddy to collect the results. I've done this for three years in a row and plan to do it again in the next week or two.
Action Plan: Create a Reader Survey and ask your current readers to participate. Collect responses for a week or two. Summarize your insights in a blog post like I did here.
A clear value proposition. Once you have identified your audience, it's time to decide what you can offer them. What will you give in exchange for their valuable time and attention?
This may take a little experimentation. I cast around for years trying to figure it out.
Do I offer resources to help people work smarter (my first blog)?
Do I offer perspective on the fast-changing world of book publishing (my second attempt)?
Do I offer insights into leadership (my third attempt)?
Do I offer tools for building a personal platform (my fourth attempt)?
Do I offer a bit of all the above with some inspiration for personal development thrown in (my current attempt)?
To be honest, I didn't really figure it out until a few months ago. It came to me while I was out running.I help leaders leverage their influence.
This has become the organizing framework for everything I do. It is the foundation for all my work. Self-development, productivity, speaking, writing, and social media all enable leaders-the people I serve-to maximize their impact.
What is your value proposition? What do you offer or intend to offer to your audience?
Don't be afraid to try different things out. You'll know it when you finally land on the right one.
Action Plan: Develop a one-sentence value proposition. What do you uniquely offer your audience? Start by making a list of possibilities, then narrow it down to one.
A compelling brand slogan. We live in a busy, noisy world. People's attention spans are growing shorter by the year. You only have a few minutes (if that long) to distill your value proposition into a slogan.
Here are some good ones:
Some larger personal brands don't have a brand slogan per se. They can get away with it, because their names are synonymous with what they represent. Until you get to that level, I recommend you come up with one and use it. It will help focus what you do.
Action Plan: Write a one-sentence brand slogan, using your value proposition and what you now know about your audience. Start with a verb or a gerund.
An engaging headshot. If you want to build a powerful platform, you need photos of yourself. Why? Because people want to connect with people not merely brands, products, or causes.
The right photo can help establish credibility, build trust, and promote engagement. These are at the heart of connecting in the world of social media and essential if you ever hope to sell someone on what you have to offer.
The key is in getting the right headshot. This is not about creating a Photoshopped, glamour photo (gag). It is about capturing the real, authentic you-just as the people who know you best experience you.
You don't have to spend an arm and a leg to get a great headshot, but you should be prepared to spend something. You'll save money if you know what you want and plan accordingly.
For example, in my last photo shoot, I told the photographer I wanted to communicate professionalism, approachability, and fun. That opened up a bunch of possibilities. Based on that, we got hundreds of shots in a variety of locations in less than two hours. It cost me $200. (Your mileage may vary.)
When you are done, pick one headshot you can use on your website and all your social media networks. This should become your default avatar. In addition, I would ask for shots that show you doing what you do. Here are some ideas:
- Working at your computer
- Analyzing your client's data
- Coaching one-on-one
- Facilitating a small group meeting
- Recording a podcast
- Shooting a video
- Speaking before a large crowd
- Autographing your book at an event
I offer some additional tips in " 9 Suggestions for Taking Better Headshots."
Action Plan: Find a local photographer and schedule a two-hour photo shoot. Identify what you want your headshot to communicate, then create a list of action shots you want to take.
Simple graphic components. When I was the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, I launched a re-banding initiative called "One Company." Over time our brands had proliferated like bunny rabbits. We had scores of logos, colors, and fonts. Our customers were confused. We were confused!
So we set out to simplify things by reducing everything to a singular logo, color palette, and font selection. (Yes, there were a few exceptions.) This was hard work, but it made our lives easier and the business more profitable.
I strongly recommend you do this for your personal brand:
Decide on a fixed color palette. There are some wonderful, free tools that help you do this, including Adobe Kuler. Take some time to educate yourself on the psychology of color and then chose colors that are congruent with your brand position.
Select your brand fonts. Use two-no more than three. I recommend a serifed font for body text (e.g., I use Georgia on this blog) and a sans-serifed font for titles, subheads, and captions (e.g., I use Helvetica Neue). Then apply your standard ruthlessly to everything you do-website, business cards, advertising, etc.
You might even create a web-based style guide as I have done here. I created this for our internal use, but feel free to use it as the basis for your own.
Action Plan: Commission a logo for your brand. Then create a simple style guide (similar to this) that includes your color palette and font selection.
Before you can build a powerful personal brand, you must nail down these five elements. It really doesn't take that much time, and it will save you months-perhaps years-in terms of getting you to your ultimate platform-building destination.
I never liked the idea of a canned elevator speech for use in networking situations. I want people -- including you -- to be spontaneous and to respond in the moment when someone asks them "So, what do you do?" But I also understand that people feel better if they have a few words prepared ahead of time. They want to be able to answer the question "What kind of work do you do?" quickly and without stumbling. That's a reasonable thing to aspire to. So, I help people compose elevator speeches all the time. (I make them promise not to recite the elevator speech as though they were reading a script, but to become so comfortable with it that the speech trips off the tongue.)
Apart from face-to-face verbal branding, we've got to compose a LinkedIn headline, and we've got to brand ourselves in other places, too. If you chat in online forums or Yahoo!groups, you've got to be able to tell people what you do. When you update your resume, you need some kind of description of what you've done and what you're looking to do next. Most people do that in the form of a resume Summary.
So, what's your resume Summary going to say? The Summary at the top of your resume may be the most critical part of the whole document, because it tells the reader what you think about your own career thus far, and what you're aiming for. In any of these personal branding scenarios, you're likely to veer in the direction of these ten unfortunate branding habits (on our list, below). Don't do it! Once you learn how each of these branding tendencies is a less-than-sensational branding choice, and read our "here's how to fix the branding problem" examples, perhaps you'll find the task of branding yourself in words a bit easier. I hope so!
No Brand at All
Choosing no brand at all is the most common personal branding mistake that people make. Here's what that sounds like:
SOMEONE: So, what do you do?
YOU: Oh, I've done a bunch of things. I write press releases, and I've been an Office Manager and an HR person at one point, too. I can do anything.
If you have no brand, it means you don't know where you're going. Your no-brand branding is saying "I have a bunch of skills, and I hope someone can use some of them." We need to do more work than that. We need to decide what we want to do next. Then, when someone asks "So, what do you do?" we can say "I'm looking for a Public Relations job" or "I'm looking for an HR job" or "I'm a writer, and I've had a lot of fun writing press releases as well as HR materials for employees. I love communicating in writing - that's my thing."
We need to create a frame that encompasses our past experience and whatever we've decided we want to do next. (We can have more than one direction, for a job search for instance, but in any given networking conversation, we'll only pull out one elevator speech. That's why we need to ask a few questions of our conversational partner before dumping our speech on him or her. Without learning something about the person we're speaking to, we won't know which variation of our elevator speech to use!).
Brand is Too Broad
It's not a good idea to try to be all things to all people, branding-wise. Here's how that sounds:
SOMEONE: So, what do you do professionally?
YOU: I'm a Marketing person. I also do PR, and a little bit of Sales and Operations. Also Customer Service.
It is normal to want to squeeze everything you've ever done into the short "Who am I?" intro, but it's not a good idea. It's almost like having no brand at all, because people don't know what to do with the information you're giving them when it's too broad. They need to be able to mentally roll through the Rolodex in their heads and think about people they know who might be looking for someone with your skill set. Unless you're looking to be the number two hire in a fledgling startup, a too-broad functional brand is a liability, not an asset. (If you were looking to be the number two hire in a startup, you wouldn't say "I do Sales and Marketing and Operations." You'd say, "I'm the person who comes into a startup very early and pulls together the back-office and customer-facing infrastructure, lands the first customers and gets the business up and running.")
Branding for Industries We Don't Care About
Here's another personal-branding mistake people make. They make this one in their LinkedIn profiles and their resumes every day. They tell us (the reader of the resume or LinkedIn profile, or the person hearing their elevator speech for the first time) the industries they've worked in, although they may not be an industry-specific player. Why would we do that? It's because we've been trained to list our industries, as though they're important to our branding, even when they're not! Here's what this personal branding mistake looks like on paper:
Here's the problem: this is a PR person. A PR person could work in any industry. If you don't care about working specifically in telecom, law or apparel again, why would you make that part of your brand? All you're going to do with this branding is push non-telecom/non-legal/non-apparel people away from you. That's a terrible branding move! If you do care about staying in a certain industry (not sure why you would) then tell us which industry you're focused on -- and I'm sure in that case it won't be the random mix of telecom, legal and apparel. Those just happen to be the employers who've hired you earlier in your career. Don't let their industries define your future trajectory!
Using Corporatespeak Boilerplate
Lots of people use boring, robotic corporatespeak language to brand themselves. They say and write things like:
Oh, please! This is a horrible brand. What does it mean? This kind of general filler language impresses no one, because it's nearly content-free. All the boilerplate language we've been taught to use in our resumes can only hurt us. It screams "I am afraid to actually talk about myself, so I'll use all the done-to-death resume words and phrases I've heard a million times before." Here's a list (it could be much longer, if space allowed) of words and phrases to take out of your resume, your LinkedIn profile and your brain right now:
- Results-oriented professional
- Bottom-line orientation
- Meets or exceeds expectations
- Managing cross-functional teams
- Proven track record of success
- Progressively more responsible positions
- Motivated self-starter
Your brand will be stronger - and will sound like it belongs to a living person - when you use a human voice in your branding, and leave the robot language out of it.
Here's another common personal branding mistake. People say, or write "I'm a sales guru" or "I'm the best marketer in Connecticut." This is grasp-y and grovelly. It's horrible personal branding, because it says "I have to praise myself, in a lame attempt to get you to think I'm good at what I do." Ever notice that the people who really are gurus and mavens, never brand themselves that way? We don't need to praise ourselves in our branding. What we can do instead is tell the reader or listener what we love to do - what we care about. That's a lot more interesting for the reader or listener than hearing us trumpet our own fabulousness.
Listing The Tasks We've Performed
People are complex. They are multi-faceted. We don't want to brand ourselves by listing the things we've done in our past jobs, or the things we intend to do at future jobs. Here's what it looks like when people do that:
When we offer lists of tasks and duties, we minimize our own accomplishments. If we can get a little altitude on our own careers, we can say:
"I'm an Office Manager who loves to keep an overbooked CEO sane, and serve as the air-traffic controller for a busy office."
Now we see this Office Manager in action. We see that s/he understands what the job entails and has fun talking about. This job-seeker is using imagery ('air traffic controller") in her branding -- s/he could even use it in his or her LinkedIn headline. This person isn't listing the tasks that he or she has performed -- rather, s/he's giving us a feel for how s/he perceives the job. Much stronger branding!
Making Your Brand About the Trophies
Very smart and accomplished people fall victim to this branding mishap all the time. They say things like
Accomplished Marketer with an MBA and Director-level experience in top aerospace firms.
This is an unfortunate branding move, because it says "Look! Look at my MBA! A real university conferred that on me - I must be awesome, right?" We don't want to send that message. If you have an MBA, that's great. Your MBA doesn't make you powerful. If you are awesome, it's because you are an amazing person. You don't need to hold the MBA or the director-level experience or a certification or any other trophy -- that is, an honor or accolade conferred by some other person or body - to make you fabulous. You can talk in your branding about why you do what you do, or how you do it. That shows the reader that you have a passion for your work. In that case, you're not saying "Look at the awards I've won, and the diplomas I've received!" You're saying "I am me. I'm not perfect for every employer or every client, but I have a take on my work which is mine alone. It works for some people. Maybe you are one of them."
Branding is something that pulls the right people closer to you and pushes the rest of them away. We don't need to go to the consulting or job-search marketplace with the message "Please find me acceptable." Your branding task is to decide which audiences you want to reach, and then to create a brand that speaks to those audiences -- not to every person alive on the planet.Making Your Brand About the Years of Experience
If I had a nickel for every LinkedIn profile I've read that says "Seven years of experience in Marketing, and four in Product Management" I'd be a rich person. This is an awful way to brand yourself. The time that has elapsed as you've performed your various assignments is the least important thing about those gigs. We want to tell people how you think, how you view the world and how you've made a difference for your past employers and clients. We want them to know what gets you excited. Who cares how many years you've spent in one industry or function, or another? That is not as significant as what you've accomplished in your career so far.
Avoiding the Word "I" in Your Branding
This isn't likely to trip you up in your face-to-face conversations, but most of us have been trained to avoid using the word "I" in our resume and LinkedIn branding, and that is a crazy thing to do. After all, these documents are about you. Of course you'll use the word "I!" If you don't, you'll sound like a robot -- and that's what we are trying to avoid. Instead of "Results-oriented professional" you can say "I'm a Marketer who loves to conduct as much research as it takes to convert product, pricing and promotion decisions from trial balloons to low-risk exercises." You're telling us how you approach your job. You can use "I" in the Summary of your resume, and again in the bullets that describe your accomplishments (not tasks and duties!) for the jobs you've held.
The last personal branding mistake on our list is one that often befalls people who have thought about their personal branding. They want to tell the reader or listener something about how they operate, so they write something like this:
Ever since childhood, I've been fascinated by complex problems and the range of solutions that might apply. I love to solve Sudoku and logic puzzles, and find customer-relationship and process-improvement conundrums especially satisfying.
People send me resumes and LinkedIn profile urls with this kind of language in them every day. I love the fact that the writer is trying to get him- or herself across on the page. The problem here is that we don't get the punchline. We're not willing to keep reading, because we don't have a frame for the conversation. Okay, you love puzzles -- are you an engineer? We need that information right up front. We're not willing to wait for it.
If you're saying that you're a problem-solver but you don't know whether you want to be in IT or Sales, we can't help you. It is frustrating for the reader to encounter this kind of branding. It tells us something about the interior life of the writer - but nothing that we, as a listener or reader, can grab hold of as we think about the person in front of us and opportunities we may have heard about. Imagine that you met someone in a social setting -- a block party, for instance. Imagine that you asked the person "So, tell me what you do in the daytime" and your new acquaintance said "I'm a problem-solver" or something else just as general. You'd think "Really? Six-month-old babies solve problems. What does that tell me?"
What To Do Instead: Examples of Personal Brands That Work
Here are a few examples of personal branding statements that bring the person across on the page; use a human voice; get the chosen direction out right away; don't stoop to praise the author; and aren't meandering:
I came up through the Accounting ranks and switched to Sales mid-career; now, I manage Fortune 50 account relationships for enterprise software vendors, helping my clients make smart strategic decisions about automating their internal processes (and maximizing their IT investments, hard and soft).
I'm a CFO focused on startups, who's closed funding rounds for my last three employers and built flexible finance and accounting systems that supported our rapid growth on modest back-office budgets. I love mentoring up-and-comers and to be involved in the product mix, marketing strategy and production decisions.
I write training materials and scripts for call-center agents, and deliver stand-up and online training to newbie reps as they build their confidence and skills handling simple or tricky customer calls. I love to construct nimble call-escalation processes and make the call center reps an extension of the Sales department, turning customer-service interactions into new opportunities to sell our products.
Personal branding isn't something most of us learn in school, but it isn't rocket science either. We can get good at telling our story verbally or on paper. Try it!
When other people use these words to describe your talents, it's OK. When you do it, you just sound like a pompous jerk.
Picture this: You meet someone new. "What do you do?" he asks.
"I'm an architect," you say.
"Oh, really?" he answers. "Have you designed any buildings I've seen?"
"Maybe," you reply. "We did the new library at the university..."
"Oh wow," he says. "I've seen it. That's a beautiful building..."
And you're off. Maybe he's a potential client, maybe not... but either way you've made a great impression.
You sound awesome.
Now picture this: You meet someone new. "What do you do?" he asks.
"I'm a passionate, innovative, dynamic provider of architectural services who uses a collaborative approach to create and deliver outstanding customer experiences."
And he's off, never to be seen again... because you sound like a pompous ass.
Do you--whether on your website, or more likely on social media accounts--describe yourself differently than you do in person?
Do you use hacky clichés and overblown superlatives and breathless adjectives?
Do you write things about yourself you would never have the nerve to actually say?
If so, it's time for a change.
Here are some words that are great when used by other people to describe you, but you should never use to describe yourself:"Motivated."
Check outChris Rock's response (not safe for work or the politically correct) to people who say they take care of their kids. Then substitute the word "motivated." Never take credit for things you are supposed to do--or be."Authority."
If you have to say you're an authority, you aren't. Show your expertise instead. "Presenter at SXSW" or "Delivered TED Talk at Long Beach 2010" indicates a level of authority. Unless you can prove it, "social media marketing authority" just means you spend a ton of time on Twitter."Global provider."
The vast majority of businesses can sell goods or services worldwide; the ones that can't--like restaurants--are obvious. (See?) Only use "global provider" if that capability is not assumed or obvious; otherwise you just sound like a really small company trying to appear really big."Innovative."
Most companies claim to be innovative. Most people claim to be innovative. Most are not. (I'm not.) That's okay, because innovation isn't a requirement for success.
If you are innovative, don't say it. Prove it. Describe the products you've developed. Describe the processes you've modified. Give us something real so your innovation is unspoken but evident... which is always the best kind of evident to be."Creative."
See particular words often enough and they no longer make an impact. "Creative" is one of them. (Go to LinkedIn and check out some profiles; "creative" will appear in the majority.)
"Creative" is just one example. Others include extensive, effective, proven, dynamic, influential, team player, collaborative... some of those terms truly may describe you, but since they're also being used to describe everyone else they've lost their impact."Curator."
Museums have curators. Libraries have curators. Tweeting links to stuff you find interesting doesn't make you a curator... or an authority or a guru."Passionate."
Say you're incredibly passionate about incorporating an elegant design aesthetic in everyday objects and--to me at least--you sound a little scary. Same if you're passionate about developing long-term customer solutions. Try focus, concentration, or specialization instead. Save the passion for your loved one."Unique."
Fingerprints are unique. Snowflakes are unique. You are unique--but your business probably isn't. Don't pretend to be, because customers don't care about unique; they care about "better." Show how you're better than the competition and in the minds of customers you will be unique."Guru."
People who try to be clever for the sake of being clever are anything but. Don't be a self-proclaimed ninja, sage, connoisseur, guerilla, wonk, egghead... it's awesome when your customers affectionately describe you in that way, but when you do it it's apparent you're trying way too hard."Incredibly..."
Check out some random bios and you'll find plenty of further-modified descriptors: "Incredibly passionate," "profoundly insightful," "extremely captivating..." isn't it enough to be insightful or captivating? Do you have to be incredibly passionate?
If you must use over-the-top adjectives to describe yourself, at least spare us the further modification. Trust us; we already get it.
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