This year is the 20th anniversary of Tom Peter's article in Fast Company entitled "The Brand Called You."
Most recognize the article as the ‘birth’ of personal branding or at the least the first time that the concept of having a personal brand appeared on the business radar.
If you Google “Brand Called You” the article still appears at the top of the rankings.
He wrote; "Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You."
It probably took ten years, for that piece, for the notion of owning your personal brand to be embraced as an accepted way of managing your career, business, and even your life. But even the world of work that Peters was referring to has changed dramatically, Google and Facebook did not even exist back then, and with technology acceleration and the likes of artificial intelligence, we do not know what work is likely to look like in five years, let alone whether we can control it.
That means that the only thing you can fully control is YOU.
Many people did, and continue to, decry the whole thought of personal branding, labeling it as egotistical and ridiculous. Legitimately the criticism is fair in some ways because others have taken Tom Peter’s notion and likened branding yourself to branding a bar of chocolate. In fact, his intention was to show the contrast between a person and a corporation when it comes to branding.
A significant contributor to the whole notion has been celebrity branding which has exploded. With constant exposure and an unquenchable thirst for more, this now leaves many people feeling inadequate unless we too garner the same visibility. Sadly credibility has taken a distant back seat.
Social media has been both a blessing and curse and is responsible for some of the hype, expectation, and disdain that personal branding attracts. But fault can also lie at the feet of the ‘gurus’ and experts who tell you to “fake it until you make it” or encourage you to turn your social media streams into a one-way flow of personally branding me, me, me that should never be turned off.
When it comes to personal branding, I am always asked: “How do I maintain activity with my personal brand and feel authentic about it?”
It’s important to remember, what I always say in my keynotes and training, the good news is that everyone already has a personal brand. The key is understanding what that brand is and then how to best communicate it to the people that need to know about you, the people you are trying to influence, in a way that feels right.
Of course, firstly you have to embrace the concept and want to do something about your personal brand. Otherwise, the core of Tom Peters message to aim to be distinct or extinct will make no sense.
7 Ways to Embrace & Benefit from Personal Branding
Know your personal brand
Before you embark on a personal brand campaign, you want to be sure you have a clear understanding of how your personal brand is perceived right now. You need a baseline.
Because we are too close to the subject, getting insights and feedback from others who know you well is invaluable. There are two personal brand assessments that will help to look at how others perceive you. It is well worth taking the time to make the investment in one or both of these, the Fascinate assessment from Sally Hogshead and the 360 Reach assessment from Reach.
Audie McCarthy, the CEO of Mohawk College Enterprise notes "I believe personal branding is critical to career development and management, especially in this day & age where people tend not to stay in jobs or even in the same industry for as long as in the past. Your reputation, personal values, and demonstrated character are differentiators and will place you ahead of the pack when combined with your work experience, accomplishments, and education."
Assess your personal brand communication strengths
We all have different preferred ways of communicating, and there are several key ones that as a corporate employee you will want to be proficient at including e-mail, presenting, speaking, etc.
The perhaps glib answer is: whichever one you are good at works. It is important to develop your communication skills and improve through training. Do a communications audit of the key ones and then decide which one you feel most proficient and confident in using right now and use that one to start communicating your personal brand more.
"Your personal brand sets you apart from others and is a crucial marketing tool for any business. The key is being authentic to yourself, and this will pave the way to your success. There are many ways to build your personal brand by volunteering in your community, mentoring others and being active on social media. This builds trust with your employees, members, clients and in return ultimately will lead to success." said Shendal Yelchin, General Manager of The Hamilton Club.
Know your personal brand target audience.
Decisions about your career in the corporate world are no longer made locally, even regionally but potentially globally.
Hopefully, you already have an idea what you want your next promotion to be or the next type of project in which you want to be involved. Now you need to determine who are the people making those decisions, how well do you know them, where are they, and how to reach them and let them know about the great work you are doing?
"I believe it is crucial to creating a strong brand right from the start because, if you aren't sure of who you are and what you represent, neither are your potential clients!" Kathleen Hayden, Professional Organizer, Certified Stager & Re-Designer Dream Space S.O.S
Find time for your personal brand.
We all have limited time and resources. Realize investing time on your personal brand activity is key. It does not have to be all in one go. In fact, a consistent daily focus of activity is better. It could be as little as a few minutes a day and then one day of longer time each week to complete a more in-depth action. Either way, book appointments with yourself, and make them as non-negotiable as a meeting with your boss or ideal client.
"I believe personal branding is important. Our brand is the beacon signal we put out into the world. How strong, how clear and how precise we make this signal will define how we function and who we operate with” Brian Humphrey, Creative Partner, Momentum Fitness & Founder Climb for Cancer.
Take consistent action with your personal brand.
Provided you have clearly answered the previous questions on the current state of your personal brand, communication strengths and target audience, coupled with the next question on goals then the consistent action is what is going to be of most benefit. You need to be sure that your actions are authentic to you, feel right and are not all that one-way spigot of ME, ME, ME.
"Unselfish action, now at this very moment. That’s all you need." Marcus Aurelius
I once went to hear Keith Ferrazzi, author of “Never Eat Alone” speak at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business.
I followed Keith’s advice in his book about ‘bumping‘ the speaker before they go on stage and engaging them quickly to gain a follow-up. I had brought my copy of the book and asked him to ‘sign it before he became famous’ – a quote from the book. He commented that I had obviously read the book and I said it was (and still is) my most referred and recommended book on networking. I have even given several people copies as gifts.
As I walked away, someone behind him had taken my lead and asked for their book to be signed. I heard Keith ask the person.... (Bob) for their thoughts on the book and Bob said “I have the guy you were just talking to thank for telling me about this book. I was unemployed at the time and directly as a result of your book, I’ve now landed a job.”
During Keith’s talk he referred to Bob’s story and then picked me out to publicly thank me, I had dozens of people ask for my card afterward.
What personal brand actions can you take that add value, raise your profile and benefit others?
Bill Dowd, President & CEO of Skedaddle Human Wildlife Control shared "Through personal branding, I have distinguished myself as the pioneer & expert in urban wildlife control, which has resulted in numerous media opportunities and speaking engagements. Personal branding has allowed my business the opportunity to be awarding franchises across Canada and the USA."
Set personal brand goals and measure results.
You already know the current state of your personal brand, and you have an idea of where or what you want to be doing next in your career. So next determine what it is going to take to get from the former to the latter and put some measurable actions and results to that. These become your personal brand goals, with consistent, relevant work you will progress.
Say your goal is to step into a leadership role in the next 12 months. Who in your organization can benefit from your experience and knowledge now? Make an offer to mentor them. Understand what their career and personal brand goals are and work with them to help them achieve them.
Review your personal brand, revise your activity and don’t stop.
Personal branding is not a one-time event; it is an integral part of who you are professionally and personally. Be sure to regularly check where you are at and revise your activity and communication accordingly. As long as you continue to have career goals and aspirations you will likely continue to review, refine, revise and rework your personal brand. Even if you start to look at the next stage of your career or life, the personal branding process can help you make important decisions and guide you. The process is circular versus linear.
Colleen Cowman, Director, Development at The Hamilton General Hospital Foundation sums it up "Standing out from the crowd is important. Personal branding helps you do this, in the best possible ways. Well done, it creates a perfect balance between yourself and with who you engage. The advantage of deliberately presenting yourself is that you clearly demonstrate the values, skills, and attitude you bring. In this way, your personal brand is also about your employer, your community, your family. Your personal brand enhances you - and space you inhabit with those who are most important to you."
Often I am asked, when is the best time to start working on my personal brand?
Honestly, there are two best times;
- 20 years ago, and
But, Peters summed it up best at the end of his article and it still rings true:
"It’s this simple: You are a brand. You are in charge of your brand. There is no single path to success. And there is no one right way to create the brand called You. Except this: Start today. Or else."
This article originally appeared in the print version of Biz Magazine.