Brand. What is a brand? How do you brand yourself? Why does brand matter? How important is it to have a personal brand?
In the words of Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos, “your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Your brand is what makes you unique—it’s what makes you, you. It’s an authentic representation of who you are as a person and as a professional. It’s tied to your identity and encompasses the emotional connection you have with your career path. The better able you are to create a personal and professional brand, the more likely you are to achieve success along the way.
While most of us understand the necessity of having a good reputation and keeping our name out of potentially negative press or social media, we haven’t really taken the next step to actually establish and nurture a personal and professional brand.
Creating a personal and professional brand is more than just writing a good summary on your LinkedIn profile, although it can begin there. Establishing a personal brand is a multi-level endeavor, beginning with identifying your vision for life and future, your purpose, passions, interests, values, and strengths. Once identified, these elements come together as a unique value proposition and form the foundation for your future professional endeavors.
Whether you’re in the midst of career transition, or happy at your current job, now is a good time to get started on a purposeful approach to your personal brand. Here are 5 tips about personal branding to get you started:
Tip #1 Identify Your Brand
Your brand should be tied to your identity and depict an accurate representation of who you are personally and professionally. If someone walks into a room and says your name, how do people respond? Good or bad, they say something that reflects your brand. Since people will brand you anyway, take control of your reputation by establishing the brand you want people to associate with your name.
Before you can establish a brand, you must identify the elements of your brand and create a brand statement. To identify your brand, start by making a list of your talents and exceptional qualities. List at least three things for each of these areas:
- Qualities that make you unique
- Areas of expertise
- Important values
- Passion and interests
- Adjectives to describe you
- How you make an impact
- Ideal career
When you’re making your list, think not only about how you see yourself, but how others see you. What advice do people commonly seek from you? Not only should you focus on who you are now, but how you want to be seen in the future. Include adjectives to describe the things you want to be known for, once you establish a thought leadership position.
Once you’ve developed a list, use those points to craft a statement. If you’ve spent an adequate amount of time making your list and thinking through your personal and professional qualities, you should have enough information to create a brand statement that details your unique value proposition. When others read the statement, they will get a sense of your particular gifts and have a sense of where you are professionally now as well as some insight into your growth potential.
Tip #2 Get a second opinion
Before you start integrating your unique value proposition into your LinkedIn profile and resume, let your family, friends, managers, colleagues, and peers weigh in. Ask them to be honest about their impressions and request that they make suggestions to improve it. We don’t see ourselves as clearly as others see us and many of us have a hard time boasting about our own accomplishments.
Getting the people you trust to read your statement will allow you to see yourself from their perspectives and get a clearer view of the value you bring to the work you do. Their feedback and suggestions can help define some of the nuances that make you, you. During this process, not all the comments you get will be positive. Listen to what others have to say and accept their feedback, criticism, praise, or advice about how you’re performing at work and interacting with others. Use other’s assessment of you to add value to your branding process.
Tip #3 Leverage your personal and professional strengths
What is the difference between a personal and a professional brand? Nothing. Your personal brand is your professional brand. Who you are and what you do should be well integrated.
When you’re creating a professional brand, don’t discount the personal attributes that make you unique. Organizations are looking for individuals who fit into their company culture and you should be looking for a company culture that will make you happy. Your personality and social skills are as much a part of your professional brand as the school you attended and your work experience.
No matter how much we try to separate our personal and professional selves, it’s impossible to leave one identity completely at home or at the office. When thinking about your professional brand, leverage those personal attributes that come naturally to you. When you fully combine personal and professional identities to build your brand, it becomes easier to remain completely authentic.
Tip #4 Improve your online reputation
When was the last time you did a Google search on your name? Try putting different variations of your name in quotes and see what web content you find. You’ll get a good idea of what your potential employer, peers, and other thought leaders find when they want to find out more about you. You may find that one version of your name yields more positive results about you than other versions of your name. Use your best, most popular version as your brand name. Put it on all your job search documents, online profiles, and byline opportunities and use it in email and other communications.
Your online reputation can make or break your professional brand. Social proof is more powerful than self-marketing. When others mention you as an expert or when you contribute an article to a popular industry website, it communicates your professional reputation and expertise.
If you’re serious about creating a reputation as a thought leader in your industry, you’ll want journalists to include quotes from you in articles they’re writing about trends and best practices. Monitor journalist requests for information through sites like HARO (Help a Reporter Out), or answer questions about your area of specialty on social media sites like Quora.
If you’re actively seeking thought leadership opportunities, keep an eye on your brand and get notified anytime your name appears in print with tools like Google Alerts. Even if you aren’t contributing actively to trade publications and social media, you may want to set Google Alerts on yourself to keep an eye on any possible negative press or comments.
Tip #5 Tell a good story about yourself
Once you’ve decided on your personal value proposition statement and you have started establishing a brand, paint one clear picture of who you are as a person, employer, and colleague across all your channels. From LinkedIn to your resume, your brand should remain consistent.
Capitalize on the characteristics and professional reputation you’re trying to promote and keep a consistent message in all your online and written communications. Keep a standard professional headshot, tag line, professional value proposition, and complete bio that you use across all platforms from Twitter to LinkedIn to Facebook.
As part of your brand, decide what stories you’ll tell about your career and your experiences. Make sure you understand how each of these stories relates to your overall brand perception. Think of these stories as case studies or use cases for your own brand. Just as a company serving car manufacturers might publish a success story about a customer in the industry to show automotive prospects why its product is the best, smart stories that reveal your professional brand will allow you to demonstrate your worth through your past experiences. Whether you’re seeking a new job or establishing thought leadership, these smart stories will help you craft your unique personal and professional brand.
Creating a personal and professional brand is not an overnight process. Get started now with your unique value proposition and work to communicate who you are and what you have to offer over time. The next time someone says your name, the response will be a reflection of the image you want people to have of you, both personally and professionally.