When you hear a major brand name — Facebook, Starbucks, Amazon — you have an immediate response, whether it’s good or bad. If you’ve ever heard someone ask “Why is personal branding important?” the answer is that your name, as your brand, creates a similar response in others.
So what is a personal brand? There’s a famous Jeff Bezos quote: “Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room.”
Having a personal brand isn’t a choice. Everyone has one, whether they recognize it or not.
Here’s one of my favorite analogies for a personal brand. Think about going trick-or-treating as a kid. As you walked through your neighborhood, you likely had in mind which houses were the most important to stop at.
Each year, the people living in that house by the corner always gave out boxes of raisins. Not even Raisinets! But the owners of that other house, the one just past the streetlamp, always kept a big basket full of king-size candy bars. And they let you take 2!
Your interactions with those houses stuck with you. You remembered each year which houses gave out the best candy, which had the best brand.
So, do you know what your brand is? And just as importantly, is it positive or negative?
Discovering Your Personal Brand
If you don’t know what your personal brand is, how can you find out?
That might make you uncomfortable, but it’s the simplest and best way to learn.
Find a few people you trust to be honest with you and whose opinions you value. Maybe this is a mentor, a peer, a direct report, a close friend or even your spouse. There are a lot of questions you could ask; here are a few examples.
- What am I known for?
- What do you think I stand for?
- What do other people say about my reliability? Approachability? Consistency?
- What unique value do I bring to the table?
Asking others is just the first step. You also need to do some soul-searching and answer those questions (and more) for yourself. If this is your first time thinking through your personal brand, make this the time that you define your goals and start building a personal brand you can be proud of. What do you want your brand to be? How do you want your personal brand to help you achieve your goals?
Once this step is done, it’s time to ask yourself one more question: “Do I like my personal brand?”
Changing Your Personal Brand
What can you do if you’ve asked for input and done some self-evaluation and found that your brand isn’t what you want it to be — or, worse, people have a negative perception of your brand?
You can change what you’re known for.
Your brand has been built up over a period of time, with each interaction someone has with you impacting their perception of your brand. Identify what you have done or said that has built your brand in a way other than you want it to be seen.
If the feedback you received indicates that you’re unreliable, why is that? Have you missed deadlines, appointments or important events? Do you regularly back out of commitments?
Did you hear that you aren’t seen as compassionate? Is that because you’re overly critical, hard on others when they don’t meet your standards? Do you ignore what’s happening in people’s lives and fail to extend grace when it’s needed?
Changing what you’re known for isn’t easy, but it can be done. Whatever it is you want to change, create a personal branding strategy you can follow to make sure the way your individual branding is experienced aligns with your goals.
Using Your Brand for Personal Marketing
One of the benefits of branding yourself is that you’re taking control of your narrative. A company with good brand management would never let other people decide what it should be known for. Organizations are protective of their branding, doing what they can to ensure their target audience maintains a positive association with their brand.
You can — and should — treat your brand the same way, for the same reason.
Let’s come back to our original question: “Why is personal branding important?” The way you manage your personal brand identity will have an impact on your life, both personal and professional. What goals do you want to achieve? Do you want to build up great relationships? Do you want to pursue career advancement? Your personal brand affects your ability to meet your goals.
Marketing yourself isn’t just about tooting your own horn. You don’t have to have a personal website (unless it helps achieve your overall goals) — you just need to make sure you’re consistently putting your best self forward. And that consistency is key.
Let’s say you want to leverage your personal brand to gain entry to a new role and move up the ladder. With that goal in mind, reflect on how your brand can help you achieve it. Here are a few examples.
- Identify what makes you unique. Why do you want to be in a particular line of work? What do you bring to the table that someone else wouldn’t offer?
- Establish yourself as a go-to resource. Share ideas and insights. Offer to help with projects and tasks that aren’t your responsibility. If you’re getting your work done and also showing that you’re an invaluable asset for others to rely on, your name will come up more whenever there’s a need.
- Ask questions and keep learning. Don’t assume that you’ve ever “arrived” — people will see your drive for continuous learning and personal development and recognize that you’re not someone who wants to coast by.
- Show up every day. That’s not to say you shouldn’t take time off work, but when you’re on, be present and prepared. Demonstrate integrity by doing what you say you will, even when it’s hard.
- Take responsibility for yourself and be an encouragement to others. If you’re quick to accept praise and slow to give it — or to help — people will see that very quickly and shy away from you.
If you want to know if your efforts to build your personal brand are working, go back to my earlier advice and ask. Be clear about what steps you are taking and what your desired outcome is. The only way to find out if your strategy is changing the impression people have of you is to be direct — which serves the double purpose of learning how successful your efforts are as well as communicating to others that you are proactively taking steps to change.
Don’t take it personally if the change you believe you’ve already made doesn’t come through in the feedback you receive. If you get criticism, accept it humbly and then incorporate any valid critiques in your action plan.
So again, why is personal branding important?
Because if your desired brand attributes are the types of things you are known for, before long you’ll catch the eye of decision-makers around you who will want to invest in you. People talk, and your personal brand will precede you, both in your current role and even in your larger network.
Looking for more information on building your personal brand? Check out chapter 7 of my book, Lead, Don’t Manage, or book me to speak at your next event!