Most of us have a brand we like. It might be a clothing firm, a manufacturer of computers or a maker of fine perfume and cosmetics. Whatever it is, your brand of choice will combine certain distinctive qualities, expertise, accomplishments and attributes. You go back to this brand again and again because it consistently meets or exceeds your expectations. It has the ability to inspire and surprise you. It is a brand you can trust.
Human beings also have their own brand or personal image. A cursory Google search can usually reveal plenty about you – whether you want it to or not. Your LinkedIn or Facebook profile, posts, tweets and comments all form a comprehensive social snapshot – your own personal brand image – presented to the world, enabling other people to forge those all-important first impressions about who you are and what you stand for.
And it matters – more perhaps than you might think. Because having a strong personal brand is absolutely critical to your ability to influence, be it within an organisation, an industry or society at large. So the question is: are you happy to allow Brand You to evolve without your agency; or is it wiser to take some kind of control over your image?
Personal branding has become a hot topic with the advent of social media and instantly available information. Increasingly, shrewd executives are enacting thoughtful measures to proactively craft and shape their own personal brand, in order to extend the reach of their influence and leadership within their organisation and beyond.
There are many techniques and tactics that you can use to help define and optimise your personal brand. Here are some.
1. Understand you
What do you value? What motivates you and what do you seek to accomplish? What defines your brand identity and meanings? To strengthen your personal brand, you need to truly understand yourself, and that means making time for a little introspection and reflection. The goal is to identify the key personal elements that you can leverage to elicit positive responses in others, and that allow you to build an authentic personal brand that engenders trust and loyalty. And remember that even the strongest corporate brands can change and evolve over time, so try not to be too rigid or restrictive in your analysis, and do look ahead and around you. Self-reflection is an ongoing and iterative process – it can include feedback from trusted colleagues, friends and family.
2. Shape your narrative
We all come from a journey, and we all have a story to tell. Dedicate the time and work on your communication skills, and craft a narrative that encapsulates your expertise and your vision in a way that will resonate with your audience(s) – be they colleagues, team members, external stakeholders or the C-suite. Your narrative should do multiple jobs. It has to be a kind of elevator pitch for you and your values, capabilities and experiences; at the same time, it has to convey a vision for the future – your future, your company’s or industry’s future – that speaks to key stakeholders in a way that is both emotionally and cognitively engaging. And it has to be clear, understandable and relevant. Why not look again at your LinkedIn profile or curriculum and develop a narrative that you feel best reflects the best of you? And try to think proactively about the rational and emotional responses you would like to elicit in others. Remember, you can and should adapt your narrative to different audiences with different needs and expectations.
3. Be consistent
Among the values people appreciate in leaders are authenticity, integrity and transparency. If you have done the work of self-analysis and crafted a narrative that truly reflects who you are, stick to it. And remember that your physical demeanour, your body language, the way you speak to others, even the clothes you wear all form a part of your personal brand. Great brands are built by delivering a consistent message across all touchpoints. What are your key touchpoints and how can you ensure they are all creating a cohesive and consistent experience? Be mindful that even small discrepancies or inconsistencies can detract from the image you want to build and share, and lead to brand dilution. Also, in today’s world where the boundaries between home and working life are increasingly blurred, be prepared for your actual lifestyle and your brand to be the same thing. Because of this, your personal brand should be much more than the sum of your professional accomplishments or job titles.
4. Be inspired
If there is someone whose personal brand inspires you, take note of what they do and how they do it. What is the secret to their success? And how can you adapt this and make it applicable to you without compromising your authenticity? Former First Lady, Michelle Obama is hugely adept at utilising more informal media or platforms to extend her reach – and simultaneously convey the message that she is authentic and accessible. She has used Snapchat to speak to younger people, appeared on chat shows and let her hair down, singing and dancing in front of the camera while still in the White House. Think about what your brand icon stands for, does or says and search for the takeaways for yourself.
5. Stand for something
Define that thing that you would like to be remembered for and make it your North Star. Whether it’s a concrete outcome or actions, a personal approach or modus operandi, whether it’s a statement or a set of instantly recognisable values, decide what you want your legacy to be, and strive towards making it a reality.
There is no one size fits all in building your personal brand. And as we said earlier, your own brand will evolve and change over the course of time. But being conscious of the benefits of carefully crafting your personal brand and image will help you gain the recognition and respect in your field to advance in your career and life.