The term “personal brand” is gaining momentum as job seekers are being asked to describe their brand in interviews, entrepreneurs are leveraging their own reputations to grow their companies and professionals lean on their personal brand assets to make themselves promotable into leadership ranks. As the world gets more competitive and opportunities become harder to come by and secure, your personal brand is the key to the career success you desire.
What is a personal brand?
Your personal brand is how you’re known. It’s the way others experience you and deem you valuable (or not). Your brand is the perception those people you care about (professionally) feel about you. If they feel you are valuable, compelling and relevant, they want to engage with you (hire you, endorse you, invest in you and so on). If they feel you are unknown or undesirable, they will pass you over for opportunities you might really want.
Your personal brand shows up in your reputation. I often explain it this way: Your brand is what you do; your reputation is what you earn. When you promote and communicate your brand consistently, clearly and confidently, people see you the way you want. When you neglect your brand, others may mistakenly see you wrongly.
Your brand shows up in many places and ways, including the way you talk about yourself (your narrative), the way you introduce yourself (your elevator pitch), how you dress and move (image, body language and presence), the people you know and associate with (your network) and how you appear and interact online (your digital presence).
What happens if you don’t manage your brand?
If you don’t manage your brand, you could easily be overlooked. When an employer, for instance, seeks to hire a new sales professional, they will seek out someone who shares a similar passion and values, who can demonstrate success the way they define it, and who will relate well to their clients or customers. Someone with a strong brand will be able to align their values, passion and track record with what that employer seeks. Someone without a strong brand may rely on numbers and data to explain how they’re qualified and miss the opportunity to connect with what the employer cares about.
Also, if you don’t manage your brand, you could make careless reputation mistakes. For instance, you might share something on social media that is later deemed inappropriate, confidential or offensive. Because you weren’t mindful of the way you wanted to be perceived and the feelings of the people you wanted to target, you missed the signs that your post would not land correctly. This can have dire career and reputation consequences.
Tips for building and improving your personal brand
- Start with values – Your personal values define, determine and drive everything you do and feel. Most of us don’t think about our values on a daily basis, but that is where personal brands originate. Spend the time to think about what you value, how you prioritize and what is your moral compass is – what words come to mind? Are there values you live your life by, that you want to be known by and by which you seek to establish credibility? That’s the origin of your personal brand.
- Clarify your vision/mission – Next, learn what your reputation is today. How do current clients, peers, and other stakeholders in your career perceive you? You may need to ask them for feedback on what they believe you care about, are talented at, how they feel about you and for what they’d refer you. Note their responses as these indicate your “current reputation.” But your power comes in what you want for your legacy – how do you want people to perceive you and remember you? Clarify your mission in life and vision for your ideal or desired brand and reputation.
- Who’s your target? In marketing, we position towards a desired or target audience – the people who must find us relevant and compelling to provide us with the opportunity we seek. It’s important to understand who they are, and what they want and need from you to find you compelling. If you’re an entrepreneur, your target audience includes investors, business allies, employees and strategic influencers. These people might need to feel you are committed 100% to the mission of the business, have the experience to build the company, and are good at relationship building. Job seekers would target their ideal employer – and the networking contacts and recruiters who can help them get into that company. These individuals might need to know you have great skills and credentials and feel you’re worth taking a chance on. And so on.
- How will you reach your target audience? (putting your brand into action) – With a vision for how you want to be perceived (desired reputation) and an understanding of your target audience (and what they need and want), then you must position yourself towards them. From in-person networking and relationship building, to online positioning and visibility, to how you introduce yourself and how others speak about you, you’ll put your brand into consistent action in your behaviour and communication.
- Reputation management – Maintaining positive results from your personal brand strategy and actions and managing how you’re perceived (reputation) will take some effort. You’ll want to become mindful of the ways you’re presenting yourself and acting, to ensure you’re consistent with the values you promote. For example, if you espouse values of honesty and integrity, you’ll seek opportunity to share your true feelings and self, and shy away from situations which could be seen as unethical. If someone sees you acting dishonest or without integrity, your reputation will fracture. If this behaviour repeats, your reputation could be significantly tarnished.
Your personal brand and reputation are essential to your career success, as the people you’ll rely on to endorse, refer, support and promote you will need to see you as unique, compelling, relevant and specific to what they want and need. Then, their perception of you will entice them to help you grow your career and open doors you seek to go through. This is not a new phenomenon, but globally as more professionals understand what it means to confidently and clearly promote themselves and their brands, competition will become more intense.
About the Author
Lida Citroën is an executive personal branding and reputation management specialist. She is a TEDx and keynote speaker, instructor on LinkedIn Learning and consultant to global business leaders, entrepreneurs and military veterans to enhance their position and reputation in complex strategic markets. She is also the author of Control the Narrative: The Executive’s Guide to Building, Pivoting and Repairing Your Reputation.