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Do You Need a Personal Brand?

Eye glasses on a notebook that reads: Dream It. Believe It. Achieve It.

Let’s face it: Most people don’t wake up in the morning and think, “I need to work on my personal brand!”

However, many people do wake up concerned about why they’re not being promoted, why people at work seem to be targeting them, whether their work is truly fulfilling and meaningful, and why they never seem to be in the right place at the right time for key opportunities.

These concerns are, in fact, remedied by personal branding.

What is personal branding?

Personal branding is a newer concept, introduced a few decades ago when Tom Peters authored an article for Fast Company promoting the value of having a “brand called You.”

Today, global individuals, professionals, executives, entrepreneurs and leaders are learning that the techniques and systems used to promote an experience with a business, product or service can also be applied to how individuals set themselves apart and create a belief about themselves in the minds – and hearts – of their target audience.

Brands – corporate, product or personal – are all about the promise or belief of a feeling and emotion. Consider the brands of things you enjoy: that luxury car would make you feel sexy, powerful and successful; that brand of laundry detergent reinforces your commitment to being a good mom; that lawn care company makes you the envy of the neighborhood.

Brands, by definition, make us feel something.

Personal branding sets the intention and strategy of how you, as an individual, want to be perceived. Do you want others to believe you’re collaborative, thoughtful and helpful? Or that you are innovative, creative and possess strong values of integrity and honesty? Do you want your clients to trust you and refer you? All of these goals are made possible through personal branding.

As a system, personal branding first sets the expectation of how you want to be perceived. Then, strategies and tactics ensure that your brand is consistently, confidently and clearly communicated to your target audience. That audience is defined by the people who hold the opportunities you want (new job, promotion, better work, more visibility, etc.) and who align with your values.

Your audience, to put it succinctly, are the people who must “get you,” who must find you relevant and compelling, and who need to understand how you’re different from your competition and must value you for that difference.

Why does personal branding matter?

Your brand drives your reputation, and the way others will believe you to be. That perception is what leads others to want to refer, endorse and support you… or not. They’ll want to hire you, advocate for you, provide you with trusted insight and additional resources… or not. If you’re not intentional about how others see you and what they believe to be true about you, you give away your power. You’re leaving it up to chance that they’ll see you in the right light to support your goals.

Consider this example: Bruce wants to grow into the leadership ranks at his company. To get there, he constantly volunteers for key projects, leads high visibility initiatives and offers his insights even when not asked. To Bruce, he’s demonstrating leadership qualities that he believes will make him promotable. When his executive sponsor is asked about Bruce for a potential opportunity in the senior leadership ranks, the sponsor replies, “Actually, I think Bruce is too self-motivated. He’s concerned with his own interests, above those of the company, and that’s not what we need in the leadership team.”

To Bruce, he was displaying leadership. To his company, he was being self-interested.

Here’s another example I share in my new book, Control the Narrative:

Imagine you are in need of an accountant for your investment firm. You want to hire someone with large firm experience, who’s skilled at managing the financial details of multiple portfolio companies and complex ownership structures. You also want them to help you pay the least taxes possible without going to jail. You interview two final accountant prospects. The first one, Bob, grew his career in one of the Big Four accounting firms, has deep experience with complex tax structures and touts an Ivy League education. The second one, Jim, is also knowledgeable on tax structures for firms like yours, grew his career working with his father’s boutique firm, received his education from a state college before passing the CPA exam and comes highly recommended from your personal attorney. On paper, both candidates are technically qualified to handle your business accounting needs.

When you interview them, Bob talks about his qualifications, his schooling, his impressive client list and his notable track record. Jim, on the other hand, asks you questions about your business goals, why you started the firm, how you select companies to invest in, and what you dream about. Both are qualified, but Jim feels like he cares about you and your business. You hire Jim because he feels like a partner, not a vendor.

Who needs a personal brand?

While people in a career crisis should look at their personal brand to drive change and achieve better results, there are other times to consider personal branding. If you’ll be moving from one career to another (e.g., exiting the military and joining the private sector, retiring from a corporate job to start a non-profit, moving from being a medical doctor to life as an entrepreneur), these are called reputation pivots, and personal branding is important.

There’s also a need to understand your brand and what’s working when things are going well. Your career is humming along, your relationships are thriving and you feel in charge of your future. Do you know what you did to get here?

Personal branding techniques and insights can help ensure you keep on the course to building a meaningful and rewarding career and don’t make mistakes or missteps which could fracture your good brand.

Instead of leaving to chance that you’ll be appreciated and valued for what you have to offer, personal branding clarifies and empowers you to promote the unique qualities and characteristics that make you interesting, relevant and compelling to the people who have opportunities to endorse, support and advance you.

In the absence of a system to stay “on brand” and protect your reputation – online and in-person - the future can feel abstract and random.

Instead, drive your reputation and brand, control your narrative and build your career in authentic and meaningful ways, today and into the future.