What is brand? Often even marketing professionals don’t have an answer for this simple question. Some define a brand as a name, sign, or symbol used to identify items or services of the seller to differentiate them from the competition. Others define a brand as a promise or a pledge to deliver satisfaction and quality. A brand has also been defined as a set of assets linked to a name or symbol that adds value to the end user. Confused? Indeed, the word “brand” has many definitions.

To me, the best definition of a brand is “a collection of perceptions” that is designed to influence a customer or an end-user. As such, whether you are an executive at a Fortune 500 company, the owner of a small business, an electrician or a recent college graduate, creating a strong personal brand may be the difference between success and failure, between getting that job or not getting that job.

No matter where you are in your career, with the surge of social media, you not only have the ability, but you have the need to manage your brand, both online and in real life. Remember, a brand is the emotional and psychological relationship one has with customers, employers, employees, etc. Strong brands elicit opinions, emotions, and physiological responses.

Your goal in building your strong personal brand is to develop positive perception associated with your name. Perceptions such as honest, smart, eager, inventive, forward looking, team player, expert, etc.. are all important traits that employers look for in their employees. As you build your brand, think of your strengths and weaknesses, look at the traits in which you not only excel at, but need to elaborate on to enhance your brand.

Even when developing a personal brand, logos are an important as they are a representation of the brand. Logos are the “shortcut” to the brand. Clearly logos evoke emotion, when we see the Starbucks circle, we think of freshly brewed coffee, looking at AFLAC, we think of that crazy duck, and so on. Think of a simple logo that you would like people to associate with you and your brand. Logos for personal brands should be simple, clear and understated. Most individuals choose to use either a small geometric figure, their initials or just their name in a particular font as their personal brand logo. A logo makes your card, CV and emails stand apart from the others. Remember, your personal brand is most likely your name, and perhaps a tagline, such as financial executive or marketing expert, and so on.

Given brands are not concrete, but are the thoughts, feelings, and psychological relationships between two or more parties, your brand is the foundation of all your marketing activities, determining the position and strength of your entire marketing framework. Just like a house foundation needs to be strong to hold up a building, your marketing foundation must be solid. In other words, your brand must be the truth and it must be about you.

Personal branding yields both internal and external benefits. Externally, you create an identity that resonates with employers, potential employers and customers. Your brand needs to form emotional relationships with the people you are trying to reach. This is important because often people don’t buy products or hire individuals based on logic, they often act based on their emotions and perceptions.

Your personal brand should act as an internal compass, driving you in the correct direction in all your actions. Every action you take will either reinforce or weaken your personal brand. A clear personal brand will set a clear understanding of what you are about.

Your personal brand is defined by all your actions. Your personal brand is the sum of many factors such as the clothing that you wear, your body language, the way you handle yourself in business and in personal activities, your personal style i.e. grooming, hair style etc.

There are several key steps on how to successfully build your personal brand.

Step one- Research and reflection. Before you develop your brand, you must define your core values, mission and goals. You need to analyze your audience and competition and establish your uniqueness, i.e. what makes you different from the competition. A solid brand will make you standout, giving you an advantage over competition. While this may be a subtle advantage, it is indeed an advantage.

Your personal brand is defined by all your actions. It is the sum of many factors such as the clothing that you wear, your body language, the way you handle yourself in business and in personal activities, your personal style i.e. grooming, hair style etc. and the people who you associate with. Take care in this step, as it is the foundation to your brand. Remember, your personal brand is basically the way you market yourself to the world.

In sum, the first step of developing a personal brand is simply defining who you are and what message do you want to deliver.

Step two- Define your logo and tagline. Once you determine personal brand, including your unique selling proposition, then define your tagline and logo. As discussed previously, your logo should be simple and understated, preferably your initials or a geometric design. Regardless of what type of logo you use, once it is developed, use it everywhere and anywhere. Use it in all your social media profiles, use it on your letterhead, your business cards (yes, order good quality personal business cards), email signatures, any press releases, etc. Your goal is to have people recognize your logo, hence your brand and your name.

Please don’t get hung up on finding and thinking about a logo, a monogram or your name in simple text may be perfect. Indeed, the simpler the better. No matter what you choose, it is important that you stay consistent. For instance, if you determine your name will be in a certain font in a certain color, make sure this is the case all your communications i.e. your letterhead for your resume and cover letter, your digital signature and so on.

As stated earlier, a logo is a shortcut to your brand. Just think of logos, such as a swoosh, an apple, and good ole Col. Sanders, and think how quickly Nike, Apple, and KFC come to mind.

Your tagline should be several words that you believe describe you, professionally. Your tagline should be a very brief title or summary. In my career, I use several taglines: global financial executive, global banking expert, an accomplished author, or cost-saving specialist depending on the audience I want to reach. Warning: It is imperative to use this approach with extreme caution, as you do not want to confuse your audience, which may dilute the power of your brand. Your personal brand statement is merely a more detailed tagline, a sentence or two describing you and how you want the public to know you.

Step three -Develop your online reputation. Create a personal website tied to your first and last name. Use your logo and branding here. If you do not have a personal website, this is a must. It is cheaper and easier than many people think. Please look to future newsletters on how to create a personal website. As sure as the sun is going to rise tomorrow, your potential customers and employers will search your name to gather information on you, your personality, your career history, education and personal life, etc. After all, we all “Google” the people that we meet or speak to over the course of the day, especially those whom we want to impress or get to know better.

Build a solid brand name with online activities that will promote your personal mission, highlight your career achievements and illustrate your goals for the future. Just as it is important to build a positive brand, is equally, if not more important to protect yourself against any negatives factors influencing your brand.

Scrub your name, clean. It never ceases to amaze me how many people ignore this very important step. Start by reviewing the various social media sites in which you participate. Remember, you are no longer that 16-year-old wanting to impress your friends, enemies, and the “love of your life”. Make sure that these sites are scrubbed of anything, repeat anything, that could negatively influence your reputation. Look at postings, pictures, tweets, and any other activity that would be viewed negatively. Remember, potential customers or employers may not look favorably at that picture of you and your buddies guzzling beer out of a funnel at that frat party, wearing togas. My motto is when in doubt, hit delete. But remember, once things enter cyberspace, it really never leaves it. So going forward, do not post anything online that you do not want to see on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

After that task, search your name in various search engines and look to address any negative items that you can. While I’m not suggesting you should represent yourself as PollyAnn on social media, because people won’t believe that either, it is however important that you stress the positives and minimize the negatives. Most people want to hire the boy or girl next-door or someone that reminds them of themselves or someone they wish they were at your age.

Step four -Write a blog. Find something that you are interested in and write about it. It does not need to be a work of art, another War and Peace, but it should be a short and pithy posting that informs the reader about something that you know, but they may not know. This is your chance to express some personality, so that potential employers can see another side of the multidimensional you. A word of warning, play it safe. Avoid controversial subjects in your blog in order to limit the chance of offending potential employers. Unless it is important to your career, do not touch on hot subjects such as politics, religion…

Writing a blog does several things, it is a source of information for your connections, it establishes you as a knowledgeable well-rounded person, and it keeps you in the forefront of people’s minds. Do not underestimate the power of a short one-page article.

In addition to the external benefits, writing a blog keeps you interested in current events, develops your writing skills, and provides a level of discipline, assuming that you committed to writing your blog several days per week (which is highly recommended). Now that you wrote your blog, post it anywhere you can. Post it on your website, your social media activity pages i.e. LinkedIn, Facebook, twitter and post it to as many blogs as you can find.

The fifth and final step discussed in this series is participation. Now that you have a brand, an outlet for your brand i.e. your website and the blog, you need to get as many people as possible to see you and your work. There are many ways of accomplishing this, one of the easiest ways is commenting on other people’s blogs, most likely they will return the favor. Moreover, it is yet another way to get your name out in social media. It is important however to keep your comments short, to the point, and non-confrontational especially if you have a different point of view. While you may add additional facts to support your point of view, it is likely better not to comment on that particular post. There are always other ones.