When I was coming up as a young corporate manager in the 1980s, my colleagues and I heard a lot about “dressing for success” and the importance of professional image. Creating a power persona, we were told, was crucial to a successful career (especially for women), and so we read books and magazine articles, we watched Oprah guests, listened to image consultants, and learned some valuable guidelines on how to look professional and powerful.
But twenty years later, image has evolved into a broader, more strategic concept known as personal branding. Where image was primarily about the outer shell, brand goes to the core of who we are — our competence, talent, character, and personality.
“And why should I be concerned about brand?” you ask. “I’m one employee in a big company, I don’t even have a brand.”
Ah, but you do! Think about people you know and work with. I’ll bet that in five seconds you can name someone who is grouchy, friendly, helpful, funny, flakey, or sloppy. (The Seven Dwarfs were well branded come to think of it!) And you can be sure people have some adjectives to describe you as well. Such words create your distinct brand, and more often than not you have no idea what your real brand is.
What makes your brand important, is that it can have a tremendous influence on where you go in your life… if you meet your goals… even if your dreams come true.
— Will your Real Brand Please Stand Up
Like it or not – each of us already has a brand. It may, or may not be positive; it may, or may not paint the perception we want others to have of us, it may or may not be accurate… but it is there none the less. It is the top-of-mind impression others have when our name is mentioned, and if we haven’t been carefully designing and maintaining it, it has possibly evolved into something that doesn’t represent us well.
The poet Robert Burns said, “O would some power the gift to give us to see ourselves as others see us.” Accurately seeing ourselves as others see us is one of life’s big challenges. And we often manufacture a picture of who we think we are, and frequently miss the mark. Like the children’s story, the Emperor’s New Clothes, it’s obvious to everyone but us.
So we try to be real, but often “put on” a personality in order to be accepted into a particular social or professional group. We make an attempt to fit in through external wrappers (wardrobe, jewelry, style), social behaviors (outlandish, reticent, cynical, etc), cliché language (‘Dude!”; “value proposition”; “text me”), or other outward displays of identity.
Unfortunately, more often than not, others see through our façade, and our personal brand is damaged… unbeknownst to us.
So the powerful personal brand is real and at the same time projects the best of us, the part of ourselves we want others to see and appreciate. A good brand is researched, strategized, tested and refined. Disney, Coca Cola and Lexus don’t leave their brands to chance – but spend millions in research, design, PR and advertising, all designed to protect and proliferate a consistent public image. If the brand is tarnished, the PR machine jumps into action to right the wrong and get the brand back on a healthy track. We need to do the same for ourselves! After all, what ARE we, if not our good name?
Our “brand” gets us jobs, promotions, sales, customers and even friends. And we so often neglect it. In fact, most of us spend little time attending to our own personal brand — the core marketing tool that should be our Number One priority.
— Brand = Emotion
There is nothing more valuable to a business than its brand; savvy businesses know that brand holds the key to the emotions of the customer. Study after study tells us that purchasing decisions are always emotional. Remember this principle: People buy through emotion, then justify by logic.
Your brand, then, creates an emotional connection to your customer. Brand is the feeling evoked when one thinks of, let’s say – Sears, Mercedes, Kodak, Ritz Carlton – each of these makes an impression on your brain – you feel good or neutral, frustrated or joyful, depending upon your personal experience or what you perceive about that brand. And there are many powerful personal brands out there that are even better examples. What comes to mind when you think of these “brands” — Oprah, Britney Spears, Rachael Ray, Hillary Clinton? Undoubtedly you have an emotional reaction (of some kind) to each of them. The same happens when your name is mentioned!
So what then, is your personal brand? What are the three to five words others use to spontaneously describe you and your business? Do you know? Can you affect others’ perception of you?
Your personal brand represents the real you in the most accurate and positive light…. a light that you have helped create.
— Three Ingredients of a Powerful Personal Brand
Being real is the mantra of the millennium (although a paradox in the age of cosmetic surgery, Paris Hilton and Enron!) And these examples are precisely why people are reticent to trust, to put their faith in another, to give their money, time or emotion. Therefore the person who walks the talk, is transparent, honest about her faults but aware of her talents, is someone we welcome into our lives.
We are so driven to success that many of us (if we admit it) “pretend” to be more successful, knowledgeable and important than we are or ever could be. Think about it: those who DO have admirable qualities but who are also honest about their weaknesses are endearing and trustworthy.
So the first task on the way to a strong personal brand is deciding who you really are. Take an assessment – of your talents, dreams, values, qualities, personality traits, quirks, and yes… your faults. Know what you believe and where you will not cross a line; know your weaknesses better than your critics and make your vulnerability and honesty your strength.
The Coca Cola brand logo, considered the most recognizable symbol in the world, has remained steady since its appearance in 1886. There have been a few modifications along the way to adapt to the times, but that same red and white swirly logo font has remained familiar and therefore, trustworthy, for 120 years. Trusted brands adapt, but do not change… as Coke found out the hard way in 1985-86 when it introduced the “New Coke,” which was a marketing disaster.
You should be unwavering with your personal brand as well. Mixed signals breed distrust, so decide who you are and be that person 24/7. If you are detail-conscious, then proudly show that quality at all times and don’t get sloppy. If you are knowledgeable, then stay current and don’t become stale. If you are trustworthy, then don’t start showing up late at meetings. No one creates your brand but you!
I used to work at Walt Disney Imagineering, a very creative place that overflowed with some of the world’s quirkiest, most rebellious, most creative minds on the planet. These folks strove to break models of normalcy, to be “different,” but in their quest to be unique, ended up looking and acting the same!
The male “uniform” there was usually a shaved head or pony tail, body or ear piercings, t-shirts sporting political statements, faded baggy jeans or knee-length shorts, etc. A colleague said to me one day… “Have you ever noticed how all the ‘creatives’ look alike?”… and I responded that yes I had. One day a new designer arrived wearing a three-piece suit – and HE turned out to be the unique one!
As you discover the real you, consider what it is that makes you truly unique and distinct. Every human being is distinct from the other – every accountant, lawyer, housewife, computer programmer, etc, each have unique qualities.
Find your uniqueness and carefully weave it into your brand. Be the accountant who is an expert on commercial fishing; the lawyer who sings opera, the realtor who is an award-winning rose breeder. People will remember you, plus you may find some niche markets just by being different.
Being authentic, consistent and unique are the three keys to a powerful personal brand. Take time to know yourself, your unique gifts and talents, and broadcast those to the world. There will be no stopping you once you know who you truly are!