Products are made in a factory, but brands are created in the mind.
—Walter Landor; designer and pioneer of branding & consumer research techniques
Through its brand, a company communicates who it is, what it stands for, the values it embraces, and how it expresses those values. One important goal of corporate branding is to help an organization stand out from its competition in the eyes of its clients, potential customers, hiring prospects, and current employees.
A personal brand serves a similar function for an individual, except that it works to communicate someone’s unique identity and clear value to his or her company. Instead of hiring a marketing department to do this work, employees accomplish it themselves in all of their actions in the office. Everything they say and do has the potential to improve—or damage—how the rest of the organization perceives them. For example:
- Typos in e-mails can highlight a lack of attention to detail.
- Rambling during phone calls can indicate an inability to think or communicate concisely.
- A sloppy appearance can convey a lack of professionalism and decorum. (Maintaining professional dress and grooming is an integral part of building a personal brand: people who want to promote themselves as professionals need to be sure to look the part.)
Your brand shows up in every interaction you have with your coworkers, with your boss, and with the senior leadership of your organization. Every time you are in front of others, whether literally (in a conference room, on a stage, in a one-on-one meeting in someone’s office, etc.) or figuratively (for example, in e-mail, texts, or phone calls), they have a chance to see you in action and determine if you’re someone they want working in their department.
If you’re ready to get to work building your personal brand, the first thing you need to do is identify your personal values and passions:
- What’s important to you?
- What motivates you?
- What contributions do you want to make?
Next, conduct a competitive analysis on yourself and identify how you stack up against others in your organization:
- Why should your colleagues and managers trust you?
- Why should others include you in important discussions?
- What do you bring to the table that other leaders in your organization do not?
Lastly, zero on in what your words and actions project to others:
- Do you hit your deadlines?
- Do you meet the quality requirements of your assignments?
- Do you have your boss’s trust? (To find the answer to that question, examine which projects get assigned to you.)
- Are you involved in senior leadership meetings?
- What would others say about your reputation?
- What personality traits do you have that make people interested in having you on their teams?
Once you’ve answered all of those questions, you have the information you need to start consciously working on and polishing your own brand.
Eight Key Elements of Building a Personal Brand
When you actively build a personal brand, you are trying to shape how the other people in an organization perceive you. No detail is too small to warrant attention. After all, you never know when someone will notice even your tiniest misstep. Therefore, it’s critical for you to be on your toes at all times—and to do your best to be positive, open, and enthusiastic in everything you do. To help ensure the success of your personal branding project, be sure to take these actions:
- Be good anyway. Whether or not you like your job, always do your best—it’s a reflection on your brand!
- Get stuff done. Companies value employees who demonstrate accomplishments—show your value to the organization.
- Be consistent. Show others that you are reliable time after time.
- Be a learner. Take advantage of every opportunity to expand your knowledge. As John F. Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” He was right.
- Ask for and listen to feedback. Let others know that you are open and flexible—if you don’t, it will seriously hinder your ability to move up in an organization.
- Find a mentor. Seek out advice from people with more experience than you, both inside and outside the company.
- Exhibit executive presence. Show that you are capable of filling the roles you want, not just the role you have now.
- Market your brand. Work constantly to connect with and expand your network—it’s tough to get promoted if senior leaders don’t know who you are or what you can accomplish.
The last item on that list, “market your brand,” warrants special consideration. After all, if no one else in the company actually knows about your work accomplishments, those accomplishments won’t really count much for you.
You definitely want your boss, coworkers, and senior leaders know what you’re doing. At the same time, though, there’s a fine line between engaging in effective self-promotion and coming across as a jerk. To ensure that you stay on the correct side of that line and don’t stray into “does more harm than good to your brand” territory, follow these best practices:
- Remember, outcomes (not just doing your job) are what matters.
- Say yes to relevant opportunities.
- Tout your achievements to your boss in private. (Do so in public only when the accomplishment is relevant to the discussion.)
- Provide consistent status reports.
- Volunteer your expertise and create best practices.
- Ask one question or contribute one idea at every meeting you attend.
- Seize public speaking opportunities (whether at internal staff events or at external conferences).
- Pay it forward.
- Network internally beyond your immediate team.
(Note that for many reasons, marketing a personal brand can be especially challenging for women. That’s a pretty big topic, which I’ll take it up on its own in a future blog post.)
Be Prepared to Market Yourself
Opportunities to build or promote your personal brand can arise without warning, so be ready to highlight your strengths, talents, and skills at any time. A good “elevator speech” is a great branding tool to pull out whenever you meet someone in the organization who doesn’t already know you.
But merely introducing yourself by name and department (“I’m Meredith from accounting”) or even by name, department, and title (“I’m Meredith, the director of accounts receivable”) doesn’t tell someone anything about your personal brand. If you want to promote your brand with someone, you need to give him or her information that reveals something about your accomplishments. Something like “I’m Meredith, the director of accounts receivable, and my team has succeeded in keeping our receivables to under 30 days, which ensure that we have enough cash to continue growing” says a lot more about what you do (and is a lot more memorable) than a simple recitation of name and position. (Resist the urge to pack too much into your elevator speech, though—keep it brief!)
Your personal brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room.
You can’t control what people say about you, but you can influence their opinions of you. Everything you say and do contributes to (or detracts from) your personal brand, which follows you around even when you change positions or departments. Even if you are feeling pretty good about your reputation, the stakes are just too high for you to lean back and rest on your laurels. Branding is an ongoing process, so always be working to improve the brand of YOU!