To be successful in business today, you need to have a distinct personal brand so that you can stand out from the crowd. Personal branding involves articulating a simple, clear statement of who you are, doing it consistently, and delivering on it again and again, so that when people think of, say, business turnarounds, they think of you. Or when people think of you, they think of a leader who gets companies back on track. Your brand should represent something different, relevant and valuable.
Barack Obama used personal branding to great effect during the presidential campaign. He built his brand around the idea of change, which turned out to be a very compelling concept, and he packaged his brand idea with a strong visual identity and a phenomenal verbal identity-—an eloquent message that he delivered superbly. Obama's clear, compelling brand (not to mention his grass-roots organizing and ability to raise money) allowed him to defeat more well-known, experienced competitors.
[ Read how an IT infrastructure director is putting the promises of personal branding into practice in her job search: Developing a Personal Brand for Your Job Search ]
Personal branding is just as important to business and technology professionals as it is to politicians, especially in a down economy. Whether you're a recent victim of a layoff or you're employed but worried about job loss, personal branding can make all the difference in your future job security and career success. By making yourself known for something special-—whether it be a unique skill, attitude or problem-solving approach-—you can make a stronger impression on prospective employers and/or demonstrate to your existing employer that you're indispensible.
Most of us need to devote attention to our personal brands. The following questions will help you determine what aspects of personal branding you need to focus your attention on:
- Your message: Can you explain your big idea clearly in a couple of sentences, so that people know what's different, relevant and special about you?
- Your scope: If people were to Google your name, would they discover high-quality information about you and your accomplishments?
- Your market: Can you clearly define your key target markets and the best way to market yourself to them?
- Your appearance: Do you have a visual identity that appeals to your target markets, is consistent with your personal brand and is different from others?
- Your style: Do your personality and your leadership style engage others?
If you answered No to any of the above questions, you have work to do. Here are eight tips for creating a strong personal brand.
Stay focused. A brand maven once said to me, "There is no "and' in brand." The maven's point: The more specifically you define who you are and what you do, the better chance you'll have of selling yourself. It's counter-intuitive because so many people think that if they define themselves broadly, they'll have more options. In fact, the opposite occurs. If you come across as a Jack or Jill of All Trades, you will confuse people. People will wonder how good you are at any one thing if you say you are good at so many.
Differentiate your brand. Being like everyone else will stunt your success. Ask yourself, "What's different, relevant and special about me?" Find the "white space"—a brand position that you can own, that's not associated with anyone else. When communicating your uniqueness to others, use analogies, such as, "I'm a cross between X and Y," or "I'm X on steroids."
When others zig, you should zag. Develop your own game plan for success: your own career path, visibility strategy and credentials. For example, during the presidential campaign, the politicians Obama competed against took a traditional fundraising approach with dinners and letter appeals. They zigged while Obama zagged. He built the largest campaign war chest ever by using the internet and encouraging small donations from individual contributors.
Use words wisely. One of the hottest ideas in business today is using a story to bring a company mission, project or accomplishment to life. Stories have been powerful for centuries because they are a memorable way to convey complex ideas. Work on your communication skills so that you are known for your adroit business stories and interesting presentations that people remember long after the PowerPoint ends. Also, master the elevator speech, a thirty-second personal "commercial" you can use when networking and when pitching yourself for new jobs or stretch assignments with your existing employer.
Make a visual statement. Like it or not, you are a package, just like a product on a shelf. Spend time thinking about how to make your image more powerful and distinct, whether it's by working on your posture or by updating your clothes. Women may have an advantage over men here, as they have many more "imaging tools" to work with, including their hairstyles, makeup, clothes, shoes and accessories. Of course, men can distinguish themselves with tailored clothes and shoes, too. Men also have the advantage of their physical size, which, studies show, gives them a more authoritative image.
Establish powerful alliances. The people, projects, causes and organizations with which you are affiliated help define who you are. For example, working for a Fortune 500 company or having graduated from an Ivy League school has caché, which helps your brand. If you don't have a Fortune 500 or Ivy League on your résumé, you can cultivate brand alliances. Get involved with alumni, community, professional, and/or philanthropic organizations that align with your personal brand and that will help you network.
Define and prioritize your target markets. Brand managers think in terms of markets. If you work in a company, your boss is your key target market, followed by other senior executives. Your secondary target market will likely include colleagues, clients, your network and your staff. All of these markets play an important role in your success; their perception of your abilities and accomplishments can make or break you.
Take charge of your brand. Just as every brand manager assesses his brand against competitors every year to make sure that his brand is relevant and up-to-date, your personal brand needs periodic upkeep, too. What worked for your positioning last year may not work this year. The world is dynamic, and you want to stay abreast of new opportunities and threats. Complacency is the death knell for any brand. If your capabilities or accomplishments seem out of step with the current marketplace and with your competitors, it may be time to revisit, reinvent or update your brand.
In today's over-communicated society, the brands that stand for something relevant and that build positive perceptions are the ones that succeed. Follow these tips, and your brand will work wonders for you.
Catherine Kaputa is a brand strategist, speaker and the founder of SelfBrand LLC, a NYC-based personal branding firm. Her newest book is The Female Brand: Using the Female Mindset to Succeed in Business (Davies-Black, 2009, www.femalebrand.com). She is also the author of U R a Brand: How Smart People Brand Themselves for Business Success, winner of the Ben Franklin award for Best Career Book in 2007.
This article was edited by Meridith Levinson. Follow her on Twitter at @meridith.
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