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The art of personal branding

Back in 1997, before the days of social media, management thinker, Tom Peters, introduced us to the idea of personal branding. In a seminal piece published in Smart Company, called The Brand Called You, Peters said we had all now become CEOs of our own companies.

“You don’t belong to any company for life and your chief affiliation isn’t to any particular function,” he said. “You’re not defined by your job title and you’re not confined by your job description. You’re every bit as much a brand as Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop.

To start thinking like your own favorite brand manager, ask yourself the same question the brand managers at Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop ask themselves: What is it that my product or service does that makes it different?”

Personal branding has now moved into the mainstream with the the explosion of social media, with people putting their profiles on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and the financial crisis putting to an end, once and for all, to notions about jobs for life.

Personal branding is not just for celebrities or CEOs. A personal brand is an important career management tool for entrepreneurs wanting to build their businesses and for professionals seeking to differentiate themselves and achieve success in their workplace. The days of the quiet achiever are over.

The people who will succeed are the ones who manage to carve out a compelling profile and top-of-mind awareness. It requires individuals to identify their strengths and, more importantly, what sets them apart from others.

But that takes work. As British advertising executive, David Ogilvy famously said; “Any damn fool can put on a deal but it takes genius, faith and perseverance to create a brand.” For sure, creating an online presence helps, but that’s not enough. Social media can amplify a personal brand but it’s not a substitute. Nor is it what you say about yourself. Your brand is about how the market place assesses you and what you offer the market place.

Still, the web is an important tool for creating a brand. Because Google is the first destination for learning about a particular brand, product or service, it is important to create a web site. This can include a personal biography, regular updates and even videos. Creating additional profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube can boost rankings in Google’s search functions.

People need to take other steps to create a personal brand. The first is to rethink the career. Stop thinking of yourself as an employee and see yourself as an asset to the organization and identify where you add value. This means you have to identify a niche, a unique area of expertise. Ask yourself “What can I offer that no one else can?” The next step is to be authentic.

It is important to identify the stuff that’s important, and stick to it. People will pick up if you are not genuine or inconsistent. You then have to build visibility. That might mean signing up for extra projects, freelancing on others to expand your base of contacts, networking, writing for internal and external publications, blogging, volunteering for high profile projects, participating in conferences and forums and joining committees.

Look at your style and make sure it is compelling and commands attention. If you have a brand, you have to look the part at all times. It is also important to get feedback to see how it comes across and whether anything needs sharpening up. Finally, the personal brand is not set in stone. Working hard to create a personal brand is only the first step. Perspectives change and the brand has to grow. This means the brand needs to be re-examined from time to time to keep things consistent.

The personal brand is now the new career management tool. It’s something that boosts the resume. Indeed, some might even say it makes the resume redundant.

Leon Gettler

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