How do you feel about the idea of having a personal brand? If you’re like a lot of people, you may agree with this pithy comment I got on Facebook: “Barf.”
That’s an understandable reaction. After all, we are not dish soap (“cuts through grease!”) or paper towels (“the quicker picker upper!”).
So let’s dispense right away with the nausea-inducing notion that a personal brand has to do with giving yourself a trademarked tagline, or adding “guru” or “ninja” to your twitter handle or, say, always sporting a kicky red scarf.
Your personal brand is actually much deeper than that. And it can be pretty vital to your career growth. Fortunately, defining your brand is no big mystery.
What is a Personal Brand?
Think of it this way: your brand is simply your reputation — what you are known for. It’s the unique qualities you bring to the table that make people want to work or do business with you.
And if you’re still resistant, it’s important to understand that your brand will happen, whether you know it or not and whether you like it or not. You could be branded as a follower instead of a leader, a technophobe or a basic hot mess.
Wouldn’t you rather step up and try to define yourself?
Why Brand Yourself?
Your personal brand can be a practical tool that helps you stand out from the crowd. Having a clear understanding of your brand — the things you do well — can actually help you better communicate your value, in the workplace and the marketplace.
That can mean acing a job interview, earning a raise or promotion, and getting the professional recognition you deserve. It can even help you manage your priorities better, adding a little more sanity to your life.
Just understand this: we can only control so much. In the end, our brand isn’t what we say it is, it’s what others say it is. Just because you brand yourself a creative genius doesn’t automatically make it so. You have to be viewed that way by others.
But you can start to affect people’s perceptions by carefully thinking about your brand, communicating it, and acting on it.
How to Figure Out Your Personal Brand
The first step is to turn your gaze outward. What do other people say about you?
Check out past performance reviews, recommendations, awards and accolades you’ve received. Ask the people who know you best about your strengths. Make a list of the skills or attributes mentioned.
Think about your work and volunteer activities. When people bring you onto a team or committee, what are they looking for from you? What role do you often end up playing?
Look inward, too. Think about the challenges you’ve faced in your career and your life. What specific skills and traits were instrumental to overcoming those challenges?
Do any patterns or themes emerge? Are you:
- The Innovator — the person who comes up with the bright idea?
- The Organizer — who puts all the pieces together and harnesses the right resources?
- The Bulldog — the tenacious fighter who breaks through all the obstacles?
Your brand can also be more function-focused. Maybe you’re:
- The Media Expert — the one on the team who really excels at media relations.
- The Crisis Manager — the calm in the center of the storm who knows just what to do.
- The Relationship Builder — the person who deftly handles client relations, community outreach or business development.
By the way, I’m not suggesting you specifically label yourself this way. It can be more subtle than that.
How to Communicate Your Brand
For any message to sink in it must be communicated clearly, frequently and consistently — over time and across multiple channels.
Look at your resume, LinkedIn profile, bio, elevator pitch and other places where you describe yourself. Do they match up with your findings?
If not, you need to reshape those narratives so your brand stands out. Or seek out the kind of opportunities that allow you to accumulate experiences that build your brand.
Ultimately, your brand is expressed through your actions and behaviors. If you’re The Organizer, a cluttered office or always showing up late to meetings can undermine your brand. (And may indicate that that’s not your brand after all!)
When speaking up at meetings, stick to contributions that are “on brand.” If you weigh in on everything, you’ll dilute your message.
Capture it in Stories
Of course, another important way to communicate your brand is through the stories you tell about yourself in job interviews, meetings and at networking events.
Here’s a possible brand story:
“I’ve always loved figuring things out. I was doing thousand-piece jigsaw puzzles when I was four-years-old. To this day, when a problem comes up in a meeting and we’re all stumped, I can’t stop thinking about it. I will stew on it night and day until I find a solution. That seems to be the biggest contribution I bring to teams I’m on. For example …”
If you’re the type who doesn’t feel comfortable bragging about yourself, try framing your stories in terms of what others say about you. As in, “What I often hear in performance reviews …” or “One of my managers observed …”
It’s basic third-party validation, which is more credible anyway.
Enjoy These Other Personal Brand Benefits
Beyond communicating your value in a powerful way, a well-defined brand can help you attract more of the kinds of opportunities where you excel, which further reinforces the brand.
Your brand can even help you better set your own priorities. If you have some say over the assignments you accept at work, let your brand be your guide. When you’re volunteering, seek out roles that play to your strengths. And be prepared to say “no” to activities that are not in your wheelhouse.
Sticking to your brand whenever possible should result in better focus, greater career satisfaction and more peace of mind.
[A version of this post originally appeared in PRSA’s Strategies & Tactics]