From selfies to Facebook, Linkedin to Twitter, everyone is a highly-visible, easily shareable brand. But what’s the best way to manage your personal brand to aid your professional development?
Rather than something that’s manufactured outside of yourself, your personal brand comes from your very core, your true essence. The more authentic it is, the more powerful. It is an evolving, mouldable entity and you are fully in charge of directing it. It’s about being seen, heard and understood in the right ways and in the right places. Unless you’re purposeful about how it unfolds, it could lead to an impression of you that’s misrepresentative and that doesn’t serve your goals.
Beyond the digital world
It’s easy to understand how much of your brand is crafted through your online presence. Every post you share, every tweet, every event you are pictured at, and every piece of copy you publish adds insight into your collection of capabilities and interests. But your brand extends far further than your digital output.
It’s about your actions, your behaviour, the quality of your relationships and your values. It’s an accurate reflection of your core beliefs, passions and commitment. Like an outfit you’ve chosen, you wear it all day, everywhere you go and in every interaction you have.
Like a great product brand, a personal brand is emotional. People remember how you make them feel, more strongly than what you do. Deciding from the outset to be genuine and authentic must be your baseline.
It means you will always be a natural fit for your brand. It won't be an effort to portray it in everything you say and do, every day. As successful global companies know, a brand’s greatest power lies in the strength of its story. Good stories evoke emotion, build strong connections and win firm loyalty. They inspire people to follow.
Hang in there
When Shelly Lazarus, Chairman and CEO of global ad agency Ogilvy & Mather shared her clear opinions on personal branding, to an audience of senior professional women, she said: “What actually works is authenticity. One of the fabulous things I’ve enjoyed about my career is collaborating with so many leaders across different industries and countries, and without exception, the successful ones have been comfortable in their own skin." She continued:
“Resilience - the ability to hang in there when things are difficult - is critical in a career, and if you’re spending every hour of the day pretending to be someone you’re not, you’ll be exhausted and won’t have the energy needed to face your real work. On the flip side, if you’re genuinely excited about what you’re doing, and have that light in your eyes, it will attract other people to you, and motivate them.”
The first step towards a strong brand with an authentic story is to look inside. Define who you are, identify your unique strengths and know what you stand for.
Start from where you are now:
- What are you passionate about?
- What areas of expertise do you own?
- For what do you want to be known?
- Are you able to tell your story compellingly?
Next, look to others for their honest opinions and impressions of you:
- What skills and qualities are ‘yours’ in your workplace?
- What is your reputation in your marketplace?
- What track record have you built?
- What do people say about you when you leave the room?
- How is this serving you best now?
- Could you benefit more from adjustments in how you are perceived?
Have confidence in your strengths and let your belief in yourself come across in a commanding, personal voice. This doesn’t need to be loud. Quiet voices can be more compelling than attention-seeking ones. Let your passion come through when it’s appropriate. Combined with your choice of actions, this will distinguish you from others.
Who needs to know you?
Once you’re clear on what your brand is, and you’ve taken steps to shape it and plan how you will live it, being visible is crucial. The Ellevate Network for professional women recommends you define who needs to know you.
"As is the case with winning brands, they know their target audience inside out. They know who they are talking to and where to find them. They understand their needs and wants; on a deeper, behavioural level. Make a list of your most important customers, stakeholders, networks, societies, communities, and understand what would it take to influence them."
One group of influencers is not mentioned here and that is those ahead of you in your organisation and your field. This is particularly pertinent if you’re ambitious to join the leadership.
The move from manager to leader is a pivotal one. It usually demands tactical adjustments to your personal brand, so you are perceived as a potential leader. Instead of keeping the show on the road, you can inspire others to do so and put your focus on leading them to new frontiers.
Strategic thinking and brave decision making are integral to leadership. Your potential to be that leader needs to come across in your personal brand. Doing so might mean stepping out of your comfort zone.
As Kathy Caprino of Women@Forbes wrote recently: ‘If you’re not uncomfortable connecting with someone then you’re not aiming high enough.’
Upward networking will need to be part of your brand strategy, so those who can influence your road ahead recognise your powerful contribution and clearly see you as a leader.
At this level, being good at what you do is taken for granted:
- What can you portray that separates you out from others?
- Who do you align with?
- What do you associate with?
- How do you give back?
- Where do you lend support?
Create the magic
Leadership ambition must be synonymous with an evolving personal brand. See where you’re going before others do and craft your brand accordingly. Create leadership presence and leverage it to your advantage.
Indeed, without the ability and willingness to shape her personal brand differently, JK Rowling might have spent her lifetime being defined by Harry Potter. Instead, she has carefully created a growing and maturing identity of strength, sharp wit and undeniably versatile creative ability.
Learning from past experiences, successes and mistakes always contributes to your continual reinvention and helps to renew focus at different stages of your path.
In the words of George Bernard Shaw, the only person to have won both a Nobel Prize and an Academy Award,
"Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself."
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