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Rethinking Personal Branding - Are We More Than Just A Brand?

At The Frontier Group, we work really hard in helping our outplacement and career transition candidates in their career management process where they are looking for their next optimal opportunity. Along the way, we will eventually discuss the topic of "personal branding".

The concept of having and developing a personal brand is actually more complex than many people think. When executed well, a personal brand will help articulate and bring to life a value story that a person can share with their network and potential employers. When executed poorly, a personal brand statement can ring false and gimmicky – a collection of slogans and catchphrases.

Let’s take a closer look at personal branding …

To get some historical perspective, here is what Wikipedia provides:

Personal branding, self-positioning, and all individual branding by whatever name was first introduced in 1937 in the book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. This relates specifically to Chapter 6, Organized Planning, Planning the Sale of Services, where Hill states, "It should be encouraging to know that practically all the great fortunes began in the form of compensation for personal services, or from the sale of IDEAS." The idea surfaced later in the 1981 book Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, by Al Ries and Jack Trout. More specifically in "Chapter 23. Positioning Yourself and Your Career - You can benefit by using positioning strategy to advance your own career. Key principle: Don't try to do everything yourself. Find a horse to ride". It was later popularized by Tom Peters.

Branding has reached a new level of imperative because of the rise of the Internet. The growth of the virtual world created the necessity of managing online identities. Despite being expressly virtual, social media and online identity has the ability to affect the real world. Because Individuals want to portray themselves a certain way to their social circle, they may work to maintain a certain image on their social media sites. As a result, social media enables the creation of an online identity that may not be completely true to the real self

Today, added emphasis is placed on personal branding, especially in the online world. Employers are now increasingly using social media tools in order to vet applicants before offering them interviews. Such techniques range from searching the applicant's Facebook or Twitter feed to conducting large background checks using search engines and other tools. Amongst job-seekers, this is leading to a shift away from the practice of submitting a resume as part of their job application process to providing potential employers with access to a number of personal brand assets. Such assets are likely to include a resume, links to a carefully managed LinkedIn profile and a personal blog, evidence of articles which disseminate original ideas on industry blogs, and evidence of having an online following. Such efforts give job-seekers better odds of being noticed by potential employers.

My interpretation of all of this history is that personal branding has grown in popularity because:

  • People want to be able to differentiate themselves (marketing people call this positioning). A brand is a unique design, sign, symbol, words, or a combination of these, employed in creating an image that identifies a product and differentiates it from its competitors (Source: www.businessdictionary.com/definition/brand.html)
  • Branding is an easy way to quickly tell a story or deliver a message on what value you offer. This helps people get to the point quickly with an attention-challenged

So how does someone create an effective personal brand?

First, let’s start with what to avoid.

I read a great post by Isabelle Roughol, Sr. Managing Editor at LinkedIn titled “You’re Not A Brand; You’re A Person” where she commented on her concerns:

“But something was lost along the way: we let the brand become more important than the person. Ultimately, "personal branding" is as oxymoronic and as dangerously reductive an expression as corporate personhood”.

“In letting ourselves become a brand, we edit our humanity. We smooth edges and reduce our complexity to one simple phrase: we become the Big Data guy, the creativity expert, the public speaking coach, the social media star...”

That certainly got my attention.

What Isabelle Roughol addresses is that branding can be impersonal and it can be poorly done. This is why I approach this topic with great care.

Developing a personal brand story is an important and very useful tool to have in developing an overall career management strategy. A branding exercise will help a candidate identify:

  • What am I skilled at?
  • Where can I help the most?
  • What am I the most interested in doing?
  • What makes me different from others?

These questions can be challenging to answer but they will help bring clarity to how you can best answer the question: “Why Should I Hire You?”

Developing a personal brand does not have to be depersonalizing. It does not have to be filled with catch phrases. When done with authenticity it can help anyone be better able to sell themselves.

How does this all work?

  • What am I skilled at? – is it marketing communications or database administrator?
  • Where can I help the most? – do you have a track record of new products or cost saving initiatives?
  • What am I most interested in doing? – where can you do your best – is it in a start-up or in a turnaround?
  • What makes me different from others? – do you have experience in sales, marketing, and customer service?

The payoff on a branding exercise like this is that you will be able to not only answer why someone should hire you but also be able to walk someone through the “tell me about yourself” question.

Developing a personal brand is really about getting to know what makes you unique and qualified to be considered for a new opportunity. It is a communication vehicle where you can benefit from introspectively taking an inventory of who you are.