Take Control of Your Personal Branding

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by Rob Swanson

Corporate branding is often the most misunderstood marketing tool in universal use. Brands fail when the company mistakes the visual image for the actual brand, missing the fact that the “brand” is the client’s corporate experience not the icon that is supposed to represent it. (In the same manner, communicating the brand throughout the company does not mean changing the letterhead; it means training the employees to match the implied promise of the visual brand.)

Personal Branding often falls into the same trap. An executive once told me that his “personal brand” was Armani suits with a power tie and Gucci shoes. A personal brand is not put on like a coat (and it is certainly not a coat). A personal brand is what a person does consistently with effectiveness.

Everyone has a brand. It’s not a matter of creating one; too often it’s a matter of rehabilitation instead of establishment. Your first goal, then, is to know where you’re starting from.

Ground Zero
Self-evaluation is the safe side of knowing where you currently stand. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is the most consistent emotion I display when things are going well?
  2. What is the most consistent emotion I display when things are in crisis mode?
  3. Do coworkers and employees feel comfortable with me?
  4. If no, why not?
  5. What kinds of professional problems do people bring to me?
  6. What am I sought out for?
  7. What kind of projects or conditions make me feel the most alive?
  8. Where do the companies I’ve worked for find the most value in me?
  9. What are my three strongest professional traits?
  10. Which of the three traits do I enjoy the most?

The next process can be more difficult, but for a true understanding of where you are, you must consult your coworkers and friends. Ask your friends and coworkers the following questions (informally):

  1. What is the most consistent emotion you see me display when things are going well?
  2. What is the most consistent emotion you see me display when things are in crisis mode?
  3. What do you think is my most consistent trait?
  4. What do you feel most comfortable bringing to me, personal problems or professional problems? What kind?
  5. Where do you perceive as my greatest value to the company?
  6. If I were partnering with you, what kind of project would you want to take on knowing I could help?
  7. What do you think are my three strongest professional traits?
  8. What trait do I need to change the most?
  9. What jobs/projects/problems should I be most strategically assigned?

Define Your Target
Crafting a personal brand is never from whole cloth; it is shaping what is already there to something more desirable. Forecasting from your starting place to where each of your identified strengths can go is the best method for brand-recasting.

Do not discount the emotional traits uncovered in the first two questions above. “Professionalism” doesn’t mean a lack of emotion, just a balanced, in-control field of emotions. Our emotional demeanor is often the icon with which our experience is associated. I recall one executive we considered The Good Old Boy Technology Maven. Mike was the first leader who saw the uses of emerging technology, saving the company millions each year, but it was his jovial, shoulder-squeezing, Southern boisterousness that we all remember.

Conversely, The Mr. Coffee of Mergers was a COO who had to have a full mug in his hand to conduct civil acquisition meetings. Neither of these executives paid close attention to their personal brand, and both would probably be surprised by their co-workers’ perceptions.

Select some positive emotions that you can comfortably nurture; preferably those that can be built from your existing stock of feelings. Mike, the Good Old Boy, could have shaped his personality with a little coaching into encouragement or motivation by first taking the temperature of a room and determining strategic applications of his energy. Mr. Coffee, on the other hand, required psychological help to get to the root of his intractability. He didn’t need to reshape what was there; he had to replace his current emotional landscape.

Recognizing that your emotional demeanor is the carrier for your brand message, you now need to divine the message you’re already developing. Likely confirmed from your self-analysis above, and confirmed by the insights of your co-workers, it’s time to start shaping your skills and adding to them.

Mapping a Plan
Divide a page with a horizontal line through the center. Write your current dominant emotional displays on the top left side, and the desired displays on the top right. List your current strengths on the lower left and a list of the skills and strengths (existing or new) that you want to include in your personal brand on the right.

Take a look. How far apart is your goal from your present-state? What new skills do you want to develop and which do you want to refine?

In the gulf between present-state and goal on your paper, fill in strategic, measurable tasks to achieve your desired brand. Tasks might include self-help books to read, magazines to subscribe and devour, and if necessary, professional help.

Do you learn better through self-study or with formal training? Map out an educational plan that takes your learning style into account and put it into action. Assign dates to each task.

Don’t get discouraged. Professional skills can be built up rapidly; emotional change, less so. If you need to conquer negative emotional displays, expect to take a great deal of time and effort. We learn our emotions over a lifetime; change will be hard work.

Check Yourself
Evaluation must be a part of every plan. While crafting and polishing your personal brand, seek regular feedback, asking the questions above often and incorporating the responses into your plan.

An Important Reminder
Brand is not just image. A sharply focused professional is an effective contributor to corporate success. The executive who does not refine his brand is less productive… whether he wears Armani suits or not.

To better understand how these marketing terms apply to job-hunting it helps to first understand the terminology. To that end, go to our Marketing Concepts Glossary. And for a general introduction to marketing and career development, read: Using Key Marketing Tools to Position Yourself on the Job Market.

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

Rob Swanson, Managing Writer, Career Services International Rob Swanson is a certified resume writer and adult-learning methodology professional serving as managing writer for Career Services International. Author of several career-management books and articles, Rob offers career-development and management support to clients spanning college students to CEOs.

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