As we all know, the working world has been changing rapidly over the last decade or so, particularly with the influence of digital and the boom of social media. This has presented both opportunities and challenges when it comes to building your personal brand.
I believe that the idea of ‘standing out’ is extremely important in a professional sense, where competition for jobs is now more intense than ever. The economic downturn has meant that literally thousands of graduates are often caught fighting for a single opportunity. Many of my friends in their mid-twenties are still struggling to find work at all, let alone a career that plays to their strengths. This is a reflection of the tough times that we currently live in.
Despite this, most of my friends would laugh if I asked them to consider themselves as a brand.
But why are we always so overly cautious when it comes to self-representation? Perhaps it is because self-representation has connotations of being too sales-orientated, smarmy or self-centred. However, there is no need to be that person.
Instead, our personal brand should be seen as the mental tattoo that we leave with the people we engage with. The vision that we create in people’s minds is, in essence, what our personal brand is.
Personal brands can be incredibly powerful. They can help you enhance your self-awareness and help you develop a better self-understanding about what makes you valuable, unique and marketable.
How You Can Build Your Personal Brand
The personal brand is a subject that Tom Peters tackled in 1997 for an article in Fast Company magazine:
"Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You. ... You're every bit as much a brand as Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop... To start thinking like your own favourite 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? Give yourself the traditional 15-words-or-less contest challenge. Take the time to write down your answer. And then take the time to read it. Several times."
Peters makes an extremely important point here in that the whole idea behind personal branding relates to differentiation. As competition for jobs has become a real barrier for young people looking to develop and progress their careers, effective personal branding can often prove the key to success.
The reality is that employers will Google you before they even invite you to an interview. (Your current employer probably has an eye on what you’re doing, too.) And when you interact with people, both online and offline, they’ll build up an image of who you are over time.
The ‘15 word challenge’ that Peters refers to above is a great first step in the development of a personal brand. By clearly defining what makes you different, you are immediately creating a recognisable identity which could help you stand out from the crowd.
Once you’ve established a recognisable identity, you can begin communicating it through blogging and social networks. The amazing thing about developing your personal brand online is that you can hone in on connecting with those that have shared values and similar interests.
One of the best places to get started is a search engine. Start looking for blogs in your industry or areas of interest, and start following some of the relevant people on Twitter. After you get a feel for the type of content people are publishing, you can begin leaving comments on those blogs or interacting on Twitter. You can even go further by creating a blog to demonstrate your own, unique, perspective.
It’s important to note that a brand is not built in a day. That’s true whether it’s professional or personal; business or individual. It takes time and consistency to build your brand into something that others recognise and respond to.
But in developing a personal brand, you will have a far better chance of standing out from the crowd in what is becoming an increasingly cluttered, content-rich environment. To me, a personal brand is not constrained to a certain platform or device such as Twitter or Facebook though. A good personal brand is the imprint we leave on peoples’ minds; a seamless and integrated set of values, ideas, ambitions and perceptions that appear effortless and natural. As Tom Peters suggests, we are all CEOs of our own companies – ‘Me Inc.’