The first time I ever heard about a ‘personal brand’ was when I got fired for having the wrong one.
It was the mid 1990s. The TV production company I was working for was at the forefront of brand exploitation, licensing, selling and developing their programmes - their intellectual property - all over the place. They successfully turned TV shows into games, toys, aprons, ready meals and plenty more, at a time when their rivals were just happy to make a programme and pocket the commission.
Working for such a brand-focussed business was great - until they decided my own personal brand didn’t match theirs and I was encouraged to find alternative employment.
At the time, it stung. But today, we’re all generally more clued up about branding and, as a result, personal branding is widely recognised.
According to a study by healthcare provider Benenden Health, the average Brit now tots up six jobs during his or her working life. As we hop diagonally, horizontally and sometimes good old-fashioned vertically up the career ladder, from psychology jobs to education, journalism to accounting, it’s increasingly important to create our own brand, helping us to stand out from the crowd, with a clear message about what we can bring to any role.
Even if you’re not changing jobs, defining your personal brand can help you to pinpoint your strengths and career direction - and can enhance your relationships with bosses, colleagues and clients.
Whatever the purpose, stopping to think about who you are and where you’re going is the foundation of a happier working life - and that’s invaluable.
So, we know brands are all about perception and association. We think of a big brand, such as Coca Cola, Chanel or Aldi, and a plethora of associations pop up around it. What do you want people to associate with your name? How can you create a happy, fulfilled and useful Brand You?
There are lots of online tools to help you, but we’ve identified the following basic eight steps.
What are your values?
You might be all about efficiency, or friendliness, or reliability. Perhaps you define yourself through creativity or problem-solving skills.
Think about all the values that are important to you and jot them down. Include both work and home life - if your family is very important to you, any role you take on will need to accommodate that.
By writing them down - and then working out which are most important to you - you’ll start to see your own brand values more clearly - and you’ll be able to identify if a potential employer’s values match your own.
What do you love?
What are your passions and hobbies? Which elements of your current or previous job do you enjoy? What do you want to do more of?
Do you get a kick out of being on budget, being on time, spotting problems, dreaming up solutions, finishing things? Do you like being outdoors? On the road? Meeting new people?
What achievements are you proud of?
Jot these down too and you’ll begin to focus on exactly where you want to go - tand design a fulfilling career for yourself.
What are you like?
What strengths - and weaknesses - do you bring to your job and home life? Are you patient, quick-thinking or funny?
If you’re not sure, ask friends, family and colleagues for input and flesh out the picture of yourself from all angles.
Polish up the brand
Reviewing steps 1-3, try to pull out the key information that will form your personal brand.
From these words, what are the most important? Which ones makes you special? Which define you? Which make you different? Try to pull everything together in 15 words or less - and remember that old advertising adage, sell the sizzle, not the sausage. Make sure your brand tells employers, bosses and clients what’s in it for them.
Mind the gaps
By now you should be able to see if there’s anything missing between where you are now and where you want to be.
Now is the time to identify the steps you need to take to fill the blanks. Perhaps you need to add certain skills or network with particular people? Maybe you need to have performed in a sales role before you can be general manager? Or you need to spend time abroad before becoming CEO?
If you can’t jump straight to the job of your dreams, identify the hops that will get you there in the end.
Roll out your brand
Whether on Facebook, Twitter, a blog, Linked In or a personal website, make sure all your online communication reflects your brand and your values.
Don’t post rubbish - it’s better to be thought-provoking, useful or amusing once a week than banal five times a day. Try to create value for your audience. Every message or picture you post or share contributes to building up your brand.
Build your profile in your industry by offering to speak at conferences, starting a blog, befriending the relevant trade or consumer press. Be perceived as an expert in your field.
Form alliances with other strong brands
You don’t have to do all the work yourself. Add credence to your own brand by allying yourself with other strong businesses.
Do you share values with former or current employers? Perhaps your university, or friends and colleagues have impressive profiles? Make sure you use all these connections to the max.
Can you write for your alumni magazine? Submit a guest blog to the company website? Do what you can to strengthen those alliances.
What brands do you choose?
Whether you wear clothes that scream their logos or you prefer a wardrobe of classic fabrics and styles, your appearance should always be consistent with the values you’re trying to project.
You may think a navy suit makes you look like the trustworthy lawyer you are, but if it’s ill-cut and nylon, it won’t inspire the confidence you need to propel you to the next level.
If your brand is about fun and friendliness, don’t dress head to toe in stand-offish black. If you’re about innovation, don’t settle for black slacks and a white shirt.
Play with clothes, experiment with fresh ideas, go to new places. Ask assistants for advice and don’t be afraid of colours and shapes that you’d never otherwise have tried.
Whether you like it or not, the brands you choose to represent you all say something - and that includes your car, your shoes, your makeup and your technology.
Think what those brands and images add up to and make sure everything is consistent with the brand you’ve identified for yourself.
Creating Brand You isn’t fake. Far from it. This is about working out the authentic you - what makes you tick and what makes you happy. It’s a way of making sure you fulfill your potential as the very best you.
Yes, you need to be an industrious employee and a loyal friend. You need to do your current job to the very pinnacle of your ability - but underpinning all of that is your wider destiny and the fact that you’re CEO of your own brand.
I learned a lot the day I got fired. It took me a while to really understand that there was nothing wrong with my personal brand - in fact, I remember the CEO telling me (with a rather too strong element of surprise in his voice) that I was ‘very popular’ with the staff. It was just that my brand didn’t fit their brand. And he was right. Before I left, I suggested someone to replace me and that person is still in the same job, nearly 20 years later.
Me? I’m doing a job I love, with people I like, who don’t care which school I went to or what job my dad did. I think we’re all happy.
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