No matter what kind of business you’re in, you know that establishing a brand — a look, feel, and way of doing things that evokes a certain desired response from consumers — is essential. There’s another type of branding, though, that is equally important for anyone who wants to differentiate themselves — whether that’s among a stack of job applicants, a competitive professional field, or a group of peers on social media. It’s called personal branding, and some experts believe it’s more important than ever.
What is personal branding?
Like a business brand, a personal brand is based on perception — specifically, the impression others get when they meet you, Google you, or look at your resume. Also like a business brand, a personal brand is completely within your control, and it doesn’t have to be static . . . unless you want it to be.
Take Snoop Dogg, for example. Thirty years ago, Snoop was a dope-smoking, laid-back, gangster rapper from Long Beach. Today, he’s a dope-smoking, laid-back, gangster rapper with his own line of popular wines, stints as a spokesman for Corona beer and Bic lighters, and a best friend named Martha Stewart — and that’s just the tip of his growing entrepreneurial iceberg. His level of profanity may ratchet up or down from gig to gig, but no matter what he’s doing, Snoop stays true to his brand.
“Companies that get down with me know how I get down,” Snoop Dogg tells the New York Times. “That’s the way I branded myself, to where when you get Snoop Dogg, you get all of it.”
Celebrities put personal branding on the map, largely because of their efforts to “rebrand” themselves after a public relations crisis or their old brand became stale. Remember when a young Madonna reinvented herself as a boy toy, then as a dominatrix, then later as a mom? Each time she intentionally created a new persona for herself through her wardrobe, hairstyle, songs, attitude, and even the way she moved and talked.
Not famous? No problem
Name anyone who has been in the spotlight and you can probably describe their personal brand. Think about the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Guy Fieri, Miley Cyrus, or Tim Tebow, and you’ll immediately recall the way they dress or act or what they talk about or believe in.
You don’t have to be a celebrity to create a personal brand, though. In fact, you probably have a brand right now — you just don’t realize it or aren’t consciously controlling it. For example, if a friend was describing you to a stranger, what would they say? “She’s kind and easy to get along with?” “He’s ultra conservative but knows how to have a good time?” “She’s a supermom who never goes without impeccable makeup and hair?” “He’s the best lawyer in town?” or how about “She’s a slacker who’s never on time for anything?” In other words, what is your reputation among your friends, competitors, and coworkers?
Again — branding is all about perception. And again, your personal brand is something you can control, change, and use to your benefit.
A strong, recognizable personal brand is especially important within a professional environment. You might want a brand that positions you as an authority in your field, makes you more credible, or differentiates you from your competition. You could create a brand that complements or supports what you do or sell — a wholesome church-going family man who writes Christian novels, for example, or an edgy, pierced, black-lace-clad, purple-haired girl who does wicked tattoos. (Try switching those personas up with those professions and you’ll see what I mean).
Get started — now
With the incalculable influence of social media today, personal branding is more important than ever. Whether you’re a job seeker, employee, or employer, you can assume that others will learn what they can about you from your social media channels, so it’s best to put your best foot — and brand — forward.
“According to a 2018 CareerBuilder survey, 70% of employers use social media to screen candidates during the hiring process, and 43% of employers use social media to check on current employees,” says Forbes. “Personal branding is also beneficial from the employer’s perspective. Companies should encourage employees to build strong personal brands because it’s good business. [Also,] workers need to be able to clearly communicate who they are and what they do to stand out to prospective clients and employers. If you aren’t effectively managing your online reputation, then you run the risk of losing out on business.”
Despite its name, personal branding has a lot to do with your professional aspirations. For example, maybe you’ve spent the last five years as a barista but you want to break into the mortgage lending business. Or perhaps upon retirement from your high-powered CEO position where you’ve been perceived as cutthroat and ruthless, you want to write a children’s book. A personal reinvention is most definitely in order.
Five steps to a new you
Despite the way Madonna made it look, reinventing yourself isn’t as easy as simply dressing differently or adopting a different accent — but it’s definitely doable. Authentic and impactful personal rebranding takes time and requires a solid plan. Dorie Clark, author of the 2013 book Reinventing You, shared these five steps to reinvention in Harvard Business Review:
- Define Your Destination Determine where you want to go, research what it looks like, and develop the skills you need to get there. Our barista might take a continuing education class or study up on the local real estate market, for example.
- Leverage Your Points of Difference What makes you special? Like businesses, people can have a unique selling proposition. Understand what makes you different and use it to stand out among your competition.
- Develop a Narrative “Develop a coherent narrative that explains exactly how your past fits into your present,” advises Clark. “Successful rebranding doesn’t involve inventing a new persona —it’s a shift in emphasis that should prompt others to say, ‘I can see you doing that.’” Could our barista’s experience with ultra-picky customers help her devise custom mortgage solutions for her clients?
- Reintroduce Yourself Roll out a new website, develop some new contacts, and update your social media profiles with new images and your newly-developed narrative. This may involve addressing some negative aspects of your previous brand or jumping on board a new initiative at work.
- Prove Your Worth This is the time to put your money where your brand is, so to speak. Blogs, podcasts, or demonstrations of your work — even pro bono — will help to show you know what you’re doing and can be trusted.
Your brand is something you cultivate and strengthen as you grow personally and professionally. The worst thing you can do is ignore it, because without your oversight and tender loving care, it can take on a life of its own. Personal branding doesn’t mean being fake, either. A successful brand is authentic — you live it and breathe it honestly and earnestly. As Oscar Wilde famously recommended, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken!”