During a family Sunday lunch, we ended up reminiscing about when we were children – little children. My mother likes to tell the story of me being a toddler, sitting strapped into my seat on the back seat of the vehicle and my dad driving passed a KFC outlet. Apparently, as soon as I noticed Colonel Sanders and the KFC logo, I would yell out “chicken”. Now, I was only two or three year’s old at the time and couldn’t read – I was small and could barely see through the car window! – but when I saw Colonel Sanders’ face in red, followed by those famous three letters (KFC), I immediately made the connection to chicken and fries, happy family experiences and picnics. The branding was easily recognisable and I could associate it with chicken.
A brand can be anything really – a symbol or a sign, a name, a sound, a reputation, a tone of voice, an employee’s response or even an emotion – that separates one thing from another. Branding on a business-level is common and typically fits into a positioning and marketing strategy. Personal branding, however, has become just as important. Building a recognisable personal brand potentially opens new doors and creates professional opportunities. Personal branding is essentially the practise of people marketing themselves and their careers as brands. This “self-packaging” is the ongoing practise of establishing a prescribed image or impression in the mind of others – they view you in a certain way and consequently trust you or not. Personal branding has reached a new level of importance because of the exponential growth of the internet. This development of the virtual world created the necessity of managing online identities. Despite being expressly virtual, social media and online identity has the potential to affect the real world. Employers are now increasingly using online and other social media tools to vet applicants before offering them interviews. 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.
So, how well have you developed your brand and how are you going to retain it once done? The following points may be helpful:
- Get a grip on who you really are – understanding self is the first step towards authenticity. This involves your values framework, vision, personal goals and passions. People will easily see through any attempt at branding that does not directly identify with what you stand for and who you are.
- Start seeing yourself as a brand – not as a commodity or product, but as what you wish for people to associate with you as they hear or see your name. These may include general qualities or character traits (like trustworthy, reliable, hard-working, team-player, etc.) and/or highlight key skills and areas of expertise (like public speaker, leader, strategist, etc.). Whatever words are used, evidence of the characteristics need to be seen in everyday behaviour.
- Audit your online presence – online professionalism is critical to engender respect. Flippancy and negativity should be avoided. Your genuineness as human being should be evident immediately. Created content should add value to others who may read it. Your online presence is your asset, so guard it as such.
- Establish a brand mentor relationship – getting insight from a mentor assists with perspective, world view and growth strategies. It opens the mind to new thinking and highlights areas that may have been overlooked in your growth quest.
- Be yourself, because everyone else is taken – uniqueness differentiates you from others and may separate you from the competition. Retain this uniqueness and capitalise on it.
Developing your personal brand takes time. It starts with authenticity, genuineness and character growth, but then is furthered by consistency in behaviour and careful positioning through offline and online assets. When done well, others become aware of your skills and expertise.