The term “branding” has traditionally been associated with companies, but today each individual has a personal brand, whether they are aware of it – or not. Most people haven’t consciously cultivated their brands, but they still exist. Almost everyone leaves a digital footprint, which can be accessed by friends, colleagues, bosses, and many more.
Personal branding is, at its core, about how you distinguish yourself from those with whom you share general characteristics. Think of a time when you were searching for a coach, mentor, or some other expert in their field. What made them stand out to you? What was their unique selling proposition? What made them special? Why did you connect with that person in particular? Your brand is your intrinsically unique set of qualities that illustrate your value outwardly.
You must be faithful to yourself when crafting your personal brand, which has always been my approach and one that I highly recommend. There are plenty of clients out there who are looking for what you have to offer. Someone else may be selling exactly the same type of thing that you sell, but that doesn’t mean that everyone wants to buy it from them! You are who you are; own it and use it to your advantage.
The relevant question is no longer if you have a personal brand, but whether you actively inform and direct your brand or if you leave it up to chance.
1. Define your brand.
Who are you? How do you want people to think of you when you come to mind? What image or feeling will be associated with your name? What is your area of expertise? At what do you excel? Is there a feeling or quality that you want to project?
Perception is reality, to some extent. Once you map out how you want your brand to be perceived, you can strategically plan out how to build and manage that persona. Make sure that you create a reasonable expectation for yourself; don’t try to change yourself or expect to suddenly become your perfect self. You are expected to be human and therefore fallible. Whew!
2. Choose your standards.
Brands have standards to create a consistent look and feel across platforms and media. Think of Target. Every time you see that red and white target or the little dog with the bullseye over it’s right eye… you know exactly what’s coming. It’s also the same red every time and the same fonts. You don’t have to get as creative as Coca-Cola and create your very own font, but do choose which ones you will use and stick to them. You can keep your standards as simple as you like or get into great detail. You probably already wear the same style of clothes to work each day and tend to use your favorite color palate… just take it a step further a purposefully define your style and then carry it over into all your collateral.
3. Your website is your domain.
Having a personal website is one of the best ways for your name to rank highly on search engines. Keep it simple; it doesn’t need to be fancy (unless fancy is part of your story.) It can be as simple as a landing page or two to three page site with your resume, links to your social platforms, and a brief bio. Your website should evolve over time as your life and goals change. If you are serious about standing out from the crowd, add a blog.
4. Create appropriate social profiles.
Sign up for the most useful social platforms (LinkedIn, Facebook, Google +, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.) and make sure that they reflect the image you are purposefully projecting. You don’t necessarily need to be active on all of the social networks, but it’s a good idea to secure your name, regardless. Focus on whichever platform will bring the most ROI for your time and energy. If you’re a photographer, focus on the visual sites. If you are an employee at a large company (or wish to be), then focus more on LinkedIn and any appropriate industry related sites. If your personality will inform your work, consider a professional page on Facebook; this approach makes sense for Realtors, authors, speakers, and other professionals whose brand helps them sell.
5. Monitor your online presence.
Google yourself. You will likely be surprised at how many people share your name. Using your middle initial is an easy and effective way to differentiate yourself from most of your name-mates. (Ladies: If you’ve spent years cultivating your personal brand with a maiden name, consider adding your married name onto the end and dropping your middle initial to maintain your online ranking, rather than starting over.) Set up Google alerts and make sure that you keep up with anything that is being published or shared that is related to you. It’s hard to react or respond if you don’t know what is being said!
6. Stay on target.
Remember that everything you share becomes part of your brand. Every tweet, every status update, every picture you share, and every comment you leave contributes to the whole of your personal brand. Your brand is a living thing that develops and changes over time, just as you do. Remember your standards and don’t deviate from them – unless you have good reason to do so. Also, keep in mind the appropriateness of where you share; a cute funny video may be entirely appropriate on Facebook, but is likely not a good fit for LinkedIn.
7. Provide value within your network.
Share relevant content, whether it’s yours or someone else’s. Participate in conversations when possible and especially when the topic under discussion is within your area of expertise. Find the balance between being too quiet and oversharing; there is a happy medium and it’s the best place to be!
8. You are defined by the company you keep.
Your personal brand is strengthened or weakened by your connection to other individuals and their brands. Find and leverage connections with people and brands who can elevate your own personal brand. Start with your three C’s: company, college, colleagues. Which schools did you attend? Are there related groups you can join? What can you do to strengthen ties to your company? Consider submitting a guest post to your company blog or look at other digital assets you can connect to your brand. Connect with your co-workers as appropriate (avoid connections with people who could potentially hurt your chances of success.)
9. Reevaluate over time.
Your brand is your story. As life goes on your narrative develops and changes. Make sure to tell your story in a way that resonates with your goals and ambitions, while projecting the image that you want to be your face to the world. Don’t worry about trying to please everyone, but focus on who you are and how that is important. Your message will resonate with some and if your brand is as you hope, you will have found your audience.
The best reason to consider nurturing your personal brand is, perhaps, that it can be carried with you. Your brand can open new opportunities and as you advance your career or change paths, whatever image you portray will either help or hinder you. Consider it an investment in yourself. Save this infographic as a handy reference.