The Author, Cynthia Johnson, opens her book with the words: “Repeat after me: Personal branding is for everyone, not just the privileged and well-networked.”
After explaining why that is true, she provides a slew of good ideas, references and activities to ensure your personal brand platform is solid. Personal branding is not just a way to gratuitously promote what you wish others to think of you: whether you like it or not, it is the platform you stand on in front of the world.
Having a “personal brand’ is inescapable. If you don’t build and carefully curate your brand, the world around you will do it for you, and you will be putting your future in their hands, not yours. The choice in our hyperconnected, always-on-world, is not whether to have a brand, the only choice is whether you manage yours or not.
Merely to indicate the complexity involved – you are more than what you post. It is your audiences’ perception of you that is their reality.
“The goal is to define and demonstrate your identity in a way that accurately represents your successes and paints you as the person you want to be (not necessarily who you currently are),”Johnson explains,
Before even starting your personal branding journey, there are some fundamentals you need to know. The first is that others already know a lot about you: you need only to consider how much your bank has on you already, and how much your landlord found out, not to mention Google and Facebook.
You have to know what the world sees, just as you know what the banks and landlords see when they check your credit.
We are no doubt familiar with brands, but it is worth pointing out how people differ from non-human brands. As a start: People are not trying to be brands: brands are trying to be people. Non-human brands are used as a way of telling the world what they are, and what they wish they were.
We are different from brands because we don’t need people to wear our names or put our faces on their belongings, to evoke the same emotional connections naturally.
So, what is personal branding? In a way it is a misnomer. The words ‘personal autonomy’ would be accurate. Personal branding starts from a very different point to that understood by many.
Personal branding begins with the ability to think for yourself – not to be like others, or attempt to assume an identity that is not you. It is to make choices about what you buy, do, and represent, because you like what you’re choosing, not because you need to make those choices.
“Personal branding is about being yourself out loud.” Yes, being yourself out loud.
Of course, you must understand what it is about you that will open doors. You also need to understand which rooms you should be in and which rooms are out of your league, or you should not be associated with.
There is no doubt that personal branding takes time. Your brand has got to be built on your being authentic, instead of a manufactured version of what you think everyone else wants you to be. This, no doubt, does require maturity, a matter unrelated to age: one need only think back to high school, where you wanted to be “different”, just like everyone else! Personal branding is definitely not about packaging an inauthentic version of yourself.
There are two types of power. There is power as ‘influence’ which is expressed in having control over others. There is also power as ‘autonomy’, that allows people to ignore and resist the influence of others and so be able to shape their own destiny. It is the second type that is associated with personal branding.
Many people think that personal branding is reserved for and used only by those who want power and influence. This is a mistake – it is more important for people who want freedom from being influenced or overpowered by others.
Having clarity about what you don’t want and knowing that you aren’t sure what you do want, doesn’t make you less authentic. It makes you more authentic.
With personal branding defined this way, it can be used to strategically access the audience you wish to have, who appreciate the genuine you, and enjoy being your audience. You will obviously have more success with your audience the more time you spend communicating and relating to them. Communicating authentically with the right audience, will have them think better of you and everything you are associated with thereafter.
If you are able to influence the leaders, with or without their conscious cooperation, you will automatically influence the group.
Think of personal branding this way: it is your résumé. A résumé doesn’t only define what we have done, but how we think.
The fact is that your résumé is everywhere. Everyone already has a brand online. The difference is that some people control their brand and some people don’t. It determines whether the Uber driver picks you up or passes-up on you. What people know of you from your digital presence could tell them tell them that you are all business and should be labelled “boring”.
To avoid being incorrectly branded, Johnson recommends that you “Clean up your act”. How the digital world sees you is how many people who find out about you online, will perceive you as well.
Cleaning up your act starts with doing a thorough search to find everything you can about yourself online. If you can find it, someone else can get to it, too. If there is something scathing about you, don’t pretend it isn’t there. Sort it out as best you can. People will forgive your mistakes, but they won’t trust a liar.
A good place to start your personal branding journey is to create your brand message – your reference for whenever you are unsure about whether or not you should do something.
Building your personal brand is time consuming. While it is important, it rarely seems urgent.
Pick five close family members and friends and give them five words or phrases that best describe you. Do this too, and compare the difference.
The book contains this exercise as well as many guides and sites, and much information about how to work on your Personal Brand.
It’s not just an advantage to develop your personal brand; it’s a distinct disadvantage if you don’t.
*Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on strategy and implementation and is the author of ‘Strategy that Works’ and ‘The Executive Update.’ Views expressed are his own.