After many years working in large companies filled with bright and talented experts, I saw first-hand those that successfully built smart and enduring personal brands and those that simply fell short. Those that endured became sought-after thought leaders rapidly progressing in their careers, while those that fell short remained stagnant and irrelevant.
The real shame is that those that fell short could have taken greater advantage of the resources and opportunities afforded them through these big organizations. They either never made the time, or never made the connection to its value.
“Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You.” — Tom Peters in Fast Company
Personal branding has become much more prominent in the past few years, especially with advancements in social sharing and digital media. Yet still today many associate the need for building a personal brand only with the likes of entrepreneurs or celebrities. There is minimal understanding of the impact on those working in large organizations under a big brand umbrella.
The reality is the value and the need are just as great. Personal branding increases professional opportunities.
Whether you work for a Fortune 500 or for yourself, your personal brand is essentially your reputation. It’s what you stand for as an individual and as a professional. It’s the value you bring to those you serve and their perception of your value.
To be clear, this isn’t about self-promotion or only what you communicate on social media. It’s about taking control of your career and being deliberate in your actions. It requires being clear about who you are and what you do, articulating how you are different than your peers or competitors, and consistently delivering on that promise in everything you say and do.
Whether you are a recognized subject matter expert or a PR pro hoping to harness their wisdom, or both, there are insights here that can help you reimagine the brand lens in which you view your career.
Define, Design, and Align
Most professionals have some idea of what they do or what they want to do. The start of a solid personal brand requires the committed time to think it through and write it down so you can be clear and concise. The intent is to capture your story.
There are a number of useful guides, blogs, and articles out there giving step-by-step instructions on establishing your personal brand. A few to consider are William Arruda’s Personal Branding Blog, The Complete Guide to Building Your Personal Brand by Neil Patel of QuickSprout, or How to Build a Sensational Personal Brand by Rebekah Radice.
ACTION WITH YOU: Capture Brand You
“If you’re not branding yourself, you can be sure others do it for you.” – Unknown
Read through these or find your own resources, but you essentially want to capture who you are, what you do, what your areas of expertise are, and what problems you solve. Then explore how you do what you do, what makes you different, what unique viewpoints do you have, what processes or methodologies do you follow that shape your persona, what audiences do you serve, how do you serve them, what successes can you attribute to your unique style, and so on.
Capture things like personality traits, behaviors, characteristics, and communication style that make you special or that impact the value of your work or how it’s delivered.
Be aspirational where it may make sense as you want to be sure you’re positioning yourself for growth. This doesn’t mean lie about who you are or what you can do; it means be forward thinking in how you see yourself advancing – as all brands do.
At the end of the exercise, you should have greater clarity about what your personal brand is about. This is something you should continue to fine tune as you sharpen your message and test it within your personal and professional networks. Review and rethink your brand on an annual basis – you’ll find it will continue evolving.
ACTION WITH COMPANY: Align to Business Brand
After you have a good idea of your personal brand, it’s important to look at how it aligns or strengthens the brand of the company with which you work. This is a valuable exercise because it can help you articulate the work you do in context with the direction your organization is going.
When you are conversing with clients, the media, or speaking event audience members, you want to be certain that the messages you’re sending about the approach of the work, viewpoints you have, or even where the market is going, are completely in step with the larger brand you represent. If they are in conflict, it can be embarrassing for the company, and even more disastrous for you.
If you find that the two brands just don’t align in a fundamental way, this is a good sign that maybe you need to look for a company that better aligns to your ideas. Be respectful of the organization brand as this doesn’t mean one is right and the other is wrong. They are just different.
Build Online Presence
“It’s important to build a personal brand because it’s the only thing you’re going to have. Your reputation online, and in the new business world is pretty much the game, so you’ve got to be a good person. You can’t hide anything, and more importantly, you’ve got to be out there at some level.” – Gary Vaynerchuk
If you don’t have an online presence of some kind you’re likely to go unnoticed. It’s as simple as that. When you meet a prospective client or employer, or a journalist wants to speak with you, they will first search for you online. If they can’t find much more than a minimally filled in LinkedIn profile, you really aren’t going to be considered much of an expert in your field.
I’ve encountered so many professionals within the organizations I worked for that wanted me to get them press coverage yet refused to put themselves online. And I worked in the tech industry! The reality is that the media industry has changed significantly. As a professional, a thought leader, or simply someone hoping to advance your career, building a thoughtful online presence, and actively maintaining it with your distinct voice, is a necessity.
ACTION WITH YOU: Assess and Build
First and foremost, work with your PR or marketing department to understand what’s within policy and also what they recommend you build based on target audience and what aligns to their activities and channels.
You’ll want to conduct an asset inventory to understand what content you have that can go online, what’s already online that you may have authored and published within company sites, and where the gaps are of what you might like to have developed before you publish a site. If your company has something already published that you authored, do not publish it again as this skews SEO results. Instead, craft a context message and hyperlink to the original post. This promotes the two-way connection.
Talk to your PR and marketing team about social media sites they suggest you have a profile presence. Don’t assume you have to do them all as it may not make sense for your business. For instance, leveraging Pinterest for most B2B companies is quite difficult. But if your company has a heavy presence on Twitter, they’ll likely appreciate having you active there as well so they can share your profile and tweets and promote you as an expert. And vice versa, you should promote the company and retweet as appropriate. Just be sure your user ID is professional, such as your name. Don’t go for something that completely conflicts with your personal brand.
LinkedIn is, of course, a great professional social media site that I recommend everyone leverage. Be sure to have a professional, high-quality photo that mirrors your personal brand, fill in all the details within the profile, and follow your own company so they can link back to you as necessary. Have the PR team review your profile as they may have suggestions such as keywords to include or specific experiences to share. Those go a long way when they suggest you to reporters or as potential speakers for events and conferences. Keep your profile updated, adding new training, certifications, publications, volunteer experiences, and so on.
Also see 6 Building Blocks to Harness LinkedIn for PR.
Website and Blog
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” — Dr. Seuss
If you have a need to just keep a more extensive portfolio and biography then can be built within LinkedIn, a website may be enough. If you prefer to further establish yourself as a thought leader and have the dedicated time to blog, just be sure you check company policies first. The PR and marketing teams may prefer you blog for the company site. This allows you to gain visibility through a larger brand presence and their promotional activities, but it also legally allows you to speak about the pre-approved client case studies. If you blog on your own, company policies typically don’t allow you to leverage those intellectual assets since they don’t own and control the site.
When you begin online, be sure to control your image like a pro. Use these tools to build credibility, authenticity, trust, and to add value. They can also be used to further your education and advance your subject area.
ACTION WITH COMPANY: Policies and Procedures
Code of Business Conduct
As I mentioned above, it is imperative that you check with your company to understand formal policies on social media, intellectual capital, and general internet use. Most organizations have a Code of Business Conduct that outlines policies and protocol. If you aren’t sure, check with the PR team or go straight to someone in HR or Legal. All of those departments are typically in-the-know on these policies and will understand how they are to be used by employees.
All PR and marketing organizations will have some sort of plan and/or an editorial calendar for the year. As you think about your own online presence and the assets you want to share, spend some time with this team to see how that might fit with their plans.
If they know you plan to publish a site with generic assets on a specific topic, they can leverage those by pointing to your site in campaigns. If they plan to have new content developed or run a campaign timed with an industry event, you can leverage that knowledge and write a blog post about the topic or plan to post on key trends. Or it could be that you plan on attending that conference and they can leverage you to Tweet on their behalf or work with the team on video interviews and more.
The bottom line is that this should be viewed as a partnership. There are numerous ways to get the most value from the opportunities, benefiting both your online presence as well as the company.
As you build your personal brand, consider potential media opportunities. This idea excites some while others cringe at the thought. If you’re not media trained or have never been interviewed before, it can be rather intimidating. However, the impact on your personal brand can be a game changer.
ACTION WITH YOU: Establish Your Message
Through the personal brand development process, as well as conducting an asset inventory, you may have a good idea of your overall messages. Even so, I would still recommend you take another focused session to drive your messaging as it relates to your subject expertise.
“My greatest strength is common sense. I’m really a standard brand, like Campbell’s tomato soup or Baker’s Chocolate.” – Katherine Hepburn
The more you get out there, the more you need to have your messages down pat. They need to be tight, to the point, and consistent. You need a clear set of viewpoints with specific examples and supportive metrics you can share. You need to be on top of the latest trends and technologies, you need to know what your competitors are doing, and you need to keep learning and paying close attention.
ACTION WITH COMPANY: Partner with PR
Once you have this documented, sit down with colleagues and your boss if you can. These people can validate your points, add new insights, help you to understand what you can use as a brand under the brand, and what you can use as a brand by yourself.
Then meet with the marketing and PR team to test the messages with them. They can do the same, but also can help tighten messages, let you know what flies in the media and what doesn’t, and help you see where your view is unique compared to others.
The PR team will also use this information to better position you with the media, analysts, speaking events, and more. The more they know about you, your expertise, your message, and your personal brand—the more they can help bring visibility and opportunities for your career progression.
When working for a large organization, we become so consumed with the corporate brand and the heavy expectations on each of us to achieve business targets that we forget to explore and define how our own brand could and should align. To be great leaders in our respective areas of expertise, and to build something unique and valuable that continues to grow and thrive, we must clearly understand how these brands can support each other for greater success.
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