Building a personal brand is more than seizing some words that you think tell the story of who you are and what you stand for. Rather, it’s a process of defining and then doing many ‘small things’ that collectively define you.
Personal brand building is a strategic process that asks more than ‘Who am I?’, it also then asks ‘Who do I need to be?’. The latter question is the strategic piece; ‘How do I need to be perceived?’ is answered as if you were creating a business plan with a competitive advantage claim.
Your brand needs to be forever relevant, for if it fades from resonating with the people around you, it’s useless.
To be effective, a brand must continue to resonate with those that experience it; they must see it as a ‘forever’ solution to problems they continue to have or challenges they continue to face.
A brand that doesn’t relate to the issues people care about in the moment is irrelevant and the person propagating the brand goes unnoticed.
Furthermore, a compelling brand is amoebic. It adapts to and changes with the circumstances surrounding the person owning it. It’s like a coronavirus variant that is searching for new ways to stay alive.
A meaningful brand position is forever in a state of flux, anxious to morph itself to survive in a new environment.
So, in no particular order, these are the actions I took to adapt and evolve my brand during my career, starting from an entry level systems analyst position to president and CMO three decades later.
Each action helped me stay relevant during highly changing and turbulent times, but no single one was a ‘silver bullet’ for success.
‘Stay relevant’ brand actions
- Identify the people who you want to ‘talk to’ about who you are and what you do These are the foxes in any organization who tend to make career decisions in your space. It’s important that these people get exposed to the values you represent.
- Have a good understanding of the other players the other players competing for the same brand attributes to understand the brand field you are competing with and their brand claims.
- When presented with a task, ask yourself the question “How can I do this differently?” than others. This is a critical question to get you noticed (if you answer it right). Just having the subject top of mind will lead you in the right direction; use it as the lens to determine what to do and how to do it. Ask yourself this question everyday.
- Purge every aspect of copying from your being.
This is tough because it’s almost second nature for people to ask ‘How did someone else do it?’; to benchmark best in class and apply best practices.
We’ve been conditioned to believe that we are better off when we follow the best in the herd, which is nonsense. All we have done is temporarily change our position in it.
Using a boilerplate that someone else developed robs you of the originality needed to stand out and be remarkable.
Copying what others do keeps you in ‘the common herd’ and prevents you from being noticed. Do whatever it takes to act with attitude and in a way that separates you from the crowd.
- Look at what everyone else is doing then do the opposite. Amazing results are achieved by contrarian acts.
- Learn to focus on the critical few things you need to be successful. It’s so tempting to chase the possibilities that are out there but the problem is that you are busy but ineffective in delivering quality results. Different people are “mindlessly” focused on a few critical things that are not on anyone else’s radar.
- Shed the CRAP that gets in the way of your ability to focus on your key priorities. Holding on to comfy food may satisfy your appetite temporarily, but it won’t enable your quest to stand-out from the herd in the long run.
- Connect with weird and different people. If you’re going to seek stimulation from others, lean in to people who don’t follow the rules and have off-the-wall views.
- Be the first to take on new projects. Covet opportunities to offer standard solutions to radical problems that have not been addressed before. Your solution to a new problem will carry the ‘different’ tag.
- Loosen up on planning; tighten up on execution. Most people think the value is in the cleverness of a plan; of course they’re wrong.
Jump into the messy inelegant world of implementation where results get delivered. Different people get stuff done; they don’t sit around pondering theoretical possibilities.
The do-it brand
In my experience a winning brand position is to adopt a ‘do-it’ persona. However, never act without a framework that will create a better than average probability of success. Unharnessed action may feel good at the time, but it will likely not produce the outcome you desire.
Build context for action. Action with no context is at best uncontrolled behaviour with no predictable outcome. Context could be your career goals, your personal set of values or the organization’s strategic game plan. Context sets the boundaries inside which acceptable action is defined and outside which inappropriate action resides.
Look for an opportunity to add value to the actions you take. Go beyond what might be expected; surprise the judges observing you by adding extras rather than simply meeting expectations. ‘Action - Plus’ is a way to think about it: act and do more.
Achieve with a twist; leave your fingerprints and personal mark on what you do. Doing something without leaving a trace of YOU is a missed opportunity to leave a lasting impression. If your action blends in with what everyone else does, no one notices and your brand pays the price.
Pause, then act. Be disciplined about taking action. Before moving, take a deep breath to ensure your action is grounded and will have the highest probability of making a positive impact.
Use ‘the pause’ as a necessary element of the acting process. Once you commit to act it’s a chore to shift direction so use the pause wisely.
Prepare for follow up. The results of your action must be determined in order to learn from them. Think through exactly how you intend to track the outcome and the impact it had on people. Develop an improvement plan for any action that didn’t work out the way you had intended.
Memorable action isn’t a knee jerk response; it’s taken with a sense of purpose.
Finally, Try, try and try. While others are seeking the impossible dream of perfection the do-it brand people are achieving results inch-by-inch.
- Ensure that your brand addresses the critical issue of the day for your organization by continually measuring and refreshing your only claim.
And, again, remember that if your brand doesn’t respond to a compelling and relevant need that your business has, it will simply fall on deaf ears and be perceived as merely self serving.
If your brand, however, resonates with people and is consistent with the strategic imperatives of the business, it makes you the currency leader among your peers with the job satisfaction and career growth that goes along with that leadership position.
- Develop the competency to recover brilliantly when you make a mistake (and you will, that’s what do-it professionals do). Fix your mistake (because that’s what people expect) fast, and then add something to the mix that surprises them. You will be remembered for your risk taking and brilliance of recovery; your mistake will quickly be forgotten.
- Develop a communication plan to expose your brand both within your organization and to external audiences.
- Offer to do presentations on your chosen brand topic;
- Get quoted as a subject matter expert in any internal communications media your organization uses;
- Write articles for your organization and for external publications on your brand content; be the thought leader;
- Offer to talk to customers on your brand topic. Help them in any issues they have, and get known on the outside. In my case many of our customers were interested in what we were doing in the area of customer service as well as a ME marketing. I had many speaking engagements to air my brand;
- Talk to the media on your topic. Make it interesting for them. Get them calling you. Your organization’s reputation will overtime be influenced by you.
- Listen to the conversation about you and use your social media presence as the ‘listening post’.
Dedicate time to monitor social media feeds to get real time hands-on feedback from various audiences on your brand.
And engage in any conversation to show that you’re interested in the commentary and to further reinforce your personal tag.
- Look to online dating for help. I’m not suggesting that you necessarily get involved in online dating, but I do believe the process can provide valuable insights on how to effectively position one’s brand in a highly contested world.
The crucial element in online dating is the personal profile where the challenge is to describe and ‘paint a picture’ of yourself that leaves no doubt as to who you are and what your specific interests are with the objective of attracting interest from people who are aligned with you — a daunting task given the size of the internet universe.
Bland, general and vague profiles attract few worthwhile hits whereas clear, expressive, and detailed profiles, on the other hand, stand-out to people who are looking for specific characteristics — specifics in the profile do a better job of explaining a brand and hence attract people who are interested in it.
Think of an online personal profile as a granular version of your brand and use it to express what makes you special. Over emphasize your attributes and specifically those that you think make you distinct from everyone else.
And also apply the ‘so what and who cares?’ test intended to catch the vague generalities and a helium-filled claims used by the crowd. If it’s a statement that everyone else uses, delete it and focus on what makes you special.
And don’t expect miracles overnight. You most likely will not come up with a profile that is sufficiently detailed to get the response you want, nor will it likely be crystal clear on how you are different than everyone else.
Doesn’t matter. It’s a start. Work with it and revise it as you experience its impact on your intended audience.
Building an effective personal brand is a journey; it’s not a one-shot exercise. And it’s not built by seizing on a single attribute or trait, but rather by consistently expressing a collection of ‘little things’ that people care about.