A Revolution in Your Personal Brand
The concept of a “personal brand” first surfaced in the nineties, well before my time. The idea was simple: just like companies and product lines benefitted from a unique distinguishing concept, so could the individual. Don’t be another face in the crowd, employees were told. Become the Chief Marketing Officer of You, Inc.
By Frances Reimers, Director of Corporate Visibility, PCI.
The raison d’être for a personal brand in the nineties was surviving in an era when you could no longer bank on lifelong employment with one company. A personal brand was a means of protecting yourself from downsizing, reengineering, restructuring, and other polite terms for getting fired or laid off. With personal brand intact, one could progress from employer to employer none the worse for wear and in fact, building brand equity and value.
I believe things have come full circle, in a surprising way. Now your personal brand is just as important to your employer as it is to you.
Here’s what I mean. More and more, customers tend to trust people more than they do companies. This is especially, but not exclusively, true for professional services firms and those selling advanced applications. The reason is that almost no one is expert enough to really tell the products or services apart. Instead, customers look to trusted advisors to guide them.
The average customer, for example, can probably not tell whether one cardiac surgeon is truly better than another, or whether optical router A is better for his or her business than optical router B. Instead, they make most buying decisions based upon relationships – the trust or lack thereof they feel in sales representatives, referring colleagues, consultants, or, in the case of professionals, the service providers themselves.
But what is a brand but an expression of a relationship? After all, “you’re lovin’ it” at McDonalds, or “sharing” a Coke, or even agreeing to “Be Marlboro.” In the same way, building a strong personal brand sells not only you, but also the company or organization you represent. Not only are you leveraging your unique individual strengths for your own benefit, you are leveraging them for the benefit of your employer. And that’s a good thing.
If you are that cardiac surgeon, for example, patients won’t really be able to evaluate your expertise. But they will remember your distinctive confidence, your empathy, and your skill at connecting with them, and this will make them more likely to choose you, your practice, or your hospital for their cardiac care.
If you’re marketing that optical router, even IT professionals may not be able to really distinguish your product from the competition. But they will remember your remarkable listening, your memory for their personal details, and your wry sense of humor, and it may well persuade them to purchase your company’s technology for years to come.
So important are relationships that I believe a personal brand is no longer a nice-to-have, but an absolute necessity. You don’t have to be the human equivalent of Nike, but you do have to pay personal attention to the elements of Marketing 101: know your target audience, develop messages relevant to that audience, place the message where your audience frequents and remain consistent. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. And if you are an employer, you need to encourage and enable your staff to develop personal brands of their own. It’s not a threat; it’s a business imperative.
There are dozens of books and articles about building a personal brand out there. I don’t need to repeat the principles. But there are differences from the nineties, when the term first came into widespread use. The biggest is the advent of social media.
Social media can give you the opportunity to build a much wider brand than is possible with strict one-on-one interaction. You can craft an online profile, especially on LinkedIn and Twitter, and make sure it is consistent with your personal standards and your employer’s values. You can communicate your brand through postings, comments, and content. If those things are not among your strengths, however – or, if you’re an employer wanting to provide your key employees with stronger personal brands through social media – consider professional assistance. A growing cadre of content creators – writers, video producers, and designers – understand social media, personal branding, and how the two are inextricably linked. It’s a fact: you can create the “you” that you want the world to know.
I have worked for years to develop a personal brand. It has worked for me and my employers not only in previous positions, but it my current role as Director of Corporate Visibility for PCI, where I am celebrating a five-year anniversary.
I’m not afraid to say it: I’m unique. I’m one of a kind. But you are too – and with a little work both you and your company can derive tremendous value from your own, strong, personal brand.