Personal branding: It's different, more important than you think

Brenda Bence

When you hear the words “personal branding”, do you think, “That’s for people who are into how they dress,” or “That’s for people who are into self-promotion?”

Unfortunately, those are just two of the myths that people often believe about personal branding. As a result of these myths, the concept of personal branding has gotten a bit of a bad rap that it simply doesn’t deserve. Let’s put these myths to rest once and for all and uncover what true personal branding is really all about.

Myth No. 1: “Personal branding is all about how you look and dress.”

Let’s say you buy a car just because of its looks. You then discover that, while it’s beautiful on the outside, it gets lousy gas mileage and sends you repeatedly to the mechanic. That would certainly change how you feel about your beautiful new car, wouldn’t it?

The same is true of personal branding. A great “look” might fool someone briefly, but will only get you so far. If the individual underneath that look can’t deliver, it isn’t going to fool anyone for long. True personal branding has much more depth than that.

Your look is one element of your personal brand. After all, if you’re trying to convey a personal brand of “impeccable accuracy,” and you dress in a sloppy way, that look clearly won’t represent your personal brand well. On the other hand, if you dress impeccably but don’t perform impeccably, that won’t work either.

So, your personal brand extends far beyond just your look. It includes how you perform, who you are, what you can offer, and what makes you distinctive in the work place. In short, your personal brand is all about your uniqueness, your strengths, your talents, and what you want to be known for on the job. It’s about so much more than a great power suit or a designer tie!

Myth No. 2: “Personal branding is all about self-promotion.”

This couldn’t be further from the truth! Smart personal branding isn’t about marketing yourself in an obvious or intrusive way. You can consciously, but subtly, communicate your personal brand through the five key activities you do every day: your actions, reactions, look, sound and thoughts.

Through these activities, you can exemplify and live your brand every single day without the need to blow your own horn. As a result, those around you will simply become more and more aware of the contribution you can make in the workplace, for example. Your boss, colleagues, and customers will begin to notice you more, and they will begin to count on you to deliver in the areas that you have defined for your personal brand.

Myth No. 3: “Personal branding is all about me.”

Some people believe that personal branding is self-centered and all about “me, me, me,” but the truth is:  Good, strategic personal branding starts first and foremost with your audience. Who is your audience? It’s the person or people you most want to impact in your career, and your brand already exists in their minds in the way they perceive, think and feel about you.

Let’s illustrate this by thinking about corporate brands for a moment. In branding, perception is everything. You can have a great product, but if the public’s (audience’s) perception of the brand is negative, there’s no avoiding it:  Your product will ultimately not be successful.

The same is true of personal branding. You should first determine your audience’s needs and make sure you fill those needs… just like a top, name-brand shampoo might fill a consumer’s need for shiny, healthy hair. If you can successfully meet your audience’s needs, you will be the person called on again and again to get the job done … and promotions, accolades and raises are sure to follow.

Myth No. 4: “Creating a personal brand is being fake.”

Personal branding is often misjudged as something superficial. Yes, personal branding is about your audience and how they perceive, think and feel about you. But that doesn’t mean you focus on pleasing your audience to the detriment of yourself. If your personal brand is a façade, you’re going to be a very unhappy person.

Here’s the truth: You must be authentic to be true to your personal brand. Yes, you must offer something of value to your audience that fills their needs. That’s primary. But what you offer is based on who you are as an individual, not some character that you have created because you believe it’s what your audience wants. If the only way you can be happy in your job is to project a fake personal brand that has nothing to do with your personality, you definitely need to rethink your job and/or your career.

Myth No. 5:  “I don’t need – or even want – a personal brand.”

Are you someone who thinks you don’t need or even want a personal brand? If so, consider this: If your personal brand is the way your audience perceives, thinks and feels about you, then that perception of you is already out there. Indeed, you already have a personal brand – it exists in the mind of your audience.

So, everyone – including you – already has a personal brand. Simply by being yourself in the workplace, you have created a brand without realizing it. Does this realization excite you ... or make you a bit nervous?

If you’re not completely in charge of your personal brand, it is probably already out there, running amuck, creating an image that isn’t exactly what you would like it to be. In fact, your current personal brand may be preventing you from reaching your full career potential. Only when you learn how to carefully define and communicate your desired personal brand can you take control of it and make it work for you. Only then can you make sure that the way your audience perceives, thinks, and feels about you is the way you want it to be – beneficial to you.

About the author:
Brenda Bence, branding expert and certified executive coach, is the author of “How YOU Are Like Shampoo,” the only start-to-finish book for defining, communicating and taking control of your personal brand at work. After graduating from Harvard Business School, Brenda developed mega brands for Procter & Gamble and Bristol-Myers Squibb. She now travels the world speaking, training and coaching on corporate and personal brand development. For more information, visit www.HowYOUAreLikeShampoo.com.


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