I f you work in comms or marketing, much of your working day will directly or indirectly be focused on strengthening, promoting and protecting your organisation’s brand. But how often do you think about a brand much closer to home: YOU.
Personal branding is not just for the likes of David Beckham lounging about in his underpants — we are all brands. And by thinking of ourselves in that way — and developing our own brand strategy — we can really help to boost our career.
Furthermore, this idea applies to everyone — however junior or senior. To pick on a pantomime villain of the modern era, if Fred Goodwin had ever thought of himself as a personal brand, he might have prevented himself from making some notorious errors of judgement.
Here are eight steps to getting a personal branding strategy to work for you.
What do you stand for?
We’ve all seen large organisations talk about brand values — many of you work for them. Sometimes these values are at the heart of a vibrant and infectious company culture; sometimes they’re a bit of a flop that nobody takes much notice of.
But with your personal brand, it’s much simpler. There is no board required to sign your values off and no committees involved to water down your thinking with jargon and clichés.
This is the fun bit. You can decide what you stand for and what values you want to project — and concentrate on making sure you get them across clearly. In a work context, you also need to decide how you want to describe yourself. What are your strengths? Maybe you are passionate about marketing ideas; maybe you are a strategic comms expert — you decide.
And think about people’s perception of you. How do you make people feel? How do people benefit from working with you? How would colleagues describe you? And do you need to make any changes to your behaviour to make your brand more attractive?
Talk yourself up
Identifying what really fires you up is very motivating — now you just have to talk about it. Share your ideas, talk to like-minded people. Develop a philosophy towards your work; something you believe in that sets you apart from all the other comms and marketing professionals.
People talk a lot about elevator pitches — i.e. how you would describe your qualities to a stranger in a lift. These can sound clunky and forced but it is definitely worth thinking about the sort of thing you would want to say and questions you would ask if, by chance or design, you find yourself talking to the Chief Executive, or someone else of influence. Instead of a pitch, think about an initial hook — something to get their attention and then back it up with something positive about what you have to offer.
Embrace social media
If you’re serious about developing and nourishing your career through a fully joined-up personal branding strategy there really is no excuse for not embracing social media, however senior you are.
Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are incredibly useful tools for spreading influence, harvesting ideas and connecting with like-minded people. LinkedIn is also handy as a live database of business contacts — whenever anyone you are connected to moves jobs, their details are updated for you.
Of course, common sense is required. You can damage your reputation by posting inappropriate content. And ensure that the way you project yourself online is consistent with the way you project yourself in person. Some people who seem very lively and engaging online can be a disappointment when you meet them face to face!
Get to know your colleagues
A study carried out in the 1990s showed that the likelihood of achieving promotion in a corporate environment is 10% to do with how good you are at your job, 30% to do with your appearance and 60% to do with how good you are at building contacts within your own business. People talk a lot about networking in terms of wandering around a room of strangers with a cocktail sausage in one hand and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc in the other, but some of the most instantly valuable networking you can do is within your own organisation. Get about — speak to other departments; make allies.
Build a network
That doesn’t mean that external networking isn’t important — far from it. Creating your own network of like-minded supporters and allies will open all sorts of new opportunities. Yet so many people, junior and senior, shy away from it. That’s such a wasted opportunity.
Seek out events where there will be like-minded people — whether it’s an IoIC networking event or an exclusive club for senior marketing execs. Find out in advance who will be there. Arrive early. Ask people questions and listen to what they say. Decide who you want to see again — they should be people that you can help and that can help you; and they should also be people you like. People buy people, and building strong and mutually beneficial relationships is what counts.
Keep relationships alive
People often strike up very positive conversations at networking events, exchange business cards and then never do anything about it afterwards. Follow up quickly with an email or a phone call or LinkedIn invitation or message. Arrange to meet again when appropriate. Introduce them to other useful contacts and share information with them. Keep a list of people you want to develop a business relationship with and refer back to it to ensure you’re keeping in touch with everyone. But don’t pester; ensure that their interaction with you (and your personal brand) is enjoyable. And if they’re stand-offish, just move on.
Appearance is very important
In an ideal world, we should only be judging people on their skills and their values; but we’re human, so we don’t. There is no getting away from it. If you really want to flourish professionally, appearance is important.
That means dressing the part. It also means body language, the way you talk, the accessories you carry, the whole package. Some people who have very strong skills in specific areas think these things don’t really matter. Perhaps not but why not use every tool at your disposal?
In the first seven seconds of meeting, people will make numerous subconscious judgements about you to do with your trustworthiness and many other factors such as culture, sexuality and intelligence. So think carefully about what you wear, how you talk, how you shake hands, how you walk into a room …
It takes eight positive impressions to overcome an initial negative impression. So get it right first time, or you (and your brand) will take a hit.
Ask for help
Organisations appoint agencies to help with their branding strategies because they appreciate the value of external professional expertise. Likewise, if you are serious about creating a really effective personal brand, it’s a good idea to do some work with an executive coach, who can help you to see yourself as others do. Many senior execs in the US employ coaches who they talk to on a regular basis and the trend is rapidly spreading across the UK. It can make a big difference.
Review the strategy
So you’ve defined what you stand for. People are listening to you with interest, both online and in person, because you care about what you do and have ideas and opinions. You’ve also got a great network of allies and supporters that you’ve cultivated by sharing ideas and contacts. People like your brand.
You are also highly visible within your own organisation — people see you as someone who is well connected and solves problems rather than creates them. You look the part and people enjoy being with you. Hey, it looks like you’re about to be promoted or offered a job elsewhere.
Sounds pretty good? But keep reviewing your personal brand. How can it be developed? What’s holding you back? Why not put a date in the diary every six months when you sit down and work out what the next stage of your personal branding strategy is? It’s a competitive world. If you’re doing that and those around you aren’t, you will soon enjoy the benefits.
This story is taken from the first issue of Poppy. Our print run is strictly limited but, if you are based in the UK, you can request a printed copy via the ReadPoppy.com website.
Laura Gordon, who has degrees in both psychology and law, is a leadership coach and is one of the best-connected people in the Scottish business world. Originally a corporate lawyer, she became Director of the Government-funded Glasgow:Edinburgh Collaboration initiative and now runs Corporate Connections International and is a CEO Group Chair with Vistage International.
“I’ve always been interested in people and I think that’s probably the basis for successful networking,” she says. “There are so many people out there pushing their own agenda and saying ‘listen to me, listen to me, I’ve got something to sell’ that people who show a genuine interest in others and ask questions, really stand out.
“That applies whether you’re meeting people in person or communicating via social media. The companies and leaders that listen to their customers, their employees and their stakeholders are the ones who are truly successful.
“What’s my brand? I’m a networker and I’m a connector. I enjoy meeting people, finding out about them, connecting them with others and working with people to help them become better leaders. It’s very rewarding.”