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How “Personal Branding” Can Help You

The idea of a “personal brand” is something we all understand…at least as it relates to celebrities. Figures such as Lady Gaga, Leonardo DiCaprio and David Beckham craft and maintain their brands as enthusiastically as the Coca Colas and the Nikes of the corporate world.

But a personal brand for you and me? Absolutely, says personal branding guru Peter Montoya. The issue, in fact, isn’t whether to create a personal brand, but how to create the most effective one you can, he says.

“Everyone has a personal brand, whether they like it or not,” says Montoya, author of The Brand Called You and The Personal Branding Phenomenon. The goal must be to craft that brand so that it creates a clear and memorable impression about who you are and what you do—whether you are a small business owner, a solo entrepreneur or a corporate executive.

A personal brand is “the powerful, clear, positive idea that comes to mind whenever other people think of you,” Montoya explains. It’s the values, abilities and actions you stand for, or, as he puts it, your personal brand is “who you are, what you do, and what makes you different or how you create value for your target market.”

In that sense a personal brand is a little broader than a corporate brand, but it’s not just a synonym for professional marketing. In fact, most personal branding experts say the process of developing a personal brand turns the typical marketing process on its head. Instead of starting with segmenting, targeting, product, price, etc., you start with…you. You define who you are, what is truly important to you and what makes you unique—and then you build your brand around that core set of values. In marketing lingo, you uncover your “unique promise of value.” From there, you identify exactly what segment of the market you want to serve and how best to do it.

Effective branding often means targeting a smaller, better defined market with a much more focused message, says William Arruda, head of the personal branding consultancy Reach. “Although it seems counterintuitive, the smaller you make your target market, the greater your chances of success.”

For those in the corporate world, personal branding is a natural part of the job-hunting process—particularly for someone mapping out a long-term career trajectory. According to Arruda, it can also make sense to tend to your personal brand within your corporate environment, though the territory gets a little tricky when he describes your co-workers as your “competition.”

“Many executives feel they need to conform to business norms when they go to work, but this prevents building a brand,” Arruda wrote in a recent Career Journal article for the Wall Street Journal. “In the new world of work, those who stand out succeed, so put your brand on everything you do. Whether you’re making a presentation, in a meeting or writing a report, don’t leave your brand at home. Ask yourself how you can connect your brand to every situation.”

No matter where you’re building your personal brand, a critical component of communicating it is likely to happen on the Internet. Although the importance of branding has been known for decades in the large corporate arena, where billions of dollars get spent each year in “brand building” campaigns, it is the Web that has driven the surge of interest in branding at the personal level. It eliminates many traditional barriers to commerce while reinforcing the word-of-mouth value of that special something that makes each business—each person—unique, i.e., its brand.

This idea of the Web driving a new age of personal branding may have been expressed first by management guru Tom Peters in an article in Fast Magazine in 1997. Everyone needs to be “the CEO of Me, Inc.,” he argued. In Peters’ words, “branding means nothing more (and nothing less) than creating a distinct personality…and telling the world about it.”

Websites create the potential for your brand to have unprecedented reach. The branding communicated through your website will help drive your word-of-mouth campaign, and consistent branding will help get your emails opened, read and acted upon. Meanwhile blogs have become the Web tool du jour for personal branding among certain segments—particularly writers and technical professionals.

But another critical aspect of “brand building” for small firms and solo practitioners is the old standby: growing your network. A crisply defined brand should make that process simpler—who you are and what you do will be easier to remember if you have done your brand homework—but it still requires getting your brand in front of people the old-fashioned way, one handshake at a time.

Arruda lists three tips for making the most of your personal brand to build your business, or to enhance or reinforce your value within your corporation:

  • Make sure that everything that surrounds your brand (your office, website, customer service organization, etc.) communicates the same brand message.
  • Build and nurture your professional network and ensure that all members understand your brand message.
  • Establish appropriate partnerships to extend your brand and gain complementary brand value.

A personal brand won’t necessarily turn you into the next Tiger Woods—in fact, it probably won’t do a thing for your golf game—but it may be a valuable tool to define and refine what you do and how you tell your customers or your employers about it.

What is your personal brand? Share with us!