04th Jun 2008

Building your personal brand

By Karen McHenry

As consumers, we are all very familiar with the concept of brands. We may like to buy a certain type of soda, wear a particular clothing label, or drive a specific make of car. Yet, how many of us have thought about ourselves as a brand? And furthermore, how many of us have considered how our “personal brand” affects our career, whether we are content in our current job or whether we are searching for a new opportunity?

What is a personal brand, anyway?

Turning to Marketing 101, the American Marketing Association defines a brand as the name, term, design, symbol or other feature that identifies a seller’s goods as distinct from those of other sellers. The personal brand, in contrast, can be viewed as the way that our personal work is perceived as being different from those of our colleagues.

Philip Kotler in the classic text, Marketing Management, suggests that a brand can convey meaning on as many as six different levels, including attributes, benefits, values, culture, personality, and user. This concept also applies to a personal brand. When a manager thinks of an employee, he or she immediately considers the quality of the employee’s work (attributes), how well the employee’s work reflects the company’s mission (values), and how the employee gets work done (values and personality).

How Can a Personal Brand Support Your Career?

Even if we acknowledge that the concept of branding can be applied to individuals through a personal brand, you might ask yourself, “So what? Why should I care?” Crafting a strong personal brand can offer benefits, such as:

  • It can make you a stronger competitor for interesting projects. When managers perceive that an employee generates high quality work which contributes to the company’s objectives, that individual is more likely to be first on the list for upcoming, high visibility projects.
  • It can give you an edge in a job search situation. When a consumer buys a product, the brand carries information—if you buy this product, you are assured of receiving the brand’s quality. A personal brand can serve the same purpose. It can help to differentiate you from other candidates for a job.
  • It can help you transition from one career field to another. Rich Weissman, Director of Endicott College’s Center for Leadership & Online Programs, was able to transition from manufacturing to his current position due in part to personal branding activities. He commented, “I made a long-term transition from manufacturing to education, with stints in Internet businesses, consulting and teaching along the way. I discovered early on that I liked teaching and was fortunate to begin to take on some seminar and workshop assignments with an industry association where I was active. I increased my confidence, scope, and experience. By building on those activities, I was able to leverage that experience into a teaching assignment at a Boston-area university and go from there.”

How Do You Develop a Personal Brand?

The key to developing a personal brand is threefold: Identifying how your work is different from others; Communicating your brand clearly; Further developing your brand over time.

In establishing your brand, the first step is to identify the ways that your work is different and unique from others. Positioning is how a company differentiates itself to its target customers. In personal branding, you must do the same thing. Questions to ask yourself as you determine how your work is unique and different include:

  • What qualities and characteristics differentiate you from your colleagues?
  • What have you done recently that stood out?
  • What would your colleagues and/or your manager say is your greatest strength?
  • What do you do that adds true value to your employer’s organization?
  • What have you accomplished that you feel proud of and can take credit for?

Now that you have created an inventory of the qualities, characteristics, and projects that make you unique, you have all the raw materials that you will need to create a plan for communicating your personal brand. A good first step is creating a personal positioning statement—this is succinct statement (usually ten words or less) which summarizes what you can offer to an employer. Next, you may want to think about how you can raise your visibility within your organization and even within your community. For example, you might volunteer to take on an additional project at work. Or you could consider doing some freelance or pro bono work within the community.

Once you have started the process of crafting a personal brand, you will want to further develop that brand over time. There are many different ways that you can reinforce how you are different and the areas where you have expertise. Teaching is a great way to connect with people and to communicate your knowledge. Possible venues include a community college, your town’s adult education program, or a course at your workplace.

Presenting at an industry association conference is another good way to develop your personal brand. If you aren’t a fan of public speaking, try writing. Contributing to a local newspaper or to a professional newsletter can be an effective way to enhance and communicate your personal brand. Through a variety of activities, Rich Weissman has built a personal brand that spans both industry and academic fields. He noted, “I have managed to maintain a linkage with my industry background and current academic responsibilities. I primarily teach operations management at the graduate and undergraduate level and write for some industry publications. I am also active in the community, serving on some boards of local industry and social service organizations. This has allowed me to strengthen my relationships with industry, academia and the community.”

No matter where you are in your career, cultivating a personal brand makes sense. If you are content at your current company, a strong personal brand can help you advance within the organization and work on more interesting projects. For those who are looking to change jobs, a personal brand can help differentiate you from your competition. Even if you want to change your field entirely, incorporating different types of activities into your personal brand can help you make that transition.

Karen McHenry consults to the software industry on strategy and new product development, writes on business, technology and career issues, and teaches at Endicott College.

Copyright © 2008 Karen McHenry

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