Tom Peters quote on personal branding
Personal branding as a marketing concept has been around for quite a while, but a recent conversation got me wondering whether the concept was well understood, especially by those of us who do not come from a marketing or advertising background.

I recalled that I’d published a blog post, on another site than this, some years ago and when I looked it up I found that it was about 8 years ago and in it I expressed some ambivalence about the concept, as the subject line suggests – Just How Valuable is Personal Branding?

I decided I needed to look into the topic again and form a more up to date view.

In the process I realized that personal branding is among other considerations a valuable concept for leaders wanting to better understand and leveraging the power of social media. I also realized I had moved over time from ambivalent to fan of the concept.

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The concept of branding has an interesting linguistic history, the word “brand” coming from Old Teutonic and Old English (vb brinnan to burn), through the mark made (“usu. as a sign of infamy”) by a hot iron, then as a sign of quality (e.g. trade mark). One phrase (unattributed) I like, from 1602, is “to impress indelibly on one’s memory” (The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, On Historical Principals, Third Edition, Revised …).

Now, thanks to the advertising and marketing industries, “brand” has come to be seen as, to use the jargon, a promise of value, for anything from breakfast cereal to ocean cruises.

As far as I can tell, the first published explanation of personal branding is the 1997 Fast Company article by Tom Peters, “The Brand Called You” with the longish sub-title “Big companies understand the importance of brands. Today, in the Age of the Individual, you have to be your own brand. Here’s what it takes to be the CEO of Me Inc.”

The article, although somewhat flowery and grandiose in style, merits a close read by anyone wanting to get a sense of what personal branding is about and its potential. It concludes:

It’s this simple: You are a brand. You are in charge of your brand. There is no single path to success. And there is no one right way to create the brand called You. Except this: Start today. Or else.

An Almost Complete Definition of Personal Branding

At what looks like about 9 years ago, personal branding expert Dan Schawbel and others collaborated to create, on a wiki set up for the purpose, what was confidently (and slightly oddly) labeled “A Real Definition of Personal Branding”. It’s actually quite good and from my reading it covers the terrain quite well, for the most part.

Personal branding describes the process by which individuals and entrepreneurs differentiate themselves and stand out from a crowd by identifying and articulating their unique value proposition, whether professional or personal, and then leveraging it across platforms with a consistent message and image to achieve a specific goal. In this way, individuals can enhance their recognition as experts in their field, establish reputation and credibility, advance their careers, and build self-confidence.

To that I would add something along the lines of “and contribute positively to the success of the corporate brand.”

A Checklist

This checklist draws on various blog posts and articles on personal branding and topics in the checklist are either the same as or similar to those in the slightly longer list of items under “Building Your Personal Brand” in the downloadable cheat sheet from Personal Branding for Dummies (2nd edition) by Susan Crichton.

  1. Needs
  2. Values
  3. Strengths
  4. Interests
  5. Mission
  6. Vision
  7. Personality
  8. Experience/education
  9. What others say
  10. Who you serve

Target market and ideal customer

As for any branding exercise, getting a very clear idea and picture of our target market and ideal customer is a very important exercise also for personal branding.

Value Proposition

To be confident of being able to stand out from the crowd of competitors, we need to have a very clear and easily explained value proposition.

Marketers talk about the Unique Value Proposition (UVP) of a brand. If you hesitate on “unique”, I suggest going for “distinct” or “standout”.

This is your “brand promise”.

Your Brand Online

Too many business leaders, including partners in professional services companies, let themselves and their companies down by not optimizing their presence(s) online, especially on social media.

We need to check thoroughly how we are presenting ourselves, our personal brands, on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and so on.

Get the mechanics, the basics, right. Images, content, etc and being consistent with those across platforms.

Be selective about social platforms – prioritize those where your ideal customers are.

A static presence is not enough.

A threefold tip for effective personal branding online – my “3 Be’s”:

  • Be interested
  • Be helpful
  • Be engaged

For professional services leaders – consider establishing yourself as a thought leader.

The Goal – a Tribe of Advocates

The goal of our personal branding endeavours will be to create a tribe of advocates for our personal brand.

That way we get leverage and our marketing is geared more to inbound marketing and social selling.

In the words of that 17th century phrase about branding, we need to “impress indelibly” on the memory of those advocates who we are and and the value promise of our personal brand. So we are “top of mind” for them and they can confidently and happily refer others to us.

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Des Walsh is an executive coach. He helps business owners and entrepreneurs worldwide deal effectively with the feeling of being left behind or overwhelmed, or both, about social media – especially LinkedIn - and how to engage safely and effectively with social media to help grow their business. Connect with Des on LinkedIn, Google+ and Twitter. And to stay in the loop, get Des’s weekly Social Business Bites (select snippets of his "best of the week" online finds).