Personal Branding – What Works and What Doesn’t

Personal branding is hot. Having a well-crafted personal brand that will help differentiate you from the competition is in. But developing your unique brand is more complex than you think. Here’s what to do and what to avoid.

When executed well, a personal brand will help you articulate and bring to life your value story that can be shared with your network and potential employers. When executed poorly, a personal brand statement can ring false and gimmicky – a collection of slogans and catchphrases.

So what should you do with personal branding? Let’s start with a great definition from Wikipedia: Personal branding, self-positioning, and all individual branding by whatever name was first introduced in 1937 in the book ‘Think and Grow Rich.’ The idea surfaced later in the 1981 book ‘Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind.’ It was later popularized by business management writer Tom Peters, best known for ‘In Search of Excellence.’

A New Imperative

Since then, branding has reached a new level of imperative because of the rise of the Internet. The growth of the virtual world created the necessity of managing online identities. Despite being expressly virtual, social media and online identity has the ability to affect the real world. Because Individuals want to portray themselves a certain way to their social circle, they may work to maintain a certain image on their social media sites.


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Today, added emphasis is placed on personal branding, especially in the online world. Employers are now increasingly using social media tools to vet applicants before offering them interviews. Such techniques range from searching the applicant’s Facebook or Twitter feed for conducting sweeping background checks using search engines and other tools.

Among job-seekers, this is leading to a shift away from the practice of submitting a resume as part of their job application process to providing potential employers with access to a number of personal brand assets. Such assets are likely to include a resume, links to a carefully managed LinkedIn profile and a personal blog, evidence of articles which disseminate original ideas on industry blogs, and evidence of having an online following. Such efforts give job-seekers better odds of being noticed by potential employers.

Popularity in Branding

My interpretation of all of this history is that personal branding has grown in popularity because for two reasons:

  • People want to be able to differentiate themselves (marketing people call this positioning). A brand is a unique design, sign, symbol, words, or a combination of these, employed in creating an image that identifies a product and differentiates it from its competitors;
  • Branding is an easy way to quickly tell a story or deliver a message on what value you offer. This helps people get to the point quickly with an attention-challenged

So how does someone create an effective personal brand? Let’s start with what to avoid. I recently read a great post by Isabelle Roughol Sr., managing editor at LinkedIn, titled: “You’re Not a Brand; You’re a Person” where she commented on her concerns: “Something was lost along the way: we let the brand become more important than the person. Ultimately, ‘personal branding’ is as oxymoronic and as dangerously reductive an expression as corporate personhood.” And this: “In letting ourselves become a brand, we edit our humanity. We smooth edges and reduce our complexity to one simple phrase: we become the Big Data guy, the creativity expert, the public speaking coach, the social media star…”

That certainly got my attention! What Ms. Roughol addresses is that branding can be impersonal and it can be poorly done.

Developing a personal brand story is an important and very useful tool to have in developing an overall career management strategy. A branding exercise will help a candidate identify a few things, including: What am I skilled at? Where can I help the most? What am I the most interested in doing? What makes me different from others?

These questions can be challenging to answer but they will help bring clarity to how you can best answer the question: “Why Should I Hire You?”


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What’s Your Story?

But developing a personal brand does not have to be depersonalizing. It does not have to be filled with catchphrases. When done with authenticity it can help anyone be better able to sell themselves.

How does this all work? Here’s some ways to answer those questions posed above: What am I skilled at? – is it marketing communications or database administrator? Where can I help the most? – do you have a track record of new products or cost-saving initiatives? What am I most interested in doing? – where can you do your best – is it in a start-up or in a turnaround? What makes me different from others? – do you have experience in sales, marketing, and customer service?

The payoff on a branding exercise like this is that you will be able to not only answer why someone should hire you but also be able to walk someone through the “tell me about yourself” question.

Developing a personal brand is really about getting to know what makes you unique and qualified to be considered for a new opportunity. It is a communication vehicle where you can benefit from introspectively taking an inventory of who you are. So, take stock today and develop your personal brand story. We all have one. What’s yours?

Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor

Contributed by Patrick Lynch, president of The Frontier Group, a human capital management consulting firm that provides outplacement, executive coaching, and leadership development solutions.

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