Corporate brands involve much more than logos and color palettes. A brand determines how you think and feel about a company. That includes both positives and negatives. For instance, you may associate a brand with luxury and high price. For the consumer, that may mean high status and reliability. Another corporate brand may make you think of low prices and convenience. But you also think of questionable environmental or labor practices. Overall, the brand likely targets value.
But company brands also include public perceptions of social responsibility. Does the company contribute to causes such as pet adoption, cancer awareness, or veteran relief? Each adds a plus to brand perception, but choosing which cause to take on matters too. If a pet food company contributes to homeless shelters, that’s great. But contributing to pet adoption is more memorable. That is, the cause is more “on brand.” The music used in advertising, the language used in ads—all of these things contribute to your perception of a company. That is, their brand image.
To build a personal brand, you consider essentially the same principles. Be mindful of how others perceive your work, your interactions with others and how memorable you are personally. That may seem simpler in one regard. Unlike a corporate brand, you have more control over variables. You don’t have to worry about a misstep by a company spokesperson or an increase in workforce safety issues. But personal brands are tricky in other ways. We’ve seen celebrities, for instance, destroy their brand overnight with foolish Tweets or poor public behavior. Your personal brand is, in a word, personal.
Do you need a personal brand?
Before building your personal brand, let’s consider why nearly everybody needs one. You may think that only solopreneurs or social media influencers require a personal brand. In fact, all professionals need to develop and nurture their brand. For instance, associates may know you as friendly and courteous while your manager depends on your reliability. That is your brand. But you can easily tarnish that brand with a Facebook rant or arguing unnecessarily with a coworker.
So although the following brand-building steps focus on utility for entrepreneurs, they apply to all professionals.
This step requires careful introspection and honesty. No matter how appealing, do not attempt to create a “character” to live up to. If you try to brand yourself as a figurative Superman or Superwoman, capable of anything, you will wear yourself out trying to live up to it. Worse, people will see through or even resent this false persona. Instead, explore your values. Who are you at your core? Make a list of your strengths, interests and individual styles that set you apart. What positive traits and ambitions make you unique? Take your time, and pull them together into a clear, cohesive image you want to portray. It should be simple enough for people to have a sense of you quickly, but also one-of-a-kind and attention-grabbing.
Know your competition and differentiate.
As you define your personal brand, survey your competition. What makes you and your product offering unique? What distinct strengths do you offer that set you apart? Move back and forth between this and the previous step as two as a process. Slowly, an image of your singular personal brand will emerge that stands apart from the others.
Think visually, too. Determine the unique colors, fonts, images, graphics, and overall style that will distinguish you in digital media at a glance. And be sure that those styles align with your brand image.
Determine your audience and why they should care about you.
In most ventures, defining your target audience comes first. With a personal brand, however, it is paramount that you are genuine and true to yourself. That is not to say there won’t be some back-and-forth and tweaking as you develop your brand. You can mold details as you gain a clearer image of your audience.
For instance, if your audience is mostly older professionals in traditional industries, you will use a different approach, language, and tone than if your audience consists mostly of career-seeking students. The important thing is that you grab their attention immediately. And upon having their attention, make clear immediately why your brand is of interest to them personally. Online, there is no time even for an elevator pitch. You need to be able to tell a piece of your story visually in an instant. If you have someone’s interest that far, then each additional post or other bit of media should add to that branded story.
Survey your digital presence.
With your established personal brand in mind, audit your social media. Even if you have everything set to private, there are inevitable leaks. People will screenshot. Remove everything that does not align with your brand. This includes anything negative, but it can include “noise” too. Although vacation photos may not cast aspersions on your brand, do they really enhance it?
Search yourself on Google and other search engines such as Duck Duck Go. You probably have accumulated a lot of junk over the years. Include image searches. Again, remove anything that does not suit your personal brand. If you appear on someone else’s website, kindly request for the owner to remove the content if it does not augment your image.
This step requires discipline. Anything you share in digital media or elsewhere should at least fit – and preferably enhance – your personal brand.
Obviously avoid political or other controversial posts unless your brand calls for them. Avoid noise and clutter too. If you want people to know you as a skilled graphic designer, a fun post or blog about pet care may seem utterly harmless. But consider it from the point of view of a potential client or hiring manager finding you for the first time. The message is confusing. Are you a pet specialist? At the rate that people browse, you need to be on brand immediately, on the first view, and every time.
Network and Maintain Your Personal Brand Always.
People know you in part by the company you keep. At the office, that means working with and enjoying the company of achievers. Say yes to everything within reason, including social events with your team. Networking not only provides new opportunities, but it builds your personal brand as an outgoing team player.
Similarly, network online. Find companies or solopreneurs with related, mutually beneficial offerings. Brands can augment each other and increase each other’s exposure exponentially. Shared posts and tagged tweets of the allies you acquire will not only increase visibility, but may even lead to cooperative opportunities.
And always, stay on brand. If you need to follow political news or other off-topic content, follow it from another page or profile. And never say anything that you would have removed from that digital audit you performed earlier!
Know Your Strengths and Trust the Rest to Your Experts.
Part of knowing your strengths means understanding your limitations. To build your personal brand, you likely need help at some stage. These areas of assistance may be small, but they are critical. For instance, unless you are a graphic designer, you probably want to leave things like your business logo or even your personal banner in the hands of an expert. If you have a blog, consider hiring a copyeditor or even a ghostwriter, depending on your capabilities and needs.
Similarly, at the office, you may want to build a brand as a “can-do” person. But being that person sometimes means knowing the number to IT rather than trying to repair a broken network connection or failed software installation yourself. No matter what industry you are in, you want to build a personal brand of having the ability to resolve issues promptly and professionally. That doesn’t mean knowing how to do everything yourself. Rather, get things done by delegating responsibility where necessary.
Whether it’s your business logo, personal page banner, or helping a team member fix a technical glitch, the quality outcome will ultimately reflect on you no matter who performs it. Build your brand by recognizing your limitations and knowing when to bring in expert assistance.