Prior to social media, the word “brand” was mainly associated with large companies sporting hefty marketing budgets, shiny logos, and a fancy team of publicists. Few professionals thought to deliberately create their own personal brand and even fewer considered themselves as business units that could also be branded and strategically marketed. Take Oprah for an example. She initially resisted calling herself a brand because she didn’t want to lose the connection and rapport she established with real people. We all know she later changed her mind on that point and is known today as one of the greatest personal branding success stories ever, with clout as powerful as that of Coca-Cola.
As social media revolutionized marketing strategies and made branding possible on a smaller scale, personal branding became a popular concept. In the same way that Hollywood studios traditionally spent a good chunk of their budgets on promotions, social media users are now empowered to showcase themselves for next to no cost.
In particular, forward-thinking job-seekers, entrepreneurs and business leaders recognise the need to position themselves as experts in their fields – albeit each with different audiences. They understand that building equity in their own identities increases visibility in a sea of competition, extends reach and influence, and ultimately becomes a form of valuable personal career insurance.
When you have personal equity and influence, you are less susceptible to changing job conditions or corporate disruption. A personal brand puts you at top of mind to others and opens doors to new opportunities. In a crowded and noisy world, it allows you to stand out and reap many rewards.
Despite their enthusiasm many fail at personal branding because they lack a clear strategy for success. They also misunderstand the fundamental purpose of a personal brand. Personal brand is not about self-promotion. It is about self-differentiation. Your personal brand is not an advertisement promoting your services like a fast food restaurant showcases its latest burger. It is the art of connecting who you are with what you do. It is a quiet understanding of your unique point of difference and using that as a way to provide value to your target market and build your business along the way.
Leaders or senior executives with strong personal brands are able to create personal connections with their markets and thereby act as unofficial ambassadors for their organisations, too. This is known as the Halo effect: the overall perception of an individual colours our perception of the company. The better these individuals look or behave, the better we judge the place they work for to be. Their presence both humanises and personalises the organisation. With this unique touch, outsiders are more apt to value and choose these organisations over the competition.
Business titan, Richard Branson, has perfected the art of personal branding. Nearly everyone not living under a rock has heard of Virgin, and most are more-than-familiar with the famous face behind the organisation. Branson has mastered amplifying his company through his own character. He has created a personal reputation as an adventurous, fun-loving visionary, which has humanised his multi-billion-dollar company – that’s no easy feat. Richard doesn’t have to look for followers, they seek him out and line up in their droves to work for him.
With personal branding in leadership, it’s not about how many people you know, it’s about how they know you. Leaders that fail to tell their own story leave themselves wide open to having others do it for them. At best, this may be pieced together from hearsay and speculation. At worse, it may be attacks from competitors who have a deadly advantage these days of remaining anonymous online. Your name and your reputation are still your greatest assets. Look after them carefully. Put words in the mouths of people who may want to know you before they make up their own ideas. Personal branding allows you to proactively build a great reputation rather than risk having to defend one.
Sarah Pearce is a professional speaker, business coach and social strategist: Author of Online Reputation: Your Most Valuable Asset in a Digital Age