Tom Peters coined the term “personal brand” in Fast Company in 1997. He said, “Regardless of age, regardless of position, regardless of the business we happen to be in, all of us need to understand the importance of branding. We are CEOs of our own companies: Me Inc. To be in business today, our most important job is to be head marketer for the brand called You. It’s that simple — and that hard.”
Your career path is more than a series of jobs – it’s about who you are and where you’re going. The problem is, most of us aren’t sure of who we are and where we’re going. Forget your job title for a moment. Your personal brand is about what you do that adds value – to your company and to your community. And if it’s going to be an effective brand, it has to stand out from the crowd.
Peters suggests that you have the beginnings of a personal brand if you pass the 15-word test. Can you explain your unique combination of valuable traits in a few words? Start by identifying the characteristics that make you different from your competitors – and your colleagues. What have you done lately that adds value? Do you do it consistently? When you have a statement like this: “A unique combination of data-driven strategic thinking and boundless creative energy,” you have the beginnings of a personal brand.
Take some time to hone your brand statement, then keep it handy. It will serve as an inspiration to you as you set out on your career path. The next step is to think in terms of features and benefits – standard marketing thinking. What are the features of your brand, and what value does it bring to your customers (or bosses, co workers, and the company?) If you consistently finish projects on time and they’re right the first time, you save everyone time and money. You can see that personal branding is a great way to build your confidence, even if your job title is near the bottom of the corporate ladder.
Now that you have your brand, how do you launch it? You can gain visibility for your personal brand both inside and outside your company. Try moonlighting – volunteering for a company project that’s outside your department and putting you in touch with a whole new network. Your good work will be noticed by more people, and may open up possibilities for exciting new assignments. Outside your company, offer to teach classes at the community college or local youth or senior center. You’ll establish yourself as an expert, which can become a part of your personal brand.
Don’t forget that once you’ve established a personal brand, it becomes a powerful tool. Everything you do, or don’t do, becomes a part of your brand. The way you respond to email (including your grammar and spelling) may get noticed, for example, along with your responsiveness and how often your projects are on time. (These things get noticed anyway, by the way; you’re building a brand whether you know it or not.)
How will you know when you’ve built your brand? People start coming to you – based on your reputation. When you hear things like “I heard you were the best person in the company to come to for this,” you know you’re on the way to building a successful “You, Inc.”