Personal branding is not a new concept, and yet you cannot pick up an entrepreneurial or business magazine without stumbling across it. Why all this recent popularity? What has happened to put personal branding on everyone’s lips?
The Perfect Storm for Personal Branding
- Extreme competition for limited attention spans: Those who can convey their value in an instant have more opportunity to showcase their knowledge and skills.
- A company of one: We no longer identify ourselves with the company we work for. Careers are now transient and the idea of working for a single company for more than five years is foreign to current generations.
- Getting personal: No longer content with topical statements from PR companies and publicists, the media wants to know the personal side of stories, the personas behind the companies, the wizard behind the curtain.
- Social media: Now we have a platform for getting personal. From product reviews to public snafus, from blogs-turned-movies to social media gurus, we all have an opportunity to tell our stories — and to get real-time updates on the stories of everyone around us. This is the factor that elevated the concept of marketing yourself as a “product” to new levels.
Though I’m glad for the recent popularity of all things personal branding, I have been working in this arena for more than eight years. In the physical world, I used the term “business image” to help professionals market themselves. Some labeled it image management, professional presence or image consulting.
Regardless of what you call it, the concept of personal branding remains the same. Initially, I hesitated to use words like “business image” and “personal branding.” Why? Because those terms, like their predecessors, came with detractors who saw personal branding as nothing more than shameless self-promotion. (Remember that most baby-boomers were taught not to “toot your own horn.”) And worse yet, there were individuals who used personal branding principles in inauthentic, phony ways — claiming to be someone or something they were not.
Perhaps an even more compelling reason to steer clear of these terms is our society’s consistent under-valuation of image, emotional intelligence and social fluency as “soft skills” — a phrase that seems to indicate that these skill sets are somehow less critical or necessary than technical skills. Ironic, considering that research shows that self-awareness (insight into how one is perceived by others) is the cornerstone for self-management and social awareness — imperatives for both professional and personal success.
Add to that the fact that there are those out there who want to capitalize on the popularity of the concept with no real understanding of how to help others in this arena. They tell clients to come up with a “personal branding statement.” (How does distilling your skills, attributes and characteristics down to a few short sentences create a lasting and viable brand?) Or, they try to make the process seem much more complex than it is, in an attempt to justify charging an exorbitant amount for their services. While neither approach is good, there are some true professionals who really do “get it.”
Personal branding is here to stay, so why not use the process to our advantage? It is impossible to make a neutral statement with your brand. And if you don’t work to manage others’ perceptions of you, then they will be happy to “brand” you themselves based on all sorts of assumptions.
But if you are willing to see that your personal brand is one significant way to “up” your chances — to showcase who you are, what you know and, most importantly, what you can do — personal branding will provide an avenue to distinguishing yourself in an era where others’ skill sets and credentials are nearly identical. Ultimately, it is a way for you to either get clarity around your value and how you would like to be perceived, or to leverage an already-clear value, approach and reputation.
Recognizing this perfect storm for what it is will help put you on the path to successful personal branding…or whatever you prefer to call it.