What people say about you when you are not in the room. This is how Jeff Bezos defined “personal brand.” It is not our title or salary level, nor is it the size of the team we lead or even the name of our employer. Instead, our personal brand is the essence of who we are, our values, and the individual impact we have on the world. Much like a corporate organization’s brand, our personal brand is expressed through our words and validated by our actions and the ways in which we manage our relationships with others.
To expound a bit more on the topic than the well-known minimalist Bezos, our personal brand has to do with the perceptions, impressions, and associations that others have of us and this, in turn, impacts our influence on them, either negatively or positively. There is a word to summarize the perfect metric to evaluate the ability of our personal brand to influence or attract others: “Likeability.” It is also called the “L-Factor.”
Many professionals find themselves working at jobs in which the current global economic instability means their livelihood may be subject to corporate restructuring and downsizing. At the same time, there is a shift towards flexibility and contractual variety in which “career portfolios” have come into vogue. Thus, many workers have secondary or even tertiary professions. This is part of the phenomenon known as the gig, or self-employed, economy, in which independent professionals get involved in projects for a limited time and without exclusivity to a particular company. Thus, an individual’s intrinsic value, the L-Factor, is not necessarily determined by one entity or employer, but the combination of a variety of associations and visibility. It is essential to take care of one’s personal brand, not only because it can serve as insurance in a volatile labor market but also because no one else can do it other than you.
The first step is to take stock of your current associations, specifically how people describe you. What do your industry peers, your boss, and colleagues say about you? Next, compare these descriptions with what you would like to be said about you when you’re not in the room.
Once you have determined how you are recognized and how you would like to be recognized, you can create a clear and consistent narrative for your personal brand and give yourself visibility. To create the narrative, it is vital to think deeply about the type of impact you want to make on your community and the world. What kind of legacy do you want to leave? Self-honesty is key here, because if you are not being true to yourself, your narrative will not resonate with your audience regardless of how well you transmit your personal brand through platforms such as publications, conferences, and social networks.
While understanding and leveraging your likeability is essential to building a personal brand, it is not enough. We are human, after all, and tend to mostly notice that which stands out from the pack. Therefore, defining and showcasing your points of personal difference can also build personal brand equity. To do so takes guts, but it can be worth the risk. The late US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a well-known example of someone who made an art of expressing and exhibiting the contrarian view, even down to her various signature collars, of which a replica of one is now available for purchase at Banana Republic. It would be difficult to find a stronger personal brand than “Notorious RBG,” as she was popularly known. The justice attracted attention not only for being and thinking differently, but also for the unique way she expressed that difference.
Another example is Chancellor Angela Merkel who, in addition to representing her country, has built a solid personal brand on the basis of a clear and relevant vision. She is nothing but consistent in how she remains true to the values of her scientific background and is known for methodically pushing towards policy creation with her peers. While public approval of Merkel has experienced variations due to decisions she has made, her power has always been buoyed by her consistent personal brand. With consistent associations, high visibility, and plenty of likeability, Merkel is considered among the most popular political leaders in Europe today.
The cases of both Ginsberg and Merkel highlight the role of personal values in the building and maintaining a strong personal brand. Being honest with yourself about who you are is key – as is a certain amount of fearlessness and confidence in the expression of that self. Such authenticity does not come easily, it is hard work and this is exactly why it is so valued in today’s society, particularly in the transparency of today’s digital world.
A personal brand is a lifelong, ever-evolving endeavor. One is never done with this type of personal work. Here are six suggestions to keep in mind during the journey:
- Focus on who you are as a person, particularly what is important to you and the impact you want to have on the world.
- Acknowledge what makes you different. Take risks in how you express that uniqueness so that others can see how you add value.
- Control your narrative with consistency and clarity by focusing on your objectives
- Make yourself visible. Share your unique opinion. Write articles, participate in conferences, talk with peers inside and out of your immediate network, be active on social media.
- Manage your reputational risk by being mindful of how your current opinions and actions may be perceived in the long term.
- Be consistent with your values, your vision, and your beliefs. They should be with you for the long haul (and thus, it’s important to revisit item #1.)
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